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  • August 2020
    M T W T F S S

Jordan A to Z: D is for ضيف / ضيوف

When I took the A to Z Challenge … I think I was more focused on the A to Z nature of it, instead of the Challenge.  It is really challenging to write a quality post every day of the week.  Especially one that I would like to think at least some new readers would come across.  I don’t know about you, but I generally want to give strangers a good impression … even in the blogosphere.

Which brings us to today’s ‘D’ word.  I kinda cheated … I used Arabic.  And it is not strictly a ‘D’ as you and I know one.  It is the  heavy ‘D’ sound if Arabic – the infamous ‘DaaD’  orض in Arabic.  It’s made like a ‘d’ sound in English … but you hold your mouth and throat in a funny way and it sounds, well …. heavier.  We have no equivalent in English.

So the word is:

ضيف / ضيوف

Don’t forget that the Arabic is read from right-to-left when you are reading!  You probably have it now.  No?

Ok … D is for … Dayf (singular)/Dyuuf (plural) and it means guest(s) in English.  Yes … we have had a guest the past few days.  So blogging, while working, taking care of kids, and entertaining a guest is almost impossible!  Although our level of hospitality does not nearly reach that of our Arab friends … we do try our best.  =)

Here’s a few things about receiving guest’s in your home from an Arab perspective.

  • Welcome them with a kiss – This is important, especially if you haven’t seen them in a long time.  Like in a few hours.  LOL!   I am just joking … but sometimes it seems that way.  The general custom (among men) is that you greet your friends with a kiss in public the first time you see them in the week and then perhaps a few days later … it is not necessary (for some) to greet them in this manner every time.  However, if they are a guest in your home you should kiss them on the cheek when you receive them at the door.  Cheeks touch (not generally mouth to cheek), and you make a kissing sound, one time on the right cheek and then three times on the left cheek.  And then back in on the left cheek for 1 or 2 more times if you are particularly close or trying to honor your guest.
  • Receive them into your house immediately -It is considered rude to keep someone on the doorstep and a sign that you do not like or respect them … even if you are chatting pleasantly.
  • Offer them something to drink immediately after they have been settled in the salon – traditionally this should be coffee or tea, but in these days it may be something cold as well.  It is expected that the host will serve their best available beverage in their best available glasses.  Just offering water is ok … but is an indicator that someone is poor or, if they are known to be well-to-do, stingy.  And when I say offer, I mean serve them on a tray.  Not just ask, “would you like something to drink?”  An Arab host will never simply ask a guest what they want and accept their protests.  As a guest you will be given something to drink when you first arrive. Other cold beverages, including water, will be served after the initial hot drink.  It is rare that the cup in an Arab’s house is not filled with some sort of beverage or another.
  • Bye-Bye Coffee – To signal the close of a short visit the host will serve Turkish coffee.  This is the polite signal that the guests should soon leave.  If a guest makes  a move to leave before this the host will hastily go to prepare the coffee.  With close friends this may also be nescafe or tea or may be skipped altogether.

Of course these rules apply to a guest in your home for less than a day.  No need to serve the bye-bye coffee to a guest who is staying overnight … unless you are trying to send them a subtle message!

Other Random A to Z bloggers (truly random – I cannot vouch for the content of these blogs … but go ahead and check them out if for nothing else, simply for curiosity’s sake!)



What to do when there’s a Tard at the Post Office

There was a Tard at the Post Office here in Amman this week.  Waiting for me.

No, I’m not using an insensitive 80s junior-highish pejorative – Tard is the Arabic word for package.

As in,”إجاني طَرْد, و نازِل لِآخْذُه” or “‘ijaani Tard, u naazil li’aaxdu”  or “A package has come to me and I’m going down to get it.” (The famous line from our Speaking Arabic Book 2.)

For you pronunciation-hounds please note that the ‘T’ in ‘Tard” is in fact a heavy ‘T’ which means your mouth is held more firm and you need to pharyngealize the sound a bit from the back of your throat.  (No, I’m not making that up.)  If you pronounce it correctly you will sound silly to yourself.  But if you pronounce it like a regular English ‘t’ you will sound silly to everyone else.  Take your pick.

After almost a year living in Amman I still haven’t figured out why some packages get held at the Post Office and some get sent through to the place where we collect our mail.  There doesn’t seems to be any rhyme or reason to it.  We used to think that Priority Mail envelopes would get sent through and anything larger would be held – but that just hasn’t been the case.  Sometimes small things get held and large things get sent through.  I’m sure there’s a reason, but we haven’t been able to figure it out.  In case you’re interested (or new to Amman and want to know) here’s the process for getting a package from the P.O. here in Amman.

