So, you coming to Jordan! Exciting news! Maybe it’s your first time in the country. Or maybe it’s your first time in the Middle East.
Perhaps you have a lot of questions…
How people typically dress in Jordan?
What do women wear in Jordan?
Are people friendly in Jordan?
When do I need to and when do I not need to cover my head?
Are Jordanians welcoming?
Do they like Americans in Jordan?
In general, Jordan is a comparatively liberal society. There are not religious police following up on people’s actions in public. Women are allowed to drive, go out on their own, and be with members of the opposite sex (who are not their fathers or brothers) in public.
However, there are some local customs that a visitor should take into consideration when visiting Jordan. When traveling around the country, you will likely see many tourists not respecting the cultural considerations listed below. And, if you don’t follow them, it is unlikely anything will happen other than unwanted attention. However, to be a respectful guest in Jordan, to ensure that locals feel comfortable, and to reduce the cultural divide between you and your hosts, you can take the following into account.
In Jordan, people dress fairly modestly. Jordanians are fashionable and almost always look very put together. From the coordinating head scarves and tops to trendy pants and high heels, the women I work with are usually dressed very sharp!
Tips for Men
- Pants, pants, and more pants. For the most part, no one wears shorts in Jordan. Even when it is blisteringly hot in the summertime. I occasionally see Saudi guys, many of who live in Jordan during the summer, walking around in shorts. But, Jordanian men typically do not wear shorts. I recommend jeans and slacks for Amman. And, for areas where you will be active (such as Petra or Wadi Rum, which can also can be very hot in the spring and summer!), wearing “hiking pants.” Hiking pants are more breathable in the hot weather, and it is easier to hike and climb around some of Jordan’s outdoor sights when wearing them than jeans or slacks.
- If you’re heading to the Dead Sea or hot springs for a swim, typically swimming trunks that you would wear at home are the norm. Away from the water, don’t walk around shirtless. Make sure to put a shirt on before heading away from the beach or back to your car.
- What does the typical Jordanian man wear? Jeans or slacks, a button-down shirt, polo, or t-shirt, and closed-toe shoes or sandals.
Tips for Women
- While you won’t have to completely change your wardrobe when traveling to Jordan, I do recommend that you dress more modestly than when you are in the West.
- Shorts and skirts that are not floor/ankle-length are a no. I occasionally see women wearing shorter bottoms, but doing so typically attracts unwanted attention and makes locals uncomfortable.
- Always carry a scarf. While the majority of women in Jordan do cover their heads and wear a traditional hijab, I have only done so once in the 9 months I’ve been in the country — to go inside a mosque. All of the women I work with except one cover their hair, but it is not an issue that I don’t. I always carry a scarf with me in case I do feel the need to cover my hair when I’m out and about.
- In addition to covering hair, women in Jordan don’t typically expose much of their neck or collarbone area. Another handy reason for a scarf if you are feeling uncomfortable or that you don’t fit in with those around you. Cleavage should definitely be avoided. Keeping your chest covered is culturally appropriate. In villages and areas outside of Amman, I tend to cover up more than when in the city. Occasionally, in Amman and more so outside of the city, you will see someone in a burka or something similar, but it is rare.
- My general go-to clothing in Jordan is:
- In Amman: pants or long skirts and loose-fitting, opaque tops that are 3/4-length or long-sleeved (yes, even in the summer!). I have a few short-sleeve shirts or tanks that I wear with a light cardigan over them, as well. However, I rarely, if ever would take my cardigan off. If it get very hot, I take a look around me and see what others are wearing and my level of comfort. In general, I always have my legs covered and wear longer shirts that at least meet my pants and often are long enough to cover my bottom and have high necklines and long to 3/4-length sleeves.
- Petra/Wadi Rum/Hiking outside the City: Hiking pants (much better option than jeans or long skirts), moisture wicking t-shirt, and long-sleeve or 3/4-sleeve pullover. In areas where tourists outnumber locals or places that are off the beaten path (i.e. hiking through an almost deserted wadi), sometimes I will wear a short-sleeve shirt but I always have a pullover and scarf on hand.
- Going swimming in the Dead Sea or hot springs can be an adventure for a woman traveler in Jordan. Depending on where you are, what you wear may vary. If you’re at the Dead Sea public beach, women are going to be swimming in the clothes that they typically wear versus a private resort at the Dead Sea where women will be walking around in bikinis. When I go swimming, I usually wear my bathing suit with a long-sleeve rash guard over it and athletic shorts. Depending on where I am, I may take a layer off or add longer pants. In general, women should see what locals and others are them are doing and follow suit.
- What does the typical young adult Jordanian woman wear? In the winter, skinny jeans, long sweaters, and a scarf. In the summer, pants or long skirts, 3/4- or long-sleeve shirts that at least reach your waist, and a scarf. Older or more traditional women may wear floor length coats or dresses.
In general, taxis are a safe and cheap way to get around town in Amman. Starting at just 0.25 JOD during the day, you can easily zip between downtown and the residential areas for just a few dollars. However, riding in taxis, there are a few cultural cues to consider.
Women should ride in the backseat of a taxi and men in the front seat. Why is this so? Typically, when a family is driving around, a husband will drive and his wife will ride in the front passenger seat. Therefore, when riding in a car, a woman who is not the wife or a family member of the driver typically sits in the backseat. Based on my experience in Jordan (plus the recommendations of my Arabic teacher), here are my tips for taxis:
- If you are a woman traveling solo, plan to ride in the backseat.
