Jordan A to Z: L is for … Love!

Why Love?  Because this weekend is the 12th wedding anniversary for my wife and I!

But what does love have to do with Jordan?  Well … there is a very important word you will start hearing quite often soon after you arrive in Jordan:

حبيبي

Habiibi (for saying to men)

Habiibti (for saying to women)

The phrase literally means “my loved one”  and I hear it several times a day.  Actually it is directed at me several times a day.  Are Jordanian’s flirtatious you may ask?  Not overly.  In fact it would be shocking to hear a woman (besides my wife) call me Habiibi.  You see, Jordan has a very high gender role separation.  Men and women generally fulfill traditional roles within the society (although this is changing), and this also means that men interact more in the public sphere with other men and women with other women.

So it is very common for men to greet there male friends as Habiibi.  Or stangers who are around your same age or younger.  The same is true for women greeting women.  If anyone here in Jordan is calling me their loved one it’s invariably another guy.  Which can take a little getting used to, but now it is quite normal for me.

However … a guy should never greet a woman who is not his wife (or daughter or perhaps little sister or other younger female relative) as Habiibti!  This would be shameful and embarrassing.  So I must say here in Jordan I have dozens of Habiibis, but only 3 Habiibtis.  (my wife and our 2 daughters!)

Guys don’t be surprised when you visit us here if I greet you on the cheek with a kiss and a hearty “my loved one!”  Please don’t punch me.

That said … there is only one true Habiibti for me … thanks for 12 wonderful years of marriage!

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?

Arabic Language Correction

In my last post I gave the Arabic compliment and response you use when somebody gets a hair cut, but I was only half right. I copied the wrong response from my notes.  So here’s the correction.

When someone get’s a haircut you say to them:

نّيماً or “na3iiman” which literally means “Grace”

the response is always, اللّه ينعِم عّليك “allah yn3im 3layk” which literally means “God’s grace on you”

What a friendly way to say “nice haircut!”

Sorry for the confusion =)  And please, any speakers of Arabic feel free to correct me in the comments!