Getting A Package Slip

1st we recieve a package slip with our regular mail.  This slip looks very official and alerts us that there is a package waiting for us.  This is always cause for excitement in our household!  One peice of info that I wish was included on the slip was the size or weight of the package – which as you will see could be useful information.  It is very important not to lose this slip – I never have (ok – I misplaced one for a long time – but it wasn’t ever really lost) but can only imagine the headache it would be to try to get the package without it.

Getting to the Post Office

Next we have to find a suitable time and way to get to the Post Office.  The Main Post office is located in the balad (downtown) on Prince Muhammed street.  Or in local parlance – just beyond Hashim’s restaurant near all the DVD shops.  If you get in a taxi and say, “3al-bariid ir-ra’iis fi-lbalad, law samaat” your driver should take you right there.  However, if like me, you often find yourself in Jabal Amman near 3rd Circle or Rainbow Street you can always jump in a service (pronounced ‘serveese’). This is a shared taxi and only costs 1/4 dinar as opposed to whatever the taxi fare would be (probably more).

There are a couple of Jabal Amman services but the correct one starts near Akilah Hospital just below 3rd Circle and runs along the top portion of Mango Street, cuts across by Bishop’s School to Rainbow Street and then descends into the balad.  Just ride it down until you get to the end of the line.  You’ll know you’re there because you get to a place where two streets merge and the driver will stop and everyone else will get out while wishing God to give the driver strength in Arabic.  Actually before this happens the driver may back a little down the hill on the street that merges in and then stop.  Don’t panic this is completely normal.

When you get out, head down the hill (to the left compared to the direction you just came from).  This is a steep street with crazy sidewalks – it’s safer to walk in the street.  Welcome to Jordan!  As you go down the hill another street comes in from the left – continue down and to the left on this street.  It will run into Prince Muhammad street and you will see the Post Office ahead of you across this busy thoroughfare (yes, near all the DVD shops).

Getting your Package out of the Post Office

When you go into the main entrance of the Post Office, take an immediate left and go through a set of open glass doors.  You will be in a stairwell – go up to the next level.  Here’s where it get’s interesting.

  1. Take your package slip (we’ll call this Paper #1) to the counter.  There are usually 3 or 4 men sitting behind the counter.  Depending on the time of day or how busy it is they may or may not acknowledge your presence.  They will probably never smile at you.  Don’t worry – it’s not personal and they do know you are there.  Hand Paper #1 to one of the men.  It will invariably be the wrong man.  Don’t worry he will tell you which of the other men to hand it to.
  2. Counter Man #1 will give you Paper #2 and mumble instructions to you in Arabic.
  3. He’s telling you to head back towards the stairs and turn left down the hallway right before them.  Take Paper #2 to the  2nd (or maybe 3rd I can’t remember) door on the right.  The room will be obvious because there are two desks, 3 post office employees, a large rack, and a large set of windows looking into the Package Holding Area.
  4. Give Paper #2 to the man at Package Room Desk #1.  He will ask to see your passport. This is very important – no passport, no package.
  5. This man will hand paper #2 to a man in the Package Holding Area who will search for your package. This step may take some time.
  6. Once you have your package, take it and Paper #2 to Package Room Desk #2.
  7. There are usually 2 P.O. employees here.  One will say something to you in Arabic.  He wants you to open the package with the box cutter tied to the desk.
  8. Show the contents of the package to these P.O. employees.  They will list out the contents of the package on Paper #3 and stamp it with official looking stamps.
  9. You then need to leave your package on the rack and take Paper #3 to the office of semi-important official who will look at it once, ask your name, stamp Paper #3 and tell you to see the  director.
  10. The director will give Paper #3 a once over and diret you to go back to the counter.  Counter Man #2 will look at Paper #3, give you Paper #4 and tell you to take them both to Counter Man #1.
  11. Counter Man #1 will look it all over, do some calculations, and ask you to pay a nominal amount for your package.
  12. Counter Man #1 will stamp Paper #4 and tell you to return to the room where you left your Package.
  13. Show Paper #3 and #4 to the man sitting at Package Room Desk #1
  14. He’ll keep paper #3 and give you Paper #4 (basically a receipt) and will allow you to take the package with you.

This is, of course, the part where knowing the size and weight of the package beforehand would come in handy as you now have to figure out how you will carry the open box with all of its goodies through the balad and find a taxi/service/bus to take you home.  I like all the goodies in big packages, but love small packages that I can put in my backpack – it makes the long  hot wait/walk in the balad so much easier.

The whole process could take 10 or 15 minutes or the better part of an hour depending on a number of variables (how busy they are, how hot it is that day, how grumpy or happy the PO workers are, how much strange stuff your family has sent you that needs to be explained to the guys inspecting the package, etc.). BTW – generally you can’t pick up packages after 2 pm- so plan accordingly!

