36 Random Observations About Jordan

Our time in Jordan was short (just 11 days) but it was our first taste of the Middle East and we got a glimpse into a new culture. There are many misconceptions about travel in the region but we felt entirely safe and welcomed.

1) Jordan is bordered by Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but it’s a peaceful country, with good diplomatic relations with the US and UK, and is safe to travel to. Unfortunately many people don’t realise this and tourism numbers have dropped since the Arab Spring.

2) It’s a small country (you can drive from top to bottom in five hours) but has a range of landscapes—pistachio and oak forests, olive groves, desert, dramatic canyons, rocky mountains, and the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea.

3) 90% of Jordanians live on 10% of the land. There’s lots of empty desert space.

4) The lowest point on earth is in Jordan—the Dead Sea is 400m below sea level.

Dead Sea Jordan

5) Jordanian currency is the dinar, but you might be quoted prices in fils (1000 fils = 1 dinar) or piastres (10 fils = 1 piastre).

6) Buildings are square with flat roofs—this seems strange to someone coming from a rainy country.

Amman, Jordan

7) Photos of the Jordanian King Abdullah II are everywhere.

King Abdullah II, Jordan

8) Driving on the outskirts of Amman we saw camels on one side of the highway and a Harley Davidson showroom on the other.

9) Camels can drink from water bottles.

Camel drinking from a water bottle at Petra

People & Culture

10) 65% of Jordanians are Palestinian.

11) Over 90% of the population are Sunni Muslims.

12) The haunting call to prayer is heard five times a day starting at 5.30am. Except for Fridays at noon when prayers should be at a mosque, the rest of the times people find a quiet place to kneel and pray wherever they are.

13) The hotel rooms all have little arrows pasted to their roof, pointing towards Mecca.

14) Weekends are Fridays and Saturdays.

15) Jordan is a modern country with a high standard of education and one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East.

16) 1% of the internet is in Arabic; 75% of that content comes from Jordan.

17) Most women cover their hair, arms and legs. Older women wear long dresses but younger girls dress fashionably in skinny jeans and long tops.

Jordanian woman in traditional dress

Jordanian woman in modern dress

18) At Dead Sea resorts Western women swim in bikinis; Jordanian women swim in burqinis or all of their clothes.

19) Men usually wear either trousers and shirts or long tunics, often with a kaffiyyeh, a red and white headdress.

Bagpipers at Jerash in traditional Jordanian men's tunic and kaffiyeh

20) Smoking inside is allowed—a shock for us after four months in Europe.

21) Dogs are considered unclean so you rarely see them. There are plenty of stray cats though.

22) Jewellery shops are full of an extraordinary amount of gold. Traditionally gold is given to a bride by the groom before marriage as a dowry.

Bedouin Life

23) Bedouins live in goat hair tents in family camps throughout the country. They may move a few times a year to find the best grazing or shelter from the weather.

Bedouin tent

24) A typical Bedouin wedding may be attended by 1500 people over 3 days. It might take 20 goats to feed them but they are likely to get more goats than that as presents.

25) If you see a white tent by the black goat hair tents in a Bedouin camp, it’s the “jiggy jiggy” tent to give newlyweds some privacy for three days after a wedding.

26) The Bedouins are famous for their hospitality. Anyone can turn up and be housed and fed without question. Only after three days of hospitality does the host ask “how can we help you?”

27) The mobile phone network in Jordan is excellent (we had 3G in our Wadi Rum desert camp). Most Bedouin have mobile phones now so will choose a camp based on the best reception.

Food & Drink

28) Most meals begin with an array of mezze appetisers—salads, dips and snacks that are a meal in themselves and very vegetarian friendly.

Mezze, Jordan

29) All meals are accompanied by flatbread to scoop up the food. Our favourite bread experience was sampling paper-thin shrak bread straight off the fire in a Bedouin tent.

30) A cheap and tasty snack is a falafel sandwich. We had two large sandwiches and a drink for 1 JOD ($1.40).

Falafel sandwich, Jordan

31) Jordanian breakfasts are a delicious selection of mezze. Labaneh (strained yogurt that makes a creamy cheese) and za’atar w zeit (thyme and sesame seeds mixed with olive oil) are our favourites.

32) Desserts are super sweet and often feature filo pastry, cream cheese and syrup.

Warbat dessert in Jordan

33) Coffee is Nescafe or tiny cups of thick, strong, grainy Turkish coffee, sometimes flavoured with cardamon.

34) Tea is black with a teeth aching amount of sugar and often mint or sage, served in small glasses. It’s best when brewed over the fire by the Bedouin.

