The Art Of Knowing People In Jordan


Tala, the Black Iris reader who sits across from me at work, was telling me about an interesting social observation she noted a while back. People in Jordan like to notice and know other people, so they can say they saw so-and-so the other day, or that they know so-and-so. For example. People seem to always be on the look out for other people when they’re driving around or in a common venue, such as a restaurant or cafe. I’ve realized this myself because I don’t seem to have the same heightened Spidey sense that tingles when someone I know is nearby, and even my own sister might go unnoticed by me if we were in the same place at the same time. But it’s not simply the seeing someone, but telling others that you saw so-and-so. It becomes something that is mentioned as readily as the weather.


Knowing so-and-so is also just as important. In an office scenario two people might be talking about someone while another person, busy at work, will suddenly rise to attention when a name is dropped on their radar. Suddenly they’ll say “oh, is that the son/brother/cousin of so-and-so, yeah, I know him”. I went to school with him. I saw him the other day. His parents are friends with my parents. We met in a past life.

People weave themselves into a conversation based on a familiar name. I don’t know to what extent they actually, in fact, know them, but they appear to, at least for conversation’s sake.

And with all that in mind, there’s also this incessant need to pick up on the small details associated with the sighting. This will range from the place they saw them, which is often in the form of “oh, I saw him/her at so-and-so”, or “he/she was coming out of so-and-so”, all the way to “he drives a bmw”, followed by details of the car model, year, color, estimated market price, and even the license plate. Other details will include what the person was wearing, whether they gained weight, whether they seemed busy or rude, what they were doing, what we think they were doing, where we think they were going.

Etc. Etc. Etc.


It’s also important to name drop. I know so-and-so. Do you know so-and-so. Of course it’s not only the important people, it can be just about anyone people know in common. I’ve seen people who take out their blackberry and go through a list of names, saying them out loud. The contact list on everyone’s cell phone is essential to survival. But it can also be in the simple form of “the other day I met…” insert an important name.

Suffice to say…

All of the above is something I find pretty annoying.


  • Nas,
    I think that this post fits perfectly for Qwaider’s March 13 Blog about Jordan day.These types of anecdotes seems to fall in line with the life style in Jordan, there is no way on earth that you are going to get away from it even if you try.I don’t know why people do like that or what is the significance of knowing this person or that person.I’m glad that the Americans aren’t like that at all.

  • Hatem, I have definitely fallen into this as an American in Jordan. Dropping the right name means the difference between being ignored by the circle of fafi moms at the birthday party, or getting into the inner circle. Mention the right name and people pull out their phones and want your number. But if you don’t know said person, the disdain is almost palpable. It never fails, the first five minutes I meet someone, it is 20 questions to see who I ‘know’. Even if I ‘know of’ them, it seems ok, but I have learned I am happier to stay on the fringe with the other fringe folk and talk about issues rather than people.

  • To be fair, this apply not only to Jordanians.. In Lebanon we are guilty of the same and here in the U.S. , it is a habit that people frequent places just “to see and be seen”.. This is common mostly between the italian and spanish communities..

  • not sure how relevant this is but it came to mind after reading your post …

    i remembered how in freshman yr at uni .. it was like everytime you met someone or just simply bumped into them by accident .. you would ask them for their number and save it on your mobile .. building the contact database ..
    i remember how when it would be just guys sitting together they would start bragging about how many girls numbers theyve gotten so far ..
    i remember how one day a few months into my freshman yr i sat down and sifted through all the saved numbers and then proceeded to delete most of them seeing as how the overwhelming majority had never been dialled after the day they were saved ..

  • hello there!

    yes i agree, its annoying, i have lived in Iraq where being powerful means hanging out with groups related to Saddam in a way or another, you hang out with someone that his father is saddam’s cousin, knowing that Saddam has like 44 direct cousins, and a lot more relatives of course, and their families, and his driver, and the guy that does the laundry of the driver, you just have to be with one of them to pretend to be powerful and important. and needless to say, i was disgusted by that and hence kept miles of distance not only of those who were the powerful ones, but those who felt the needed to hang around them, and those who felt it makes them important to mention some names to look important too.

    the result of that is that i dont know the names of anyone related to Saddam, and the majority of ministers and other people in high positions too. I just dont want to be around people that mention their names. and the results of that too, is that i gained that as a permenant habit, and now i dont care to know the names of officials in Jordan too, or anyone else that people feel its important to know them or know of them kaman.


    i lead a very comfortably big-names-free life….most of the time 😀

  • Your post can go on and on forever and relate to many similar topics.