If you have time and the package isn’t so big you should stop by Hashims for some falafil and hummus!

So in summary, to get your package you will need to exchange at least 4 different papers, speak to 6 or 7 different men and get 3 or 4 diffrent stamps on the paperwork!  The first time anyone does this it’s pretty confusing, but don’t worry it gets better with time – oh and they will definitely tell you where to go if you seem lost. (I mean that in the best possible way!)

Yeah it’s a bit of a rigamarole (I don’t think I have ever typed that word before), but it is well worth it  to recieve a box of goodies from home.  (This is true for all cultures I think – I saw a guy who I took to be Pakistani or Indian in line in front of me opening (for the PO employees) a package full of crackers and dried noodles.  The guy going through the stuff gave him a quizzical look and the Indian and or Pakistani man picked up a package of crackers and said, ‘you can’t get these here!”  I smiled – and was tempted to ask him if I could try one – but did not.)

I guess I’ve characterized the postal workers here as kinda grumpy.  Which is kinda true.  (Oh – there is one guy at the counter who sometimes smiles – must be the new guy).  But I’m usually there around quitting time which probably doesn’t help matters.  It has to be a fairly thankless job.  I’ve seen a fair amount of impatient, argumentative, and ungrateful package recievers too.  As in all cross-cultural situations it pays for foreigners to be friendly (but not too friendly ladies – in other words don’t smile or make too much eye contact) and use some Arabic.

This last time I exchanged greetings with the package inspector and we had the following conversation after the greetings and while he was looking through my box (I in Arabic, he in English):

Him:  Mr. Brian?

Me: Yes?

Him: Are you British?

Me: No, I’m American,

Him:  Really?

Me:  Certainly.

Him: Because Brian is a British name.

Me:  Actually it’s Irish.

Him:  Really?

Me: Yes, a long time ago there was a King of Ireland and his name was Brian.

Him (laughing):  Ok, Mr. Malik!  (Mr.  King) Or like Bryan Adams, right.

Me (laughing): Sure, why not?

Him:  Ok, Mr. Malik, take this paper to the mudiir (director).

Me:  Thank-you.  Peace on Your hands.

Him (now in Arabic): And also on yours.  God give you peace.

Me:  And May God strengthen you.

Him: And may he strengthen you as well.

Just another day picking up a Tard at the Post Office in Jordan.

Just Another Bag of Bread

To the untrained eye it may just look like another bag of bread. Of course, to the untrained eye it may not even look like that. Yes, this is generally how we buy our bread or khubz (خُبز) here in Jordan. We try to get it fresh from a nearby bakery every couple of days, but can also pick it up day-old from any number of little convenient-store-like shops.

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

The bread itself is flat and round and has a pocket like a pita. It comes in small (pictured here) and large sizes. It is so good fresh and still warm from the bakery. It’s fluffy, soft-but-not-too-soft, chewy, and just a touch of sweetness. You can’t buy anything like it in the States. Pita back home tends to be either paper thin, or super thick, and usually tough and stale – this stuff is just right.  When you buy it at the bakery they pick it up off from the wooden rack and put the amount you want directly in  a plastic grocery bag.

But I digress . . .

Last night I picked up our weekly meal of “Dream Chicken.” Dream is the name of a restaurant in our neighborhood. It’s not much to look at, but the food is great. They serve up rotisserie chicken, hummus, falafil, foul, french fries, and a couple of different Middle Eastern salads. The guys that work there are Egyptian and for whatever reason they’ve taken a liking to me – it’s usually an hour excursion to go get our supper. Last night they sat me down at the back table where workers sit in between customers, served me tea and we had a rambling conversation as I sipped tea and watched them do their jobs. (but that’s another post entirely).

As I left Dream and was walking down the hill, I realized that I had forgotten to ask for bread. I had no worries as they actually get all their bread from a bakery (maxbaz – مَخبَز) just 3 or 4 doors down. I looked over but the door where you usually tell the boy how much bread you want was closed. Wondering what I was going to do, I noticed another door that I had never seen open before. It obviously led into the inner workings of the bakery with the big mixer, ovens, empty bread racks, and flour everywhere.

I was already several steps down the hill when I decided to to do a very Arab thing. I walked back up and stepped a couple of feet into the obviously closed bakery and had the following conversation:

me: assalaam alaikum (Peace be upon you)
boy: wa’alaikum asalaam (and also on you)
me: ma fii xubz? (there is no bread?)
boy: ma fii! (there is none)

Just as I was about to turn and walk out a man emerged from the back room)

man: la! fii! fii xubz, bas zgiir. (No, there is. There is bread, but only small ones)
me: ma fii mush kalle. biddi zgiir, law samaat. (there is no problem, I would like small ones, if you please).

