All That Shimmers

Embracing western culture has had its impact on Jordan. Despite the idealism of “what should be”, the “what is” states that Amman is a culturally divided city. There’s constant talk about the west and the east but this is common in many cities though.

I’ve lived half my life in the western hemisphere and the other half in the eastern. I was always aware of the vast differences between society in the western world and society in Jordan. What I always found strange but kept to myself was the fact that so many of our youth that live in west Amman one could swear have lived or experienced an international life. They had lived in New York or Chicago or somewhere for a number of years before their families moved them to Amman. And it always surprised me at how many of them have never been outside the city, the country, or even the region.

They dress, talk and behave like characters on an American sitcom or a Hollywood flick, but not all that shimmers is really gold. Again, having lived for a great deal of my life on both sides of the Earth I’m allowed a degree of perspective here, people are free to disagree with it.

There are several common statements that I’ve always heard in Amman from people who have had a similar (although to a much lesser extent) experience as I have (perhaps a few years in college).

The conclusion has often been that those living in west Amman have received all their education of the western ways from an invading pop-culture. They’ve never truly been abroad to experience the good and the bad. The same can be said of westerners with regards to the Arab world except theyâ??re not trying to imitate our way of life.

Here is one of the biggest misconceptions: not all the girls in the western hemisphere wear the latest fashions from Paris and reveal enough skin to rival the covers of men’s magazines. In fact most of the girls work hard, yes, even the blondes. They work to pay off their student loans while studying and struggling.

A friend of mine who had never lived outside Amman until his first year of college in Canada summed it up in the most guy-like-way possible, and I paraphrase: “Everyone back home thinks the people here are all about screwing and getting drunk and they try and imitate that in their everyday lives in Amman. What they don’t realise is that guys and girls over here spend their whole week studying, working part-time, struggling and then on the weekends they hook up to get drunk and screw.”

It’s a funny and perhaps a little vulgar way of putting it but it does describe the environment.

In our imitation of the western world we miss out on the most important factors.

Many times I’ve heard religious figures ramble on in the same manner by saying we’ve embraced all their bad things and taken none of the good things. And in part they are correct but they tend to speak in broad statements such as “we’ve taken their sexual music videos and left behind their knowledge”. Broad statements don’t describe how people actually live on the ground and it’s that description that we don’t see on American movies and sitcoms that tell all the West Ammanites exactly what it means to be western. That there are important values that come with the look.

I’m all for individualism but I don’t like it coming at the expense of eroding the Arabian spirit which I feel is fading from the more economically thriving sides of our cities, but there’s little I can do about it. The wealthy young Arab loves to imitate instead of innovate and to avoid speaking in broad statements: I wish people in Jordan could create their own unique identities. Through observation I see people trying to pull off their best imitation of what it means to be western while embracing nothing but fading superficialities that are as temporary as hannah tattoos and multi-colored hair dye.

What happens when these fade? What is the residue that remains?

I think perhaps by not experiencing the western world one can never fully understand it and until then everything looks like the worst impersonation ever; everything and everyone looks fake.

I’ve met many people in West Amman who are as original as they come. They are intelligent, well dressed, articulate, worldly and show no signs of fakeness. You encounter these people and you think they must have lived in some foreign country, but they haven’t. Simply put, they’ve just managed to avoid misinterpreting what it means to be modern and they’ve put a giant Jordanian seal right on top of their own trademark look.

On the other hand you can pass by some cafes also known as clichés for the many people that inhabit them. You can walk in to these places and see 50 girls and 50 guys who you’ve probably seen before; their look, their mannerisms, their speech is all a copy of a copy of a copy. Until the colors are so blurred you can no longer tell if that’s their real hair or self. And they are metaphorical empty shirts getting by with Made in America labels sewn on the outside so that everyone knows that theyâ??re hip.

You don’t know those people on an individual level enough to generalize, but you get a sense of things. You get a sense that what you see before you is a fake or an original the same way you can tell the difference between a real Picasso or a poster print. You don’t even have to look twice. It’s not just their sad imitation that gets to me; it’s really the fakeness. You can sit with these people for less than 5 minutes and in between the splashes of Arabish words like “shoo cool” you just know that everything they’ve ever learned about being western is straight from a Hollywood movie. And theyâ??ve created this shell of an image while ignoring some of the great values that came with that western image and even worse, sacrificing their societies own values.

It used to be that families that lived in the west would move back the homeland where their children were safe in the embrace of their culture, heritage, religion; protected by values. There was no reason to fear the things they would encounter in high schools or on city blocks. Perhaps in a while weâ??re going to see people leaving to live abroad where they can raise their children with better values; raise them to be original.