Bedouin tea by the campfire, Wadi Rum, Jordan

35) My favourite drink was lemon juice with mint. So refreshing.

36) Pepsi dominates over Coca Cola, much to Simon’s annoyance.

Read our Jordan Highlights for our favourite experiences while travelling in Jordan.

A big thank you to Visit Jordan who hosted us during our stay in Jordan.

Trail Wallet

51 thoughts on 36 Random Observations About Jordan

  1. Pingback: Jordan Highlights

  2. These are great observations – so many things that I did not know about. I love that the camels drink out of water bottles :) And all the food sounds delicious!

    • We were pretty astounded when our guide gave his bottle of water to the camel! All the food we ate in Jordan was delicious – our detailed food guide is coming next week.

  3. most of your observations are generalizations that are not accurate. Starting with the comment on the Palestinian population, completely inaccurate.
    Additionally not most Jordanian women are covered up, I for one can tell you that being a Jordanian woman that also does NOT swim with my clothes on at the dead sea.
    Just cause you saw some small minority of people behave in a certain way does not mean that its a reflection of what the entire population does!!

    • I agree that they are generalisations. We were only in Jordan for 11 days and this post was about our first impressions, not a detailed insight into Jordan’s culture. Our guide told us about the Palestinian population so apologies if it’s wrong—I do believe there is a large number of Palestinians in Jordan though.

      Most of the women we saw on the streets were covered up (but we didn’t spend much time in Amman which may be different) and it seemed that the only women in bikinis at the Dead Sea were Western women. Thanks for informing us that isn’t always the case.

      • Hi Erin, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your visit; unfortunately you’ve stumbled across a hot debate- Jordan is one of the most racially diverse countries in the region with the founding families tracing their roots to the Shapsugs (a Circassian Tribe in Modern Day Russia), Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi refugees (who all come from mixed ancestry) and a considerable number of African ancestry, not to mention Filipinos, Indians and Pakistanis and even East Asian (there’s ALWAYS a Japanese guy making a fuss at Cosmo’s Cashier). Jordanians are blonde, brunettes, black, brown and even Asians.

        In order to avoid a racial nightmare (like the US), many Jordanians adapted to the hush-hush policy, no mentioning of race, whatsoever. So no one will be treated differently for being dark or light. The Jordanian census system doesn’t even acknowledge race.

        With the Palestinian debate, it’s more of a “National” perceptive than it is racial. Around 1.25 million Palestinians moved over a short period of time around 1948 and 1967 to the country. This created an intense hostility with the Native Racial Population (I forgot to mention that the native Jordanian tribes although small in numbers, are a great influence and powerful people; even the English couldn’t emit them, unlike the Natives in the US).

        Of course, overtime many Palestinians integrated into the society and culture and became vital citizens.
        Unfortunately, a few people of Palestinian ancestry refuse to accept loyalty to Jordan as a home town, continuing to fight a battle that they didn’t start, and many of these few people are considered lower class and are often poor.
        Same goes for many Jordanians that discriminate(d) against Palestinian refugees (including governmental facilities that once revoked a number of citizenships, this started the whole “Am I really a Jordanian?” debate).

        Being the only stable country in the region, Jordan sees immigration on daily bases from all over the world and especially the near-east. As of today, May 25th of 2013 which happens to be Jordan’s Independence Day, there are estimated to be 1.3 Million Syrian refugees and 0.750 Million Iraqi refugees on top of all the other “minorities.” Most Jordanians welcome these immigrants with open arms, often offering free food and shelter to homeless Syrian families, despite the fact that Jordan is increasingly expensive to house more people (did I mention the near-collapse of Jordan’s electricity, health and education system because of this population explosion?)

        Next, Women are Jordan’s true treasure, since the country belonged to the UK to this day, women had been educated and lead pioneering jobs. One of the first female pilots, Taghrid Akasheh-Steityeh, was not only the first Jordanian Female Pilot but one of the earliest women in Modern World Aviation, surpassing Emily Warner by a few years. A woman in Jordan is also a Queen, Her Majesty Queen Rania is celebrated as an educated role model for both females and males alike. Policewomen are very evident, also in the military and in every governmental facility. Keep in mind that this is happening right next to countries that don’t allow women to drive! Even secular Syria and liberal Lebanon (pure sarcasm, as the Lebanese media is the only thing “liberal” about it) has many limitations on women that are unheard of in Jordan.
        Overall, the maltreatment of women is another taboo.