The man handed me a bag full of bread.

me: salaam idayak. qaddaysh? (peace on your hands. How much?)
man: rubiah (a 1/4 dinar aprox 35 cents)
me: tfaddil (please take this)
man: u idayak (and also peace on your hands)
me: ma’salammi (goodbye)
man: ma’salammi (goodbye)

The man went right back to his work and I left the shop.

As I walked out I realized that I had just had the conversation. I had just walked into a neighborhood shop and had a very normal everyday conversation including an exchange of money and goods with absolutely no hitch. No questions, no stumbling over greetings or amounts of money, no strange looks or questions about where I’m from. The whole encounter probably lasted less than a minute, and the conversation was pretty basic but I felt like I had passed a significant language learning milestone!


Cool Arabic language note:

The Arabic language works on a system of three-letter roots.  Prefixes and suffixes are added, and vowels are changed to change the meaning.  So:

xabaz خَبَز   means “to bake”

xubz خُبز means “bread”

maxbaz مَخبَز   means “bakery”

ps – the “x” is pronnounced like a combination ‘k’ and ‘h’, kinda like the last sound in “Bach”

Intercultural Note #2 – It’s a Man’s World

There is no question that here in Jordan it’s a man’s world.  There are the obvious indicators:

  • Many women cover their head and wear conservative Islamic clothing, while men wear pretty much whatever they want (although rarely shorts in public and usually conservative by American standards).
  • Only men can sit in the front seat of taxis.  Women have to sit in the back and wrangle the kids.  I would also note that the only working seatbelts are in the front.  So the the women and kids often sit in the back unrestrained (kids) and unprotected (women & kids).
  • In the evening (in our neighborhood) the men sit out on the street shooting the breeze and smoking narghile, while the women stay inside and . . . I’m not sure what b/c I’m a man and don’t know – but imagine it includes a lot of kid-wrangling and cleaning.

After being here a few months I have a few follow-up observations on these three cultural observations (I don’t know if I amright or wrong on any of this – so comments are welcome, esp. from those who have lived here in Jordan).

  • Jordan is actually very progressive (for the Middle East) when it comes to clothing and women. The queen never covers her head (that I know of) and many women can be seen wearing conservative, but Western style attire with no head covering.  Then there are the young 20-somethings who wear their designer jeans and tight shirts and cover their heads.  I haven’t quite figured them out.  And then there are those who cover their head partially and those who go for the full veiling.  The question on my mind is this – who decides? Is it up to the woman or the man? The other question is does it really matter?  For us Westerners it seems to be the ultimate affront for a man to decide what a woman will wear.  But is it really an individual man who is making the decision our an entire culture?   Does that make it right or wrong?
  • When it comes to men and women in taxis it comes down to this – in public non-married men and women do not closely associate together (in terms of physical proximity).  Apparently only 1 or 2 female taxi drivers exist in Amman.  So in almost every case if a woman sat in the front she would be sitting next to a man she is not married to. I think the woman sitting in the back is a way of protecting her honor.  Admittedly there should be working seatbelts back there.  If we ever happen to get one of the women drivers I will happily let my wife sit in the front.  It’s funny, because in the States everyone sits in the backof the taxi so it’s not really an issue.  Here I think it seems bad because there is something that a man is allowed to do that a woman is not.  BUt again, is this restricting her freedom or offering her some sort of protection?  (and protecting something often requires restriction of freedom, but then the question can be asked what if the something/someone does not want/need to be protected).
  • About the men sitting on the street – I wonder if this is a carry-over from bedouin times?  One can argue about how much a man should help women with the cleaning and kid-wrangling, but this network of men on the street offers a very effective community watch program.  And in bedoiun days (that are not so far off – perhaps 2 generations) perhaps this was a very necessary and valid function for men to be outside the house/tent serving as gaurdians of the family.

In a less obvious way the Arabic language indicates that it is a man’s world.  As with many languages there is a marked disctinction between male and female words.  There is the whole issue of objects being male or female (which I don’t get at all), but then things also change depending on if you are talking to a man or a woman.  There are different pronouns and verb endings. Right from saying “Hello, how are you,” many things are different depending on which gender you areaddressing.  There are even different words to indentify your uncles, aunts, and cousins on your father’s side vs. the uncles, aunts, and cousins on your mother’s side.  Your father’s sister is your “3ami” and your mother’s sister is your “xalti“.

Of course, this only indicates a high degree of gender seperation, not necessarily male-bias.  However,I recently came across an interesting linguistic artifact.  The slang term for prison – are you ready for this?  “Bayt Xaltak” or in other words your “Mother’s Sister’s house.”  Yup.  She must have been one bad woman.  Of course in English we call it “the Big House” I just never knew it belonged to my aunt.  What about you?