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 theyÃ¢??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 clichÃƒÂ©s 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 theyÃ¢??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 theyÃ¢??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 weÃ¢??re going to see people leaving to live abroad where they can raise their children with better values; raise them to be original.