Jordan cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Jordanians are very hospitable - they like to greet one another and make small talk to break the ice. When meeting a Jordanian individual for the first time; showing interest in their culture will make a good impression.
Giving compliments, while being careful about expectations around gender roles in this culture (see more below), would be considered friendly.
Questions about the country in general or the people you are meeting - for example their social status, number of children and place of education, etc. - are good conversation starters.
Keep in mind that Jordanians like to discuss politics and religion; but as a non-Jordanian it’s a good idea not to bring these two topics into discussion. If they do come up, make it clear that although you may have differing opinions, you have respect for the other person’s point of view.
Using some Arabic words will please Jordanians, such as:
- Common greetings - Marhaba - Alsalamo allykom - Ahlan wa sahlan
- Yes - Na'am
- No - La'
Jordanians are very family-oriented, so family is always a good discussion topic. If travelling with family members, you will likely be greeted with much enthusiasm and smiles, and be invited for tea, coffee and Mansaf (Jordan’s national dish of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt, served with rice or bulgur).
Jordanians will be interested in learning about where you are from, how long you will be visiting, and what type of work you do. They would be delighted if you are able to speak some Arabic. Most times, they will ask you about your faith. They will also ask if you like Jordan.
American movies and actors are also a popular topic.
Not all Jordanians are comfortable with eye contact, especially females. If someone avoids eye contact, this may a sign of respect or shyness.
Members of same sex shake hands and kiss on the cheeks; while shaking hands with members of opposite sex is not the norm. Religious Muslims, in particular, avoid shaking hands with the opposite sex. As a result veer on the side of caution - greet people verbally, and only shake hands if the person initiates it.
Jordanians commonly use gestures to express themselves: for example:
- “No” can be expressed by tilting the head quickly upward, with sometimes the addition of a “tsk” sound.
- The “OK” symbol is used to indicate anger.
If you are a man communicating with another man, there are generally no exceptional rules regarding communication. Outside of a workplace environment, Jordanian women will generally not communicate with a man unless another man, usually a relative, is present.
A major contrast to be noted, compared to Canada, regarding communication, personal space and gestures would be the way in which men approach the front door of a home. After they knock or ring the doorbell, they will step away from the door, or even stand around the corner. They do this as a sign of respect for the household, as they do not want to offend or be in the personal space of the woman of the house.
Similarly, a woman will not open the door to her house if her husband is not home. Alternatively, she will speak through the door.
When listening to a conversation in Arabic, the tone of the speakers may be deceiving. In some instances, it may seem as though there is a conflict. By the end of the conversation the two parties may break out laughing, and then you realize that there was no conflict at all.
Display of emotion
It is not acceptable to show public displays of affection - between members of the opposite sex, or the same sex.
On the other hand, public displays of anger might be witnessed from time to time.
You will very seldom see a man and woman displaying affection publicly. You are more likely to see two men holding hands, which symbolizes a close relationship between family members or friends.
Men generally greet their male friends with kisses on the cheek. The amount of kisses exchanged varies from region to region. You may see two women holding hands as well, indicating a close relationship.
You may witness displays of anger and even shouting, on occasion. Such events are generally brought to a close fairly quickly.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Although Jordan is considered a conservative country, Amman (the capital) is more open; wearing shorts and ”showing some skin” – while still being respectful – is acceptable.
Elsewhere, longer sleeves and pants or skirts are the appropriate dress for women. Most women in Jordan maintain the Islamic code for dress by covering the head and the full body.
Wearing regular swimwear is acceptable in swimming pools and on beaches – string bikinis are not accepted.
Punctuality and deadlines are flexible for many Jordanians, especially in the government sector. On the other hand, the private sector is stricter on these matters. It is always better to be on time, but be ready to wait. Keep this in mind when scheduling meetings.
When dealing with government offices, deadlines are respected. For example, they will tell you that your visa application will be completed in 2 weeks.
When dealing with smaller, privately-owned businesses, the hours may not always be punctual or scheduled. If the business needs to spontaneously close one morning, you will not know until you arrive and they may not have a scheduled time to return.
The dress code in Jordan is much more conservative than in Canada. When dressing for the workplace environment, business casual is the norm. You will also notice that uniforms are not consistent, obvious and/or mandatory in places of business where you are accustomed to seeing them, such as grocery stores.
There is no consideration for hot weather. Men will be found wearing slacks and dress shirts with or without a tie. Older men do not wear shorts, and shorts not permitted in government buildings. Older women wear long dresses that completely cover their legs/feet or Abayas (long button-up coats). Younger women also wear Abayas or long, long-sleeved tops with leggings.
Titles are used in the government sector for higher ranking officials. Normally, people will refer to you by the name you introduced yourself with.
Preferred managerial qualities
For Jordanians, non-local workers are considered experts in their field – this results in an expectation that non-local workers will perform at a higher level than their local counterparts.
