Jordan has a deep-rooted tradition of hospitality to visitors and guests, thanks to its Bedouin traditions. In the not-too-distant-past, a Bedouin was expected to welcome anyone wishing to come into his home tent, and treat him as a treasured guest; no matter who it was, no matter the reason. This is one of the reasons many travelers love the country. Expect to hear the phrase ‘Welcome to Jordan’ often and from many different people. You will be offered truly huge amounts of food. Many Jordanians speak at least a smattering of English and enjoy practicing phrases with Westerners. In the tourist industry, of course, it is usual to encounter excellent English in hotels. Some taxi drivers speak English but many don’t (hence our recommendation to ask us to arrange private transfers for you.)
Jordan is a conservative, family-oriented country. Primarily Sunni Muslim; but is known to be a tolerant and peaceful country; and Jordanians are proud of this reputation. There is a thriving Christian minority living peacefully in the country, also.
The original majority inhabitants of Jordan in the past century, when it was called ‘Trans-Jordan’ were the Bedouin (nomadic and semi-nomadic Arab tribes.) In 1921 the modern country of Jordan was formed. The beloved and well-known late King Hussein ruled from 1935-1999. His American wife/widow, well-known to many Westerners, is ‘Queen Noor’ (Lisa Halaby). One of INSIDER’S PETRA reading recommendations is Queen Noor’s book: ‘LEAP OF FAITH: MEMOIRS OF AN UNEXPECTED LIFE’. King Hussein’s son, Abdullah II; is now the ruler of Jordan since his father’s death in 1999. King Abdullah is married to Queen Rania; and they have four children together. King Abdullah II was schooled in Great Britain and the United States, thus he speaks perfect English and is a young, modern leader with a unique understanding of world politics.
Jordan is also home to a large population of Palestinians; who arrived in approximately 1948 onwards, due to the formation of Israel and loss of land; more moved to Jordan during and after the 1967 war. There is also a large population of Iraqis and Syrians in Jordan. The country has been a peaceful, welcoming, stable area that has magnanimously helped many refugees to resettle and recommence their lives. The populace of Jordan, no matter their origin, are encouraged to refer to themselves as ‘Jordanians’, hence it can be impolitic to inquire of a person’s national origin.
MUSLIM CUSTOMS for Travelers
It is not customary for devout Muslims to touch a member of the opposite sex (unless it is a spouse or close family member). Therefore, when meeting or greeting someone of the opposite sex, wait to extend your hand until you see if they extend their own hand to you first. If they don’t, or if you are unsure, it is customary to cross your right arm across your chest (palm down, towards your left shoulder) as a heart-felt gesture, rather than shaking hands. INSIDER’s PETRA, being owned by an American, is aware how common it is for Americans and Westerners to hug, squeeze arms, shake hands, pat on the back, etc., with the opposite sex in other countries, but this is not customary in Jordan and out of respect for Jordanians, we advise against it (or at least ask permission first, before you hug or touch someone of the opposite sex). Note: there is no problem in touching members of the same sex, and men will often greet men; and women greet women, by a friendly kiss on each cheek, handshakes, and sometimes same-sex, affectionate hand-holding.
INSIDER’s PETRA recommends always respecting local customs, wherever a traveler goes in the world; and as such, recommends that travelers wear long trousers (or capri-length pants, or long skirts) and avoid shorts, miniskirts, and sleeveless and/or low-cut, bare-midriff, or sheer tops. It is also not customary for Jordanian men to wear shorts or sleeveless tops, so these recommendations apply to male travelers, as well. Please note that these recommendations don’t apply to upscale hotels and resorts frequented by Westerners; and you may dress however you wish (within reason) without worrying about offending anyone while you are within the hotel or the hotel grounds, pool area, etc.
It is absolutely necessary to remove shoes before entering any mosque. It is also customary in most (but not all) private homes to remove one’s shoes and leave them outside the front door. INSIDER’S PETRA recommends that for anyone not wishing to walk barefoot in a mosque, to keep a pair of socks with them to slip on after they take their shoes or sandals off. It is also necessary to wear appropriate (covered, loose,) clothing inside mosques for a visit; please be prepared with what you are wearing that day. Many mosques in Jordan and all over the world provide big ‘poncho-like’ garments for visitors to cover up if the attendant deems it necessary. Note: visiting a mosque is a fascinating and interesting experience; and INSIDER’S PETRA highly recommends it, so please don’t feel daunted by these recommendations/restrictions!
While alcohol is readily available in most hotels and restaurants (although not all) devout Muslims do not drink alcohol. Therefore, please be careful when giving gifts (e.g. do not give alcohol nor liquor-filled or liquor-flavored chocolates, etc,) also please respect anyone’s decision not to have an alcoholic drink if they refuse.
When traveling to Jordan or any Muslim country during Ramadan (the holy, ‘fasting’ month,) it is not permitted or advisable to be seen in public drinking (even water), eating, or chewing gum or mints. Hotels make allowances for travelers of course, and it is possible to eat/drink in your hotel without upsetting anyone. Remember that most or at least many of the locals you will encounter during Ramadan are abstaining from food and any liquid for upwards of 16 hours at a stretch (sunrise to sunset), so it is important to respect this. Ramadan can be a very interesting time to travel in Jordan, or in any Muslim country. Every evening, just after sunset, everyone breaks their fast with a dinner meal called ‘Iftar’, that is usually festive, with lots of good food. Families traditionally dine together; and many hotels sponsor special ‘Iftar’ meals that are delicious and interesting for travelers. In general when traveling during Ramadan, however, expect that most restaurants (outside of hotels) will be closed during the daylight hours, and many businesses work a reduced schedule during that month. EID AL FITR is the 3 day holiday that follows the end of Ramadan; and is a special time in the Kingdom of Jordan. Families traditionally have parties (end of the fast!) and give gifts (especially to children). Businesses are mostly closed, school is out, and everyone tries to dress in fine (usually new) clothes. There is another holiday that travelers may run in to, called EID AL ADHA.
Tips are a customary ‘way of life’ in Jordan; and in fact, Jordanians tip themselves for many services. Service providers in the tourism business depend on tips for a great part of their personal income. INSIDER’S PETRA highly recommends including many tips in pre-paid travel planning and groups; which would cover many services; however, customarily Guides and Drivers are tipped separately at the end of each trip or their services. INSIDER’S PETRA will advise their clients of the appropriate amounts. The local currency (Jordanian dinar) is appreciated, although US Dollars and EUROS are also okay to use.
For public bathrooms, there will often be a same-sex attendant ready to give assistance, hand out toilet paper, keep the bathroom clean, etc. It is expected to leave a small coin tip for these attendants, in some locations there may be a tip-box in lieu of an attendant. Your guide or INSIDER’S PETRA can give you more advice concerning this. Be advised that we recommend traveling with your own personal supply of tissues and hand-sanitizer, also.
Please note that the soles of one’s feet or shoes are considered ‘unclean’ and impolite to be pointed towards anyone, so be aware of that when you are seated. Also, make sure your shoes, when off, are placed ‘soles on the ground’ rather than ‘upside-down, pointed up’, which is considered offensive to God.
Be careful not to praise any personal possession too highly, as you may find that your Jordanian friend will attempt to give it to you; and it will be hard for you to refuse (e.g. jewelry, jackets, home décor, etc.)! Also some people still believe in the ‘evil eye’, hence you may find that some adults will not make or appreciate a big fuss made over their beautiful children, their new car, etc., in order not to ‘attract the attention of the evil eye’.