- If you are a woman traveling with a man (whether it be your husband, boyfriend, colleague, etc.), in general, the man sits in the front passenger seat and the woman sits in the backseat. Doing this indicates you are familiar with the local customs, and you may get a cheaper ride. Plus, drivers in Jordan typically ride with their seats very far back and most of the time it is difficult for both people to fit in the back seat.
- If you are a woman traveling with three other women (meaning that the backseat of the taxi would be full and one of the women would have to sit in the front seat), it is okay for a woman to sit in the front. However, this is really the only situation in which it is socially acceptable for a woman to do so.
- I have heard that women typically do not ride in taxis alone after 10:00 pm at night. A woman doing this may be considered to be “a woman of the night.” However, I have ridden solo in a taxi after this time and never had a problem. For the most part,I have found taxi drivers in Jordan to be courteous and helpful.
- However, if you don’t feel comfortable taking a taxi or aren’t sure exactly where you are going, I highly recommend Uber. (If you don’t have an account, use this code to get your first ride free or discounted: lorenh204ue.) The rate is usually just about 1 JOD ($1.40 USD) more than a taxi would cost, and you can enter your starting point and destination (which easier than trying to give directions in Arabic!). Uber drivers are very professional here in Jordan.
Just don’t do it. While in Jordan, you may see a few couples holding hands; however, in general, handholding, hugging, kissing, touching, etc. between members of the opposite sex is frowned upon. Locals feel that these things belong in the bedroom, not out in public.
- Many of the more conservative women and men in Jordan do not shake hands with a person of the opposite sex. If you are greeting someone and they place their right hand over their heart, this means that they are acknowledging you, but they will not shake your hand. Don’t be offended! Just do the same and continue.
- Greetings among men include either shaking of hands and/or kissing on the cheeks.
- Greetings among women include kissing on the cheek (1 on the right cheek, 1 on the left cheek, and 2 or more on the right). If you can’t remember the order, just turn your head to the left to start!
- While people of the opposite sex don’t touch in public, it is very common to see two men walking down the street holding hands. Very often, you will see large groups of guys walking around and hanging out together without a girl in sight!
Like anywhere in the world, harassment happens in Jordan. The biggest way to avoid it is to try to dress like locals and blend in. Typically, most harassment includes men yelling at women from a car or across the street or catcalling and making “kissy” noises.
- In Jordan, women generally are not out and about on their own as much as women in the West. And, being a woman walking alone can draw attention. I have been amazed (and somewhat disappointed) with how differently I am treated walking alone here versus walking with my husband. However, most Jordanians are very respectful and helpful to foreign men and women.
- There have been instances of women being groped on the streets of Amman, particularly in areas like Weibdeh or closer to East Amman. And, on one occasion, I was followed for a bit through a market by a man until I got tired of his presence and decided to lose him in the many stalls and people of the souq. If someone makes you uncomfortable or touches you inappropriately, raise your voice and bring attention to yourself. Honor and shame are important parts of the culture here, and shaming someone publicly is one way to quickly act to get the person to stop and bring others to assist you. As a guest, Jordanians will also feel the need to make sure that you are taken care of and drawing attention to yourself in an uncomfortable situation will typically result in people coming to aid you. Jordanian police also register complaints from foreigners of harassment or assault and seem to be paying more attention to areas where there are multiple reports.
- In general, Jordan is safe for men and women. Just use common sense, respect cultural considerations, and get out of any situation in which you feel is uncomfortable or unsafe as quickly as you can.
Last, but definitely, not least, I must mention Jordanian hospitality. As someone who grew up in the southern U.S., I know a thing or two about hospitality. But, Jordanians taking welcoming you, taking care of their guests, and always offering food to a whole new level.
Within minutes of stepping onto Jordanian soil to the very moment you leave, people will constantly say (and usually yell!) “welcome to Jordan!”
- Everywhere you go, someone will want to sit down and drink coffee or tea with you. From your taxi driver (no need to rush to your destination, let’s stop for coffee on the way!) to the man guarding a field of solar panels near your trailhead (he had tea ready for us to drink together after our hike!), everyone will want to drink “ga-way” (coffee) or “chai” (tea) with you.
- If you are lost or need help, you will quickly find a dozen people offering their assistance. As their guest here in Jordan, people here feel a deep obligation to help you and take care of you.
- If you’re from the U.S. or Europe, it is very likely that the Jordanians you meet will have a cousin, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, etc. living in the U.S. One of my colleages has a cousin in Jacksonville, FL, another’s brother is also in the U.S. I just met a man in a shop yesterday afternoon who lived in Houston for 15 years! Politics aside, Jordanians love America and many of them have family there too.
- Upon meeting someone, you may get invited over to their house for dinner. During my first trip to Jordan, I met a Jordanian man who was insistent that Craig and I come over for dinner. We were leaving town and unable to, but we made sure to thank him (thank you is “shukran” in Arabic) many times for his offer. Even today, three times during work meetings outside of Amman I was invited over to people’s houses for a meal! An invitation does not oblige you to attend. Just make sure to say thank you and show your appreciation for the invite.
- You will quickly learn that people in Jordan aren’t that different from those where you are from. There are just a few cultural considerations it is useful to be aware of before traveling to the country. Very soon upon arriving (and throughout your time) in this hospitable country, you will hear yells of “Welcome to Jordan!” everywhere you go. Make sure that you take time to have tea with a local or just take a few moments to talk to a shopkeeper. Jordanians are a wonderful people, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out!