Education and experience are the most important factors for being a good manager, but managerial and social skills are also important.
The attitude of co-workers could change from positive to negative if they sense any nepotism. Such a situation would not be well received by locals who have the same qualifications as any non-local hired.
Anyone brought in from the outside would have to work very hard to gain respect of co-workers – regardless of how educated and qualified they are. The individual should assure the others of their abilities and qualifications and look for opportunities to demonstrate them.
Meeting with co-workers in a social gathering will help them to become more open to a manager; this will also give the manager insights into how the staff views him/her.
Depending on the organization, typical manager qualities significantly vary. I primarily dealt with the private sector and business associations. In these firms the most highly regarded managerial skills included an entrepreneurial attitude, openness to new ideas, and being hardworking. In all of these organizations, the executives were quite young (under the age of 40), extremely motivated, and full of new ideas.
If however, you are dealing with a government organization, experience is the most highly regarded attribute as employees are promoted based on as seniority. Typically, these managers are not as progressive or open to change, as they are often fearful that change may diminish the importance of their positions.
In addition to those aforementioned traits, it is critical that the manager be very personable and culturally sensitive. My boss, who was also an expatriate, mentioned once that one of the most important aspects of managing was "making the rounds" visiting all the employees—discussing matters outside of work, such as inquiring about the families, and checking in on how everything was going at work. An expatriate must prove that they are really trying to understand the culture and are not simply attempting to proceed the same way they would in their country of origin.
Education is also very important. Typically, anyone who is educated in Europe or North America will be more highly regarded than someone educated in the Middle East, regardless of the level of experience.
Hierarchy and decision-making
The decision-making is usually in the hands of the person on top of the hierarchal organizational chart. This can affect productivity- If the decision maker prefers a particular individual at work, the co-workers won't have any motivation to work hard, because they know that the decision will be in favour if that particular individual, no matter what this individual does at work.
An individual should never go over the immediate supervisor. It is recommended that an individual goes to the immediate supervisor for answers or feedback.
Jordanians generally expect you deal with the rank structure as opposed to going to a higher official to address any issues.
It is important to always go to your immediate supervisor for answers or feedback. Even if your immediate supervisor does not have decision-making authority, it is considered to be very disrespectful to go straight to the decision makers and bypass your immediate supervisor. The majority of organizations are hierarchical in that sense.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
The role of women has changed to a large extent in recent years, so that gender has no effect on the workplace.
Females are becoming more powerful; as such there have been several female ministers and elected members of parliament in recent years.
While class has a big effect on the social life in Jordan, it has no effect in the workplace. However, individuals in each class have their own social activities and places they to go to. People of different classes don't mix with each other at all, they don't go to the same places; restaurants, schools, clubs, stores, malls ....etc. They don't marry from lower class.
Religion has no effect on the workplace; there is no discrimination on the basis of religion and Christians and Muslims have the same opportunities at the workplace.
There are some issues between Jordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin – with some people from the latter community claiming they are discriminated against, including in the workplace. Regardless of these claims, it is clear that there are Palestinians and Jordanians in all positions and departments across the workforce.
Women are not seen as equals in Jordanian society. In many instances, they do not have the right to make choices regarding who they marry, post-secondary educational studies and where they may work (if they are allowed to work).
However, you will nonetheless find women represented in the public sector, such as in the traffic division of the police department as well as certain ranks of the military.
Religion plays a huge part in Jordanian society. You will find prayer rooms in most government facilities, and many small businesses are closed during prayer time. Religion does affect some of legislation - for example, Muslims cannot sell alcohol, but Christians can.
During Ramadan it is more challenging to eat out during daylight hours. In my experience, with the exception of some businesses at the Dead Sea, most businesses do not sell hot food at this time.
The majority of the population in Jordan is poor and most people live below the poverty line. Some people earn as low as 185 Jordanian Dinar (less than $350 CAD) per month working as a teacher. It is very common for many people to hold second positions as drivers or shop owners. The poorer populations work long hours, and often seven days a week, in efforts to attain the money needed to give their children a good education.
There is a wealthy population of people living in West Amman. Their lifestyles are very different. The wealthier classes have better opportunities afforded to them. Their children go to better schools and colleges. They are able to travel abroad and see the world outside of Jordan; this has allowed them to expect more from life. They also have access to better-constructed housing.
The majority of people that I met in Jordan were Arabic – including nationals who are Jordanian, Palestinian, Bedouin or Syrian. Those who were Jordanian traced their lineage back approximately 300 years to that region of the world and Saudi Arabia.
There are also a great number of female live-in domestic workers from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, in addition to countries throughout Africa, such as Kenya and Sudan.
The Egyptian population in Jordan is sometimes likened to the Mexican population in the U.S.A. They provide cheap labour. Many of them go to Jordan to work and they travel home after several months to give money to their families.