        Also, the weather; Jordan has a ridiculously diverse climate, with four or five weather patterns in different places. Amman is relatively small in size, huge in population but diverse in people and in climate, too.
        On the cross-roads of the Mediterranean Climate and the High Altitude Continental Climate the city registers temperatures from -10 to +35 centigrade. Winters are brutally cold and often snowy whereas summers are moderate-to-hot and often dry. Amman in matter of fact has more perspiration than London has inches wise but it only occurs 8 moths out of the year with many heavy downpours and blizzards instead of a year-long drizzle.

        Religion, you NEVER, EVER, discuss religion in Jordan. Especially with strangers. Praising Religion or Belittling it are almost equally offensive depending on who’s your target audience. I’ve never EVER saw an arrow pointing to Mecca in any of the MANY hotels I’ve slept in, Amman and Aqaba (once in the Deadsea but I don’t remember).
        Not %90 of Jordanian are Sunni Muslims, just like I mentioned earlier, the Census doesn’t count race not does it count religion officially. Census in 2006 took religions but it didn’t go through with many of other families, many workers simply “assumed” and the whole numbers are either unofficial or estimated. Christian Jordanians are proud and powerful people, they’re appreciated, befriended and celebrated. Many Jordanians see Jordan and the rest of the Levant as the birthplace of Christianity. Also, there’s a considerable number of atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and even a Jewish minority. (I’ve had an uninformed individual deny me the presence of Jews in Jordan, I was so confused as I personally know a few myself, and I toured with a Jewish Youth Group around the Valley region.)
        In the end, Religion doesn’t matter, no one (I’m talking majority here, not the few recent extremest) will treat you differently because of your religion. Muslims can be friends with Christians, while having a doorwoman or a maid that could be Hindu (many South Asian women move to Jordan to work as maids) and not many people pray. Most Jordanian Muslims that actually DO practice attend the mosque 1 time a week instead of 5 times a day. It’s so rare to see someone committed or religious to the point where it’s actually views as weird and even hated. Jordanian Religious Muslims are discriminated against on basis of anti-religious extremeness and in the name of liberality and freedom.

        Dogs, no, dogs are not hated by everyone, a dog in Western Amman is the ultimate lady-killer, and the best pick-up line you can have.
        True, not everyone appreciates a dog as dogs are not a part of the family life here but this is changing as Americanism (and more and more Americans) is becoming more evident and apparent.

        It takes less then four hours to drive from border to border alongside route 15, by the way, not 5 hours.

        Amman is much different that the rest of the country. Amman is a huge and densely populated metropolitan and cosmopolitan area with over 5 million residents, not counting all the temporary refugees and illegal workers (whom are often Egyptians). Amman is facing a huge cultural crisis, the once calm and family friendly moderate city turned over night into a crazed orgy of entertainment industries. With bars and clubs spreading like wildfire.

        It’s safe to split it culturally into two different cultural groups:
        Eastern, a calmer version, much more traditional and encouraging of family values and modesty. You’ll find your most veil-wearing women here (veil being a whole new debate, “is it truly a religious awakening or is it a fad?”) Your most religious people in the country. Your dirtiest allies and cheapest (and best) food.
        On the darer side, you’ll find the least amount of education, the highest crime rates and the lowest incomes.

        Western Amman on the other hand, dotted with night-life spots. A skyline that’s slowly resembling that of Manhattan than a Mediterranean white bricks/Red Tiles. Malls and Haute Couture Shops that will make LA go green with envy and the ever-so-expanding plastic surgery clinics. Unfortunately, it’s crazy expensive, rent is too darn high and a drink or even a cup of coffee will cost you no less than $10.

        To sum it up, I’m glad you had fun, but I am sure you’ve offended many people by claiming many generalities than acceptable. Jordan is a complicated and bizarre country. You can find anything from Cults to Fetish Clubs, it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re doing and what you’re looking for (I’m glad you saw a camel, I’ve been trying to find one and I come here every year for a month or two).

        I felt the need to spend 30 minutes writing this as I anthropologically study the Levant for years and I emphasise on Jordan as it’s constantly changing, emerging from one cocoon to the next, socially accepting, diverse and mysterious.

        Much love from Amman

        • I just saw other people’s comments and they’ve already mentioned the things I explained. I should’ve searched for them before I wrote my reply and I also couldn’t find a way to delete my comment so I’m sorry.

          Thank you for sharing, and I’m sorry if I worded anything harshly, that was unintentional.”

    • ………..would you wear a bikini in Ma’an?? Probably not! Just remember, western cultural norms are just that; they are western traditions and not universal traditions. People who have written in, seem to be proud to say “we are not Saudi Arabia! we are NORMAL!” Does anyone realize how absolutely racist and biased those attitudes are??

