On Being too Expensive “For a Jordanian”

Ammar Mango wrote a very interesting article today in the Jordan Times which I thought was worth discussing. You can read it all here but let me just quote the introduction which is a conversation starter:

A dear friend of mine recently proposed to do some consulting work for a reputable Jordanian company. They checked his references, inspected his previous work, and thoroughly discussed his delivery style. With all that to their satisfaction, they asked for a quote.

All hell broke lose when they saw the figure. He was, according to the firm, way too expensive â??for a Jordanian.â?

The CEO explained: â??You know how it is here in the Arab world; people are fascinated with Western consultants. We can easily get a Western consultant with the rate you are quoting. So, why get a local when we can get a Westerner?â?

Being a person who considers himself an optimist, it is not easy to write about this subject. This is not a call for a â??pity partyâ? or to cry over misfortunes. Instead, consider it an invitation to discuss a phenomenon that has negative consequences on local consultants and the consulting profession in Jordan.

It is a sad situation when competent individuals are overlooked because of race or nationality. It is even worse when it happens in one’s own country â?? not because the individual is foreigner, but rather because he is Jordanian.

Let me continue based on Mr. Mango’s invitation.

It is completely sad when home grown talent is turned down because of ethnicity. How stupid do you have to be, how low do you have to sink to actually discriminate against your own people! I despise the fact that many of our top businesses in Jordan are all run by foreigners brought in, mostly British, French and American, when there are perfectly qualified Jordanians available.

The problem is multi-fold…

First there is the fact they are Jordanians, which implies they are unable to “bring in the business” when dealing with foreign companies. This is based on the assumption that if you hire a British man and have to deal with British investors, he can easily charm them with his British wit, or more simply put, his ethnicity ease the lines of communication.

How is that I wonder? In the business world is the object not profit or did I sleep all through economics 101? So what difference does the ethnicity of the person on the other end of the phone or screen make at the end of the day?

In other cases, as Mr. Mango’s article continues, we have people being hired especially in the gulf countries and at times upon arrival to the airport they are turned away for being…Arab?!

The formula of “If I had known he was an Arab I would either not have paid him as much or for that amount of money I could’ve gotten a foreigner” does not make sense to me. We are not purchasing cars here, you are paying for the services of a human being and that person’s expertise is defined by himself as an individual and not his ethnicity. I am willing to bet that for every foreigner someone is willing to hire there is an Arab who could do his job better. Case in point is Mr. Mango’s example where his friend was the first candidate considered and not the second. I myself have heard numerous stories about people accepting jobs in the Gulf and being turned away because they were Arabs. Some of them even signed contracts with the company and being that the latter could not out right fire them they made their lives miserable for them to leave on their own accord.

I think we are also developing this notion that “they” are better than “us” and in order for “us” to be like “them” we need to get one of “them” to run “us”. Quite simply the “they” becomes the “us” and the rest of us are left to wander in limbo.

A friend once told me (who had gone through this experience of rejection) that it was not a matter of profit or efficiency or any of that; it was simply that the workers responded better to a foreign supervisor than to an Arab. With an Arab there is common language, culture, history, ethnicity and so forth, especially if he is a local. With this in mind it is easy for the workers to get away with things, to slack off, to get into fights and rivalries etc. With a foreigner most of them are scared of even communicating with him given their poor language skills and so stick to their own work and mind their own business, add to that the fear that the foreigner is all about making money and will not hesitate to fire you, whereas the Arab might take pity on you or even join you on your journey of inefficiency.

I’ve been to companies and businesses in Jordan that have 3 secretaries, 2 Jordanians and 1 blonde and blue-eyed girl from wherever-land. The Jordanian girls get the tea and stack the papers and the blonde ushers guests into the bossâ??s office and keeps his schedule.

Whichever above scenario is true (if not all simultaneously) it is an indication of the sad state we are in. I do see Jordan as being better than practically all the gulf region that practice this type of thing constantly and depend almost 100% on foreign work in all shapes and form, but I do not want to see it begin to travel down that road. This applies now more than ever when rich Gulf business men are setting up camp in Jordan and in hopes of making a repeat of their success hope to conduct business the same way.

We have some of the brightest and youngest minds in the region. Hopefully they will not go to waste.

Labour Day in Jordan


  • This also happens in Jordanian companies between top executives and young managers. The CEO of the company would be paid something like JD10’000 a month and given a big load of stock options, and his managerial team would be given salaries around JD2’000 each with very minimal stock options if any.

    This is really a problem you know. If you look at how house prices change for instance here in the US, when someone sells their house very cheap, all the prices in the neighborhood go down because “that guy sold his house for 200k instead of 220k”, and when someone pays a lot for a house, the prices go up because “that guy’s house went for 300k instead of 280k last week”.