Jordanian gypsies, the Dom, are generally marginalized and some live in open spaces in tents throughout areas of Amman. I have also found Syrian children at Carrefour (supermarket) or other markets offering to carry bags for whatever money they can earn to help their families.
Jordanians are well known for being hospitable; they like to invite people over to their houses.
Keeping in consideration that Jordanians prefer to deal with a person they know; strong social relationships will strengthen the work relationship. To facilitate this, be open to visiting people’s homes and inviting them, and being part of their social gatherings such as weddings and funerals.
For Jordanians, honesty is an important value, and will help build trust.
Jordanians are generally more personable than Westerners. They prefer to have coffee or tea and learn a bit more about you and your family before embarking on a business venture. I often found that we would have tea or be invited over for dinner by people with whom we did business. They would eagerly bring meals during Ramadan as well as at any other time. I have even had an experience in a shoe store where the store owner bought beverages for the children before we purchased anything.
Privileges and favouritism
Having a personal relationship with a Jordanian individual will bring a situation where special privileges and considerations are expected. If this isn’t against work ethics, then it is ok to do it. If it is against work ethics, then declining an invitation or request, along with an explanation why, is the best approach.
On the other hand if privileges start to be abused, the best approach is to treat everyone at the workplace equally, by refusing all demands for special treatment.
In my experience, I found it was always better to have known someone personally or to have a referral to speak to someone versus not having any type of connection. In many situations, we were able to acquire discounts or acquire and expedite paperwork because we were escorted by someone who had a contact at a facility, or because we were referred by someone.
Conflicts in the workplace
If a work-related problem with a colleague arises, the best approach is to address this problem in private with him or her. By doing so, any embarrassment will be minimized.
Pay attention to a colleague that starts to maintain only the minimum level of communication, and changes body language - this could indicate a problem. In this case, approach the individual and attempt to uncover and solve the problem. Doing so will demonstrate sincerity.
Jordanians are generally very upfront with their emotions and will make it very obvious when they are offended or unhappy with something that you have done. If you do encounter this problem or if it is the other way around and you are offended by something he/she has done, it would be advisable to confront him/her directly, in private.
In my experience, my colleagues did not want to take ownership/responsibility over the work they produced. This meant that they would become very defensive and start pointing fingers. For this reason, I found it was best to communicate via e-mail so that everything was documented; this way, if a problem did arise; the root of the problem could easily be identified.
Motivating local colleagues
As Jordanians are known for being generous, hospitable and proud, showing appreciation of what they do at work will motivate them to “go the extra mile” to get things done.
Of course money, loyalty, good working conditions and job satisfaction also play a part in motivating local workers, but this comes second after appreciation.
Keep in consideration that many workers have two jobs because of the low salaries. Accommodating, if possible, their working schedule to avoid timing conflicts between their multiple jobs would also be appreciated and would motivate them at work.
It is difficult to generalize; I found that the motivating factors differed for each person. Some of my colleagues worked extremely hard, put in long hours, and it was obvious that they placed utmost importance on having a rewarding and successful career. However, there were also a number of colleagues who would only focus on getting the required work done and nothing more. It was very rare for these particular individuals to put in extra hours.
If I had to generalize, I would say that good working conditions and money were the primary motivating factors. I worked for a very good company who treated employees well and provided much higher salaries than other comparable organizations. These two factors definitely contributed to job satisfaction.
Recommended books, films & foods
Jordanian cuisine is very similar to Mediterranean cuisine. There are also unique Jordanian dishes such as Mansaf, which is lamb cooked in a liquefied dried yoghurt sauce and served on rice. It is traditionally eaten with one’s hand (to be exact, only three fingers and the thumb of the right hand). Another famous dish is Makloubeh, which is chicken cooked with rice and vegetables. Individuals can try different Jordanian dishes by visiting local restaurants.
Shawarma and falafel are also very popular in Jordan.
As for drinks, Jordanians drink tea and coffee many times a day. Coffee is extremely important in Jordanian hospitality. It is served on plenty of occasions, and would be appreciated by any guests. The traditional Jordanian coffee is bitter, as no sugar is used. It is brewed with plenty of cardamom and served in small sips. The host will keep pouring as long as you don’t shake your cup, which indicates that you have had enough. It is not normal to exceed three servings. In some settings, refusing coffee may be taken as a sign of hostility, or that one has a dispute that needs to be settled with the host. Turkish coffee is also sometimes served to guests.
Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite Van Geldermalsen is a wonderful window into the amazingly legendary hospitality and peculiar customs of the Jordanian Bedouins.
Petra: Jordan’s Extraordinary Ancient City by Fabio Bourbon gives an idea about the fascinating monumental complexes of the ancient city of Petra. The photography found in this book is breathtaking.