  4. I’d just like to point out that the picture of the tents under the head section of ‘Bedouins’ is actually a picture of gypsy tents. And the comment said by Dee is completely true. As a Jordanian woman, I do wear a swimsuit, not a burqini and I definitely do not swim in my clothes – it all depends on what part of society you were seeing. What’s important in Jordan is not to make generalizations, because there are so many differences between and within classes and people.

    • The photo of the tents was taken at a Bedouin camp we were taken to with our Bedouin guide at Feynan Ecolodge in Dana Nature Reserve. I think it might have been their cooler summer tents but I’m not an expert of course.

      Sorry for the generalisations—of course it’s a diverse society. I was just writing our impressions from our limited time in the country.

  5. Hey :) My name is Tarek, i’m Jordanian. Nice blog you’ve got there, but there were many “inaccurate” and missing observations about Jordan, and I feel compelled to straighten them up for you if I may..

    -We love our king, people from all around put photos of his majesty maybe with a small sentence expressing their respect, loyalty, and love. -And not because of fear-

    -Most of the women here don’t where a long black dress covering their hair. You make it sound like we’re in Saudi Arabia. Women here enjoy clothing even if they wear Hijab (the scarf put on head). They were normal clothes like anyone else. And yes, most of women in Jordan wear hijab. But in Amman, maybe 10% only do.

    -Women here DO NOT swim in “burqinis or all of their clothes”. It depends on the place you go to for a swim. From what I’ve seen here in Jordan for the past 22 years that I’ve lived is that most of the women here were a bikini, and maybe 5%-10% of women in certain places swim wearing the burqini.

    -Alcohol is sold here all over the kingdom. We have clubs, bars, pubs and restaurants whom serve alcohol. Pork is also widely available here. We have an active nightlife, that all tourists enjoy.

    I’m glad you loved Jordan, but it seems to me you were only hanging around with Bedouins serving you sweet tea, and walking around in certain weird areas.

    • Hi Tarek,
      Thanks very much for providing a local’s perspective. Our thoughts were just based on what we saw ourselves in a limited period of time. We didn’t spend much time in Amman so I think things are quite different there.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that the the photos of the King were displayed out of fear. People spoke very warmly about him and I was very impressed when I saw him speak on The Daily Show and read his book Our Last Best Chance. He seems very forward-thinking.

      I did point out that it was a mix of long dresses and fashionably dressed women—much more fashionable than me! Again, we visited a lot of rural areas rather than Amman where things seem to be different.

      We didn’t see Jordanian women wearing a bikini but from various comments here it seems it’s common, so thanks for pointing that out.

      We did love Jordan and look forward to returning one day and getting to know it better.

  6. The picture of the camel drinking from the water bottle is just fantastic. I never would have guessed that they’d be able to do that! I wonder if horses can do it, too?
    Very interesting post – can’t wait to read your detailed food guide next week and get super hungry while I’m looking at your photos :)

  7. A great overview of Jordan – we have not been but would consider it after reading this. I liked the information on what to expect and the wonderful photos.

  8. My wife is Jordanian and I lived in Jordan for three years. During that time, I was very happy to discover Pepsi’s dominance over Coke, since I’m a Mountain Dew guy. :)

  9. Hi , nice Comments and Observations :) . so happy to know that you liked in Jordan and you are always Welcome in Jordan. the post contains some generalizations about the Palistinians Number and the Swimming Women, i believe that the number of Jordanians of Palestinian origin is high, but it defenitly didnt reach 65% of population. at the same time, Jordanians of Palistinian origin are normally living in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid. which are some how a newlly established cities compared to Al Salt, Karak, Maan. Al Salt & jerico in Palistine are two of the oldest cities in the world.
    the special thing about Jordan is the Freedom and Diversity that we have in our community. as you have said, 90 % are Musilms, around 8% are christians and i have never heared about a problem caused because of origin or religion. ( off course there are always some people who still have issues in their head , but it never comes to the outer world or even discussed between people).

    for me, my fav. places in Jordan are Dead Sea (becaus i cant swim, so it is a perfect place for me :) ) , also Wadi Rum and camping there is a great experience especially if you do it by your own, i mean not in a well organized desert camp :). Also for me the Atmoshpere in Amman is Great. am living now in Europe since 3 years, but for me no thing is compared to Amman :).

    one final point is that you really missed it to eat and experience our MANSAF!! . it is our tradional and offical Meal which we serve our guests in Weddings and other ocasions. and you cant have Manasf in anyother place in the world, because the material is only available in the region which is the dried Salty Yogurt. (Mansaf is mainly Rice, well coocked Lamb, and this salty yogurt as a souce) am missing it write now :(. i wondur how come that you didnt have it in Jordan :P ..

    so thank you again for the nice observations, and so glad that you liked it there and we wanna have you back there again in the future :) cheers
    Suliman.