    You would expect the same to apply when it comes to salaries. These companies are willing to pay this much for the services, therefore the salary average should go up and you should expect everyone to start getting paid more for the same services.

    These companies that practice this have very discriminatory policies, and they should be pointed out and exposed to the public and put under a lot of pressure. Their top executives should be invited on TV shows to defend their actions. But do we have such shows in Jordan or anywhere in the Middle East? Here in the US you would expect to see this problems addressed on shows like Lou Doubs, but where will they be addressed in Jordan. I personally salute Ammar Mango for writing about it, and you are doing a good job blogging about it. But somebody has to bring these executives out in the public and expose them and put them under the public’s scrutiny. They shouldn’t be able to live comfortably while carrying out these discriminatory practices.

  • Hamzeh, “These companies that practice this have very discriminatory policies, and they should be pointed out and exposed to the public…”

    …fastlink 😛

    you are right, there are huge pay differences which I do not understand, even when the CEO is Jordanian and his subordinates as well. it drives me crazy.

  • Oh Nas, I relate so much to this topic because I used to work in Dubai and experienced first hand what it means to be expensive “For a Jordanian”

    The company I used to work for transferred me to Dubai and decided what was a good salary for me “as a Jordanian”

    Going there with no prior knowledge or experience about Dubai and life expenses there and naiively trusting my employers and never even thinking that they would literally screw my life, it was an ongoing ordeal for me, and I was stupid and stubborn enough to stick around trying to prove to myself and everyone who was against this move that I can make it against the ods, so what happened is that after 2 years of this pain, I ended up with piles of debt and credit card bills, and stress triggered an illness in my body, I was given a wrong treatment there for a whole year, and I was on the verge of a major breakdown, so I took a drastic action and decided to leave everything and come home.

    Not only they blew things for me in their company but they lowered my value in the market, which made it almost impossible for me to find another opportunity, so I thought that the best thing to do was to come home even if that meant starting over on so many levels.

    But then came the shock that Jordanians are not treated as professionals who know what they are doing, and companies would pay a lot more for a non-Jordanian even if the job profile is the same and the outcome is the same.

    Some would go to the measures of discriminating against education, so you are worth less if you are graduated from a Jordanian university and not from UK or USA, as if we were playing at university.

    This is disrespect for all the effort we have put in our education and work experience, it is disrespect for our brains and mental capabilities and it is a huge loss for these companies and for the country.

    If they want to look at Dubai and the Gulf as a role model, they should take in everything. There; Nationals are the highest paid in the country, fresh graduates get salaries of an Arab expat with almost 6 years of experience, so they respect their own people despite the fact that they do not compare to us in education or work qualities, and we dare discuss problems like “Brain Drain”! Fix the problems and reasons that lead professionals to leave the country and pursue their careers abroad, and then let’s see if we even still have such a problem!

    Thank you Nas for allowing me to write my mind on your blog, and I apologize for the long response, but this issue hits a nerve with me.

  • Khalidah, feel free to vent here. Yours is an interesting story actually. Your last point especially. Although in comparing we have to consider that Jordan is home to too many people with an education and the skill but the country sadly does not have the resources to employ them in the manner they deserve. On the other hand the gulf suffers from the exact opposite.

    It’s strange though, I’ve never heard a happy ending story when it comes to Jordanians who leave Jordan to work and find their riches in the Gulf. It always ends badly.

  • Nas, the problem is that I was not looking for riches; I simply wanted to build and independent life.

    What is even sadder and stranger is that those who allowed me to go live for 2 years in another country, would not allow me to live in a flat by myself in the same country where they can check up on me every day if they liked. Talk about double standards.

    As for the lack of recources; I believe that this is what we are convincing ourselves of. They are paying big $$$ to “khabor ajnabi” but not a Jordanian

    I agree with you that for a country that does not have natural resources (oil, water, … etc.), we have come a very long way, but we have brains, talents and many capabilities, so it is unfair for Jordan to lose them to the gulf or any other place for that matter.

    It is a very complicated issue and it needs a lot of time till we get the respect and treatment we deserve, I just hope it happens in my lifetime 🙂

  • Khalidah,

    “What is even sadder and stranger is that those who allowed me to go live for 2 years in another country, would not allow me to live in a flat by myself in the same country where they can check up on me every day if they liked. Talk about double standards.”

    although this is none of my business I just wanted to point out that when a member of the family leaves the country what they do is unknown to people other than what the family says. but living back in the country society considers it weird (if not shameful) that a woman should live on her own while unmarried. So the family usually picks up on that. Society is turning around, city life is still a relativly new concept in the indepedence context of the word.

    back to the subject, i hope it happens in your lifetime too! 😀

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