Books: The Jordanian-Israeli War 1948-1951: A History of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Peace and the Jordanian Economy; Behind the Uprising: Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians; The Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli Triangle: Smoothing the Path to Peace (Forewords by Crown Prince El Hassan, Simon Peres); any of Edward Said’s novels; and Lawrence of Arabia (I would also recommend watching the movie of Lawrence of Arabia to get a sense of the landscape).
As for food, visiting a Halal market and talking with the owners about the food and culture of the region is a good way to learn about the culture.
When in Jordan, it is very important to visit the country in its entirety, as its people and their cultures vary between regions. Traveling from north to south will allow you to appreciate, and learn more about, the many cultures and historical sites. This also offers a perfect opportunity to live a variety of experiences unique to Jordan such as: hiking in Petra, camping in Wadi Rum (nicknamed the valley of the moon), scuba diving in the Red Sea (situated by the city of Aqaba), floating in the Dead Sea, discovering Roman ruins of this old colony, and many more.
I would recommend the dining in Wadi Musa and historical sites in Petra. There are a large population of Bedouins in that region and they are very friendly, inquisitive and open to sharing their culture and history.
Ultimately, I would recommend that anyone who truly wants to learn about the culture and the people spend time amongst the locals. It would be most beneficial to frequent neighborhoods that are not deemed as “tourist areas” in order to meet real people and enjoy the local cuisine.
Jordanians admire the late King Hussein who reigned as the monarch for a large part of many people’s lives (from 1952-99). His hard work to build the country is evident wherever one goes in Jordan – in terms of its openness, stability and prosperity. Even those who differed with him politically, admire him to this day.
Other important national figures:
- Prime Minister Sameer Alrefa’ai (2009-11)
- Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tal (three terms from 1962-71)
- Prime Minister Hazza' al-Majali (two terms from 1955-60)
- Prime Minister Abd Elhamid Sharaf (1979-80)
- Prime Minister Zaid Alrefa’ai (four terms from 1973-89)
- General Ali Khoulki Alsharayri (served as Minister in Education, and in Security and Order from 1921-24)
- General Mashour Haditha al-Jazy (known for participating in the six day war and battle of Karameh)
- Field Marshal Habis al-Majali (served as Minister of Defence from 1967-1968)
- General Awad Alkhalidi – (assisted in building the UAE army)
- Mr. Abd Elhamid Shouman (Financier and entrepreneur?)
- Mr. Moustafa Altal (Arar) - was a national poet, reformist, lawyer, teacher, judge, political agitator & philosopher.
Based on my observations, King Hussein is the country’s national hero. You will find pictures of him in the shops and cars of the local people.
Shared historical events with Canada
There are no significant shared historical events between Jordan and Canada. However, Jordanians respect Canada and its stance concerning Arab and Jordanian political issues. Jordanians also value the assistance that Canada provides to their country, and view a strengthening of these ties favorably. All in all, this could only positively affect work or social relations.
To my knowledge, there are no historical events between Jordan and Canada that could affect work or social relations.
It is very rare for a Jordanian to have negative or harmful stereotypes about Canadians. Canadians are seen as friends of the Arabs, and are admired for their sincerity and strong work ethic. This lends itself to very good working and living conditions in Jordan for a Canadian.
Jordanians are seen as friends of Canada and are admired for having an open mind to accept the other & for their hospitality.
Generally, I do not know of any stereotypes that Canadians have about the Jordanian local culture that might be harmful to effective relations.
About the cultural interpreters
I’m Jordanian with Palestinian roots. I was born and raised in Jordan, came to Canada in 2001.
I have a Bachelor degree of Science in Chemical Engineering. I’m a national Project Coordinator for a construction company in Ottawa. Before that I used to work as Executive Assistant to the Chief Representative of Palestine to Canada.
I started with CIL since 2011.
I’m married and a mother of 3 kids who are proud of their roots and of being Canadians.
I think it’s very important for my kids to stay connected to their roots, there fore every year we spend two months in Jordan. Which also helps them in practicing their Arabic language.
Your first cultural interpreter is a translator who set out to volunteer in Jordan at a tourist camp, but quickly had to adapt when the volunteer opportunity did not go as planned. She lived and worked self-employed in Jordan for three years with her husband and 6 young children.
Your second cultural interpreter was born in Calgary, Alberta the younger of 2 children. She attended high school in Vancouver and Toronto and continued her education at the University of Victoria, where she studied International Business, one component of which she completed at the Fachochschule Bielefeld, in Germany. Following graduation, she participated in the Department of Foreign Affairs Youth International Internship Program and was placed at a consulting firm in Ramallah. Due to the political tensions, one month into the internship she was relocated to Jordan, where she finished the remaining five months of the internship. After which time she obtained a full-time position on a USAID project and remained in Jordan for another year and a half. She lives in Vancouver, BC and is employed in management consulting.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
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