    I always wanted to talk about this, I just never did because I would get too annoyed and just delete everything. And again, that is a common thing between Arabs, we are curious by nature and eager to involve ourselves in everything starting from “Oh I know him/her!” and ending with “Did you see the accident in X place on X day?”

    It is almost like we are in a constant race to show off and appear as more important than others.

  • Its not Jordanians or Arabs.. Its how secured, confident, determinant, focused, and objective a person is. If the majority of people is that dull, then its a social problem that people are empty, clueless…

  • I have some relatives that claim to have known some people from the upper echelon, the only thing that they gleaned from this master / slave like relationship is what these people used to give them in return for their services like: used clothing, worn out pair of shoes, defective appliances, malfunctioning TV’, used garden tools, and occasionally free stay in government hospitals.

  • The part about your own sister passing by and you not noticing rang a bell because it happened to me many times. When I’m in public, I’m walking in public, I’m in obstacle avoidance mode, and my consciousness is daydreaming somewhere in Tahiti. So people’s faces are irrelevant!

  • IT happens a lot in the US. there are a lot of places where people go just to be seen. The difference is that Americans do not tend to STARE at people like Jordanians do. They also tend to respect the privacy of others more than we do.

    I stop on 17 traffic lights on my way to work. I once decided to look around me to check if other drivers look at other drivers, and on the 17 lights there were drivers looking around at other drivers (one of them was me checking others).

  • “I’ve seen people who take out their blackberry and go through a list of names, saying them out loud.”…..Nas, I KNOW these so-and-sos with blackberries you are talking about! 😀

    yes, i totally agree that this is pretty much an Arab annoying habit. The thing is that as much as it may sound cool, bragging about knowing so-and-so at the end of the day might be a source of embarrassment, especially if the person you mention this in front of asks you to be his wasta with that so-and-so person you know, looool

  • Noura: “To be fair, this apply not only to Jordanians.. ” lol some how, that is quite comforting! 😀

    Khalid: well, at least now, iraqis probably dont do much saddam name dropping anymore!

    hala: you’re right, it is pretty endless!

    hani: “I’m walking in public, I’m in obstacle” looool that is the most accurate statement i’ve heard lately!

    hareega: “Americans do not tend to STARE at people like Jordanians do.” looool that’s a topic for a whoooole other post 😀

    secratea: “especially if the person you mention this in front of asks you to be his wasta with that so-and-so person you know,” looooool believe it or not, i’ve seen that happen!

  • Yes Jordanians stare,shamelessly.

    They interfere with your conversations even if they did not know you.I got a lecture from a stranger in the mall on how to deal with my son,just because she heard me tell him, “didn’t I ask you to go to the toilet before we leave?”

    And you forgot to mention how they are always interested in who was with whom..very important detail, that is!

  • Awsome! That makes me want to move to Jordan…I know nobody there, people will not want to know me, so I will be an outcast, go unnoticed, under the radar, perfect for me. What will happen if you “name drop” the wrong name in front of a government official? will it make him less corrupt?

  • Let us not forget the status gained, not only from knowing so and so, but also from:
    1. Number of car license plates – I never understood this one!!!!
    2. Mobile phone numbers – I guess this is following in the footsteps of the car license number
    3. The ability to have access to privilages reserved for certain people. For example the use of VIP lounges at airports, not the fist class lounge but the much coveted maqsoorah…oh my the rush that some people get from using this pathetic venue.
    4. And of course THE CAR

  • As an American living in the U.S. (I also lived in Jordan for a little while), I am always disappointed and depressed by the importance of having connections here. No, it’s probably not as endemic as in the Middle East; you can get a lot of places here on merit, but knowing people will make it a whole HELL of a lot easier for you.

    Also: Jordanians do not stare NEARLY as much Egyptians! Ack!

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