Stranger Danger! or, Awkward Situations.

This is for you, Mom.

But seriously, Mom, these situations actually ARE awkward. I don’t just make them that way to annoy you.

One of the most important parts of Jordanian culture is “visiting.” It’s nice, going to people’s houses, getting free food and sweets, hanging out, etc. But it gets a little ridiculous… and awkward… and here’s how:

It’s normal for people you’ve never met to beg and plead with you to come in for tea. And if you’re new in the community, hesitantly accepting those invitations (unless they’re by men) is kind of how you’re supposed to meet people. So, hi, I don’t know you, I’m going to come into your house and eat and drink and hopefully not be poisoned. Thanks!

Unless you ask somebody you trust about every family in the neighborhood, you don’t really know which families are ok to visit until the kids in one family lock you in a room and try to sell you broken junk because they want your money (even though you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer who hasn’t figured out where the nearest bank is), and when you get yourself out of the room they physically stand in front of the door and don’t let you out, and then they show up at your house well past the culturally appropriate curfew for ladies more than once and try to force their way in to “see your stuff and how much money you have.” Then you can safely assume your landlord would have told you not to visit that family. Noted.

Once you do visit someone (and actually like them and aren’t held hostage, prompting an obsessive-compulsive freakout and multiple talks with the Peace Corps safety dude), they want you to come over. Every day. And when you say, “umm, well, like, I have other people to visit, too, and I have a life, and I want to start some secondary projects,” this is interpreted as, “I don’t like you and who cares what you think haha you’re a loser screw you.” Apparently. Because if I don’t want to come over to somebody’s house Every. Single. Day. and teach their kids English and have lunch with them and sleep over most nights, I must be some kind of freak who doesn’t care about other peoples’ feelings. So it would seem.

Saying “no” to a seventh cup of tea-flavored liquid sugar means you don’t like your host, see, and so does explaining after a very large meal (during which you’re accused of under-eating despite needing to unbutton your pants) that you’re too full for 15 cookies, more liquid sugar, coffee, nuts, and fruit. I mean, there is food. It’s there. We’re offering it to you. Why don’t you want it? You must hate us. You hate us! If you don’t eat/drink the 15 cookies, liquid sugar, coffee, nuts, and fruit right this instant, we’ll believe you hate us forever. So get to it, or you’ll never be a successful, integrated community member.

Typical conversations I’ve had when visiting: “You’re a vegetarian? You’re pretty fat for one of those.” Thanks. And you’ve got quite the mustache for a lady, back off. “Why won’t you marry a Jordanian man? I mean, you’re considering it, right?” Sure, except for that I’m a closeted atheist, beer drinker, and general bosser-arounder of other people. Which won’t fly. “Why can’t you come to our house for every meal and teach our kids English every day?” Because I’d rather poke my own eyes out with rusty forks than hear about Hussein running down the bitch outside of work hours. “Your father really let you leave the country instead of getting married and having kids?” No, he didn’t, I’m a fugitive. Watch out, my mafia dad will probably be here soon to rain hellfire on your little town. Be afraid.

So there you have it. I’m a freak who doesn’t care about other peoples’ feelings because I like to sleep in my own house, cook my own meals at least 50% of the time, have down time, and regulate the amount of sugar I consume. And also I don’t like to teach English from 7:30 to 2PM daily and then continue teaching it until sundown. You know, because I have a life. And other interests. And fragile sanity to protect.


4 Responses

  1. AWKWARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I can easily picture your dad as Mafia….just because it’s fun to do so!
    This is one crazy post, Claire. I can totally identify with what you’re experiencing. I think this hospitality type behavior is somewhat universal – characteristic of a lot of countries. With love….. a.t.

  3. This is a very funny post about a serious intrusion on your life. I guess some cultures are just that way — meaning don’t consider privacy as a universal need. Maybe it isn’t. But our culture certainly values it. Hard to balance your needs against what the culture expects — while also protecting your possessions and your time.

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