Llynea Sherwin is a student at the University of Texas at Arlington and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Amman, Jordan.
!مرحبا من عمان
1. Weather – most of the time, the weather is pretty predictable and seasons are mild. However, it is still a local treat to get snow in Amman! The entire city was basically shut down over 13 centimeters and classes were cancelled at my university. We had a great time making snowmen (rejal a-thalge) and watching the citywide snowball wars! The city cleaned up the streets with bulldozers and cleared a path as soon as possible but I am glad we had nowhere to go because of the increase in traffic. When the snow melted, the streets were flooded because the drainage system wasn’t made to handle that much water all at once! It seemed like a holiday weekend because everyone decided to take a few days off to clean up.
2. Service – The service industry is vastly different from what I am used to in the majority of restaurants across America. In Amman, meals are leisurely and usually last over an hour to allow people to interact and food to settle. The tip is factored into the check by sales tax, sometimes as much as 16%. The staff does not typically try to interrupt the conversation at your table unless your food is ready or if you get their attention and ask for something. I was surprised to find that most menus are in English, even if their version of the food is different from their American counterparts. For example, what we would call ‘burritos’ in some American cities, they call ‘sandwich’. Most of the food is made by hand, which is a refreshing change from a lot of on-the-go frozen hockey-puck style meals at fast food restaurants in America. I found the local cuisine to be overwhelmingly delicious – and cheap! The current conversion is 1 USD = 70 Jordanian qirsh, and I can get two falafel sandwiches for that!
3. Transportation – In my hometown, honking is perceived as rude and only used in a few barely acceptable circumstances. However, in Amman, honking and gestures are essentially an extension of the vehicle! The streets are filled with taxis and people make their own lanes: there is no such thing as a ‘shoulder’ because people just use it as another lane. If there are speed limits, no one pays attention to them and the only rules I have actually seen traffic police actively enforce is double parking and limiting the number of people packed into the busses that go between outlying cities. Taxis have never been my cup of tea; I prefer busses, shuttles, metros etc. for a number of reasons both personal and otherwise. In Amman, taxis are the main mode of transit for anyone who doesn’t have a car, and the only one if you have to get somewhere specific very fast. Each taxi has a certification and a meter that shows the price – it almost doubles at night! In the past two weeks, I have gotten used to the negotiations that sometimes take place and the occasional driver who tries to rip us off for being American, but the majority of my experiences have been nice – a pleasant surprise!
4. School – School was definitely the least different from what I am used to, but the main difference is that now I am the minority! All of the signs on the buildings are in Arabic, of course, and the students stay in the classroom while the teachers come and go. Most of my classes in Texas were 50 minutes long three times a week, but now most of my classes are two days a week for an hour and a half to two hours. I really enjoy the subject matter and the teachers are extremely knowledgable, which is nice. It is also strange that the regular semester does not start until March 1st, so we international students have had the campus to ourselves for the past couple of weeks.
5. People – I was prepared for certain things coming into this, and there are other things that no amount of preparation or forewarning can be enough to take away the shock. For example, the generosity of everyone here is overwhelming at times! I see people on the street with straight faces or even wearing looks I perceive to be angry, but you can stop anyone and ask them a question and they will be instantly polite, responsive, and even offer more help on top of that! I had initially planned to blend in as much as possible, but the fact remains – I am unmistakably American. Wherever I go, I am stared at and people lean out of cars or taxis just to say hello. I don’t feel threatened and no one has been outwardly aggressive so far; it just takes some getting used to. I am finding my nervousness at speaking Arabic subside with each successful encounter, and I can’t wait to see what the coming weeks will bring.
Want to know more about life in the Hashemite Kingdom? Check out “Assimilation in Amman”