  • “Jordan could create their own unique identities”
    that was something but we r part of arabworld and part of the whole world which all trying to have the usa copy as same as u see in amman u can see that in turkey in japan in sudan as well as in euro zone but same guys u see now after 10 years does any one of them the arab stay same no they all return to be arab so it’s life don’t worry about arab (el3arabi bedal 3arabi law da3 shi 20 years he will back to be 3arabi or until he has kids)
    gr8 site

  • What most people fail to realize that media that comes out of America in the form of movies, television, and magazines are highly sensationalized. Most of it doesn’t even come close to how the average American lives. If it did resemble real life, no one would buy it.

    However, one “Western” cultural item I do wish that Ammonites would adopt is the wearing of shorts. I don’t wear them in public out of respect for the culture, but I’m sweating my butt of here in the summertime.

  • well said….and LOOL on “Sho Cool” !!

    I had the chance to teach at one of the famous schools in western Amman where I could see young men dress weird, talk weird and rap songs for their favorite singers without even understanding the words!

    When i used to discuss that with them, some said Your not cool teacher ? Others said, we are still young why should we care.. then a young girl form the class said:

    “I guess 2ostaz Bashar that we are in need for a role model in this age, we need to fill up our thoughts and absorb a culture that satisfy our energy and answers our questions, we need to believe. And since no one is telling us where to find all of the above, then I guess we are forced to take what ever is available!”

    This is not a justification, yet it is a strong reason.

  • I agree with a lot of things you said. I’ve always wanted to return to Jordan to raise my kids. But I still have the “old” Jordan implanted in my mind and with my yearly trips over, I become less inclined to do so. Maybe when I retire I will choose to live there. I still think Jordan is as close to heaven as I’ve been.

    I think I am lucky enough to be influenced by two great cultures and actually live in both and see the everyday realities. In the end, it’s up to each individual to choose the best from each culture and incorporate them into our lives..if that’s what they want.

    I’ve worked in fast food restaurants with other kids whose parents bank account balance could purchase much of the GNP of Jordan…well ok not exactly that much but they’re pretty well off. Yes those parents sent their kids to work at the age of 16 at McDonalds. I don’t think that would ever happen in Jordan. I’ve had friends who once they turned 18 were asked to pay rent to stay in their parents homes. Not because Mom needed the extra $ to get her hair and nails done, but to teach kids a valuable lesson. Growing up, if I wanted those new Air Jordan’s, I would have to earn the money to pay for them. Same would probably go for my cousins in Jordan if they wanted to buy something like that. But would their parents “allow” them to work in such places? I really doubt it.

    Dave – I feel the same exact way about the shorts. Wearing pants is a killer on those 95 degree days in the scorching sun. Why don’t you start wearing the white robe 🙂 That’s sure to keep you cool. I still don’t have the courage to wear shorts in public there either. But some people are pushing this change. I also do think that people in Jordan show more skin than their counterparts in the U.S…which is no problem with me, but I am sure they get the stares from others. It is really ironic how outsiders respect the culture more than some of the locals. About the sensationalization, didn’t you know that in the West: we pick money off trees or it falls into our laps, violent crime can be found on every street corner, and girls are begging for men here. How repulsive!

  • Naseem, (No room to argue here. lol) You make excellent points. you’re actually a good example of a good mix of the two! (not that I know you personally, but you know exactly what I mean!)

    Luai, I share your views as well…But I guess it doesn’t matter WHERE you’re raised as much as HOW you’re raised — yes society plays a role, but it’s up to each one of us individually to carry those values, morals, principle, traditions we learn at home with us where ever we go!

  • As an American living in the Middle East, it amazes me the misconceptions that Middle Easterners have about America. America is not the movies, it’s not the music, or the magazines; American’s play hard, yes, but we also work very hard in order to play, and all-in-all it’s a pretty conservative country.

    My parents are fairly wealthy, yet when I turned 15 years old I had to get a job — my parents insisted — and I had to start paying rent. I forget the amount of the rent, it wasn’t that much, and my parents certainly didn’t need the money, the point of it was that they were trying to teach me to be responsible. In America it’s very much “sink or swim”; the people who play the hardest work the hardest — you don’t work, you don’t play.

    Sorry about the rambling post. I just wanted to say “thanks” for seeing both sides.

  • Great post!