    • Thanks for your comment Suliman. Apologies if I got the Palestinian statistic wrong – I see different numbers everywhere and that’s what we were told by our guide.

      We missed mansaf because we are vegetarian! We really enjoyed the mezze though and have just written a detailed post about all the wonderful food we ate.

  10. Really interesting info! I had no idea 65% of the population is actually Palestinian. And I love the camels drinking from water bottles, hilarious! I really want to visit Jordan one of these days, hopefully during a time of year that isn’t scorching hot.

  11. your 36th observation is rather hilarious! especially with the jordanian pronunciation: bebsi :)

    It is said that coca cola company once decided to push their sales and brand in the old town of Tafila. So they went there with a huge campaign where they distributed thousands of free coca cola to everyone.
    Shortly after the even was over, someone passes through the town and asks a guy in the street “what was happening?!” the guy replied: “I don’t know, some people came to town, distributed alot of bebsi cans and left”

  12. Hello
    This is very nice blog about Jordan. I have one question, im going to visit Amman at end of November and i will stay there untill maybe 5th December, so i have no idea how weather is there, what kind of clothes and shoes should i bring with me? Can anybody help me? Thank you

    • Lego,
      The weather in Jordan varies in late November and early December. The days will most likely be moderate with highs in the mid-70’s (average of 23º C) and lows in the 50’s at night (average of 10º C). Wear layers, as you may be adding and subtracting clothing throughout the day. Although most days are sunny, there is a slight chance of rain, so you might want to be prepared for that. Close-toed shoes are preferred; it’s not sandal weather (unless you plan to be visiting the Dead Sea while you are there). The weather in northern Jordan (Amman, Jerash, et al) will be cooler, while the temperatures will warm up considerably as you head to the Dead Sea or further south (Karak, Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba).

      Enjoy your stay in Jordan. It’s a beautiful country.

      • David definitely gave you the quick sum-up; however I just needed to point out something. The South Centre of Jordan is considerably colder than the north. For example, Kerak and Tophel [Tafile], the county seats of Akarak Governate and Tafilah Governate are to the south of the capital. They are located on the Moad and the Edom mountains and they are much colder than the north. The further you go south the further you’ll see mountains that extend higher in elevation. Jordan’s highest mountain is called Ümm ad Dāmī, followed by Mount Prophet Aaron (È Nabi Hārūn), they are both located in the Mâ’an Governorate in the deep south, they experience low temperature most year.

        Despite being extremely small in size, Jordan has four distinct geographical climates: The Forests (33% of the Country), the plateaus, the mountains and the steppes/desserts. Almost equally divided.
        Most of the population resides in the capital; located on the hilly areas. A walk in Amman will quickly show you that you need to grow extra calf-muscles to adapt to walking here. Even cars have issues with some of the hills and how steep they are.

        Over all, if you’re coming to stay in Amman the advice will be completely different than if you came to stay elsewhere. The north cities will be around 5°C (40°F) to 15°C (60°F), The capital will have highs in the 60s (15~18°C) and lows in the 40s (5~8°C) and the Aqaba City, the gulf of the country in the deep south is exceptionally warmer than the rest of the country, with highs in the late 70s, early 80s (25~30°C) and lows in the 60s.

        Be advised that precipitation can affect the capital any time between September and April. Extreme weather is observed more frequently lately. Since November 1st, we’ve had two flash-floods, damaging winds, a hailstorm, sleet, light snow in the suburbs and three thunderstorms (none damaging).

        Snow shouldn’t become an issue, at least not until mid or late December.

  13. Most of the information I used can be looked up online or via my humble observation, I could be wrong-
    but by all means, please feel free to correct me.

  14. Pingback: Planning a Trip to Jordan

  15. Thanks for the info! I can see why some people commented about the Palestinian origin point as i know its a sensitive topic in Jordan. Also from my Jordanian friends here, none wear the veil so i can see why some women here pointed that out :)
    Amazing pics!

  16. I see biased info ,

    1 – I am a Jordanian female that swims in bikini

    2- I have 6 dogs and 2 cats of which lives indoors and are loved and cared for.

    3- kindly, not judge a whole country from a village you visited .

  17. Let’s talk about the country you come from ,
    Animal abuse , racism , the spread of HIV , drugs , Crime.
    I could go on , next time you write about a country do it fairly and don’t just mention the negatives .

    • We mentioned plenty of positive things in this post- we loved our time in Jordan. This is just our observations based on a short amount of time travelling in the country. Of course they may not apply to everyone but it’s just what we saw.

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