    Now,I would like to quote an American prof. at the AUB, She said:Some of you guys are nuts! You have great history and culture, why you are being so fake? “Addressing a bunch of girls dressed like…mmmh”

    Anyways, I personally embrace everything local. Actually I’m not ashamed like many of Western Ammanis of my accent or customs.
    At least I know where I come from, and proud of my history and heritage.

    Yeah, blondes work hard to get through school, and they dress probably at school! Western girls are self dependent, they don’t burst in tears of they hit another car or get stumpped by a prof or something. And they won’t make fun of others because they are different,poor,or not well traveled

    Girls, please stop wearing low cut jeans, high heels, and make up to school!Wear such stuff on weekends.

    Now, it’s not only RICH ARAB KIDS, the other day we were passing through some area in Amman, and some kids jumped in front of the car and break danced while some other kid was beat boxing(actually they were not bad :D) , my brother smirked and said: Now look what TV has done!

    Well I would say let people dress and act like whatever they wish to, but at least they should be proud of themselves and their heritage(whatever that would be, sadly enough, most people think we descend from Yemen, which is another cultural disaster)

    Kids wanna act like what the see in the cinema” – Black eyed peas “Where is the love”

    I go to Starbucks, ya Allah shu cool ana!
    You drink Abu Abed Coffee, yay Allah shu Hafartali enta! looooool

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  • Firas, loool well I’ll agree with you to an extent. i’m not picking on girls but both genders, the entire generation. i have nothing against westernization but there should be a ceiling i think or at least it shouldnt be sacraficed to our own heritage. if you notice these people like you described in the last 2 lines, many of them pull away from their roots as if it’s something to be ashamed about and by embracing americanism it makes them modern. and its not just the rich obviously, but for the most part they’re the ones who can afford it


  • Why do people call it immitating the USA……this is really stupid, it is a universal trend in living a free style….they have own culture and arabs have their own culture, but cultures change with time, you cannot remain the same all over the years… history and you will know that… have world wide fashion you have unternational songs and everything is universal…..but the uSA is leading lets say this trend, but you also have many countries in teh EU leading many fashion trends too, adn remember that europe before 100 years had a very conservative culture like arabs now….and now they got modernized and so will all teh world…..but it will take time, but it will happen whether we like it or not.

  • KOKO, then let us call it adopting another culture, although I still believe it’s imitation, and a knock off one at best. cultures evolve because people choose that evolution, it is an outward evolution; the key here is that it’s the same culture. but what we have here is an abandonment of one culture and embracing a different one altogether.

    p.s. culture is not defined by a fashion statement

  • Koko does make a good point when it comes to American “culture” which isn’t as distinct as everyone likes to think. All you have to do is take a look at the myriad of fashions and musical styles that come out of America in order to realize that America isn’t a single culture at all, but rather a blend of various styles and cultures.

    Much of America’s diverse culture is a result of the people’s need for self-expression. If other countries are adopting (or immitating) those elements, perhaps it is because they fulfill that same need for self-expression that may be lacking in other areas?

  • Dave I agree with your first point, it is a blend of various styles and cultures, the very crucible benjiman franklin feared would arise. and this is what i was pointing out in the post: that people who do try and imitate this culture are looking at it from one perspective: the “as seen on tv” version of it if you will. which is why experiencing this culture brings out a different understanding of it than blindly imitating it.

    i disagree with the second point. there are cultures that are richer than that of america’s for one, and secondly, it is a mistake to assume that america’s culture has some magical powers of self-expression completely absent in other cultures. like ive said in the post, there are people i know who are as original and jordanian as they come and are more articulate and expressive without resorting to creating some fictional veneer to help them appear legit.

  • I think this is a good post and I agree with you in some ways, but I think you have glorified the West into something more than it is. Further, the Bourgeois class is not only in West Amman. You will find them all over the world. The difference is that we’re more concious of it here because we’re a relatively small city for such a capitalist and globalised mess that is currently Amman, so we exist in the same physical space. I went to a small campus for university abroad and I met a lot of different types of people. And my impression is that the only reason we think Amman is fake is because people know they are fake but they don’t try to hide it. It is a genuine fakeness. The West on the other hand borrow just as much from other cultures as we do, and they feel self-entitled to it because they are “global citizens”. So you have people obsessing over Anime or “OMG Africa is beautiful”. But we, at least we know the distinction between our own culture and what is outside of it, and we try to combine the two. The tough part is trying to find a balance between the liberalism we see on TV and the strong communitarianism as well as inferiority complexes that we were raised under. This is very conflicting. And you can blame us all you want, but it’s not easy to overcome what we’ve been socialised into.. with terms like “The American Dream” and so on.

Your Two Piasters: