On The Art Of Jordanian Flattery (And Sucking At It)

There is a social trait in this country to shower people with flattery; it’s known as mujamalat. Most of it is insincere but then again, those being showered are well aware of that and participate in the masquerade. Having not grown up in Jordan, the concept of flattery for flattery’s sake is foreign to me and I’ve never indulged in it, while finding it difficult to participate in it. Navigating through the waters of social charades my natural tendency towards honesty has always been an anchor in these seas. I cannot help but be honest to a degree of bluntness, and it has not served me very well in this country. Actually I’ve discovered that in most cases, human beings really don’t want you to be honest with them, even when they demand your honest. Perhaps we’d rather be lied to. Nonetheless, Jordanian flattery has never been my forte.

That being said, sucking at flattery is not something one can easily brush aside in this country; it is essentially difficult to live a relatively normal life in its absence. In Jordan, flattery is taken very seriously. It is a display of affection, intimacy, concern and/or praise. It dominates all sorts of relationships. Whether in a marriage, or with a stranger, or with a potential business associate or client, or even with family and relative; flattery at the very least is prerequisite to cordial conversation and at the most, having the capability to ‘seal the deal’. It can allow you to get away with a speeding ticket, increase your chances of marriage, or even your chances of getting a raise. There are people who have based their entire career on flattery and so it is surprising to me the extent to which flattery can play a vital role in Jordanian social interactions. This isn’t the ordinary sucking up you hear from state officials when they refer to the King or their superiors, but the ordinary, everyday, average Jordanian’s mannerisms.

Flattery also runs along the same lines of stock dialog upon meeting someone. The “hi, how are you?” is extended to include inquiries about the person’s life, their kids, their siblings, their parents, their education or their work. Sometimes, these introductions will last for a good 3-5 minutes and it can be aweful if you just bumped into someone unexpectedly and have to get going somewhere. But it makes me wonder just how concerned that person really is when it comes to knowing the answers to all those questions. It also makes me wonder just how honest we are when answering them with the usual “mlee7” (good), “qwais” (good), “el7amdullah” (thank God i.e. good), “tamam” (good), “zain” (good), “mashi el7al” (good), “moush ba6al” (not bad i.e. good), “da7el” (rolling i.e. good).

I know that it’s worse in some other Arab countries, as many of the Gulf nations indulge in similar practices, but it makes me wonder: is the reason people flatter each other so much due to the ‘fact’ that nothing ‘real’ or ‘substantive’ exists? If we have nothing really good to say about people or things in general, do we rely on flattery to fill that void? To postpone the obvious realities?

I really don’t know.

But I figure in a world of lies, perhaps honesty is the best policy.


  • Well, there’s the saying that goes, “If you have nothing nice/good to say, then say nothing at all.” Or something like that.

    I like that saying.

    Right, I’m not exactly sure what my point is, but when I tell you I enjoy reading your blog, I can assure you I’m not flattering you for the sake of anything. 😀

  • AMP: man that thing must come in handy sometimes 😀

    Hal: lol thanks but I, like you, have no idea what you’re talking about! 😀

  • Oh boy, I’m gonna have to indulge in this once more when i visit Jordan this summer! the problem isn’t that i hate it because, as you have mentioned, whether we like it or not, we just can’t easily brush it aside, so we just learn to live with it. But It’s just that i suck at it, and then people usually think i’m socially awkward! Maybe that’s why when i visited home the first time i really tried hard to avoid seeing people; mujamalit those people who all of a sudden, from nowhere, want to socialize with me is not a show i can put on for long!
    The typical questions i receive from those people who i barely know is keefik? sho kunti ti3mali hnaak? keef Amreeeca? nseeteena? laish ma 3umrik etaslati 3alaina? not to forget that us single girls also get the “ma fee 3arees 3al 6aree2?” question…! lol
    anyhow, I end up giving those typical answers you have mentioned.. Jad, sucking it all up sucks 🙁

  • Thank you! I thought I have issues because many times I don’t find anything to talk about with some people. It’s just uncomfortable to sit around saying nothing, so you end up talking about everything that is anything…

    I really wish silence wasn’t so awekward, certainly better than mojamalat with hollow smiles!

  • I can’t do mujamalat.it’s just too fake. Even when I try, i fail cause I can’t live with not being true to myself. The thing is if you don’t live with the mujamalat and conform…you are ostricized. People that usually “jamloo” find it hard to be around those that don’t for fear that their true self is revealed past the front they put up. I too learned the hard way that being honest and genuine with people is not well-received but I’m still sticking to it.

  • Where do these hallow “mojamalat” come from? Once upon a time in our old history of osool o 3adat, people did and said things to show appreciation, love, care for others in their community. People used to mean what they say and that mattered to others. Mojamaleh was plain old courtesy but now it has all those negative connotations attached to it.
    Having the ability to be sincerely courteous with others is a social art and a great asset, when you are sitting with someone even if a total stranger it is courtesy to strike up conversation to make them feel welcomed and important, your questions should show interest without intruding.

    If you can’t be sincere and genuine in your flattery, then don’t do it. If you can’t honestly find a single thing that genuinely interests you or is worth sincerely complimenting in the person across from you then maybe it’s you who is looking at the world through wrong glasses. No one is that much better than others.

  • قبل أسبوع أبني أشترى حاسوب وشبكنا علي الانتر نت وقللولي كيف تربط المواقع الالكترونيه وبصدفه ربطت موقعك وزرت موقع نسيم الطراونه، ويا عيني علي هيك موقع زرتوا،أرجوك ما تئخدني عي هذه المجامله لي انو موقعك حلو وف فكاهه زي مابحكي غوار الطوشه في المسلسل السوري الشهير صح النوم،علي كل حال المجامله شئ موجود عند كل الحضارات والأمم وهذا نوع من التواصل والاحترام

  • This makes me think of some of the posts on the economy and business in Jordan.

    In the US it goes like this:

    Vendor: How can we do a better job?
    Client: Well, it would be nice to have a website where we can track shipments at any time of the day.
    Vendor: OK, we’ll check into that and see if we can do it.


    Vendor: How can we do a better job?
    Client: Habibi! You’re a great guy! We love doing business with you. Let me get you some coffee!

    Of course maybe it’s a stretch in the first place to assume that a vendor would ask the question about improving services…

  • YAY introverted YAY … Silence is never awkward when really it is your MO, if other feel that way… tough luck.
    I am not trying to sell anybody anything, not even myself thankfully, so I really don’t care about the antagonism that it generates. shak 2asafeen galore, keeps me entertained and sharp so i actually enjoy the attempt and it gives me a purpose to counter attack and annihilate.
    long live live napolean the pig !
    ps. too much coffee in the morning can simulate the effects of lsd

  • SO, where do women get off the hook of this lovely cultural exchange? I see them greeting one another with shabbily veiled inferences to gained weight, looking sick, why did you do your hair that way, etc.

  • secratea: “Jad, sucking it all up sucks” lol that’s poetic

    ola: I’ve discovered that amidst all the risidu, the people you really love or consider friends are those whom you spend no amount of mujamalat on, and the silences are never awkward.

    Maha: “people did and said things to show appreciation, love, care for others in their community” I don’t know if that’s true. Also, a mujamaleh is usually not intended to simply compliment someone. There’s a difference between the word compliment and the word flattery. There is a thin line. I can easily find things to compliment (most) people on but I don’t feel the need to translate that into a fury of flattering remarks. In most cases, my compliments stem from my appreciation for the good things they represent, without vocalizing it every time i see them. And especially when I’ve only met them.

    do you see my point?

    bambam: thanks for the demonstration! 😀

    kinzi: i think that’s an important angle. those observations are very feminine in Jordanian society, and represent a type of blunt honesty, which ironically and interestingly enough, contrasts what I’m talking about here.

  • Well, Dave Tyson Gentry (I don’t know who he is but he has loads of quotes :D) said the same thing…

    “True friendship comes when silence between two people is comfortable”

    My best friend once told me after walking for around an hour without saying a word: You know what I like about our friendship? It’s that we know when to speak and when to remain silent…

  • true dat. you know you’re not with an acquaintance when you don’t feel the need to keep talking on and on and on.

  • You are right on, Nas. I absolutely hate that kind of talk. It is so phony and I stand there wondering if this person knows it is fake, and I know it is fake, then why are we going thru this??? If I use any flattery in my talk, I mean it. If I compliment someone, I mean it. I refuse to play these word games. I have heard my sister in laws on the phone, and it becomes this rote memorization kind of chant thing. For every caller it is the same line of questioning, so of course it is all fake. I think as Muslims we should drop this kind of junk, because it is so insincere and when you think about it, it is lying.

    I had this worker in the backyard doing some stone work. When I would go out there and tell him to change something he would do this whole song and dance thing, “Ala rasi, etc.” And when I would go back in the house, he would call up the mohandis and complain about me. In the end we fired him and I was so relieved. Just cut to the chase and tell the truth.

    The wierd thing about Arab communication is also the flip side of the compliment thing, where they will ask you the most personal questions on their first meeting with you. I am not sure where that falls in the category. I mean they will tell you that you have gained weight and that your face looks swollen or whatever. How is that polite conversation? And then they will whip out their favorite questions about your marital relations and birth control. I was floored the first time this happened! On the first meeting with these women. Wow.

    As others have said, these kinds of talk make it difficult to fit in around here, though truthfully I don’t even bother to try.

  • Nas, would you want to be told the truth ALL the time?

    I think that Mojamalat are important to a certain extent, not only in the Arab world but in the US and Canada and other places as well. However, it is exaggerated in Arab countries and not in a good way. What is even more annoying than the Mojamalat is people who include words like ‘7abibi/7abibti’ and it sounds fake simply because you barely know the person and all of a sudden he/she is using a word that should ONLY be used between couples, in my opinion. It is kind of insulting because it seems like the person is taking advantage of you. I guess you should start working on how to become better at this type of art; when in Jordan, do as the Jordanians do. Do not worry, it will come to you. We have it genetically implanted 🙂

    But let me tell you that some complimenting will get you somewhere most of the time, even my Finance professor enjoys it when I tell her that her hair looks nice, and I know I will ace the class!

  • is there a correlation between us folks who prefer writing in english and our dislike for mujamaleh?
    not many people defending jordanian flattery in this blog….

  • I couldn’t agree more. What bothers me is when someone flatters you and expects you to be grateful, and return the compliment. Errr no thanks. It’s like bursting a baloon, when they spent 5 minutes praising you , and you simply reply with a dry ‘thank you’.

    About responding to how are you with different incarnations of good/fine. This isn’t really that you are lying, it’s that you know the person who asked most of the time couldn’t care less about the answer, and will sometimes not even wait to hear it.

    I’ve also known some people so good at flattery, that they can make an unsuspecting person blush within seconds and comply. Don’t underestimate its power 🙂

  • Some aspects of flattery IS a must because it cancels out those crappy quiet moments of awkwardness between ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’

    What I do completly hate is the brownnosing you get when some one you havnt heard of in months calls for a favor; to which i like to play three games
    1.agree with everything and never do anything about the request
    2.play the ill call you back in 5 minutes game, which leads to another “favor call” later that year
    3.when they ask wenak, man? I answer what is it this time with along sigh 🙂

    I may gain small bits of satisfaction but every little bit helps 🙂

  • There is a need to separate ass-kissing from being cordial and warm. Throughout my years abroad, I often wished there were expressions equivalent to “allah ya3teek al3afyeh” or “yeslamoo edeik” or “allah yehfathak” or “allah yirhamoh” or “allah ykhalleek” etc. Our language is great. Our culture is rich. The abundance of kind expressions is evidence to the generous spirit that Arabs genuinely possess. Hypocrisy is a disease that manipulates everything beautiful, including linguistic expressions, to turn them into something ugly. The good news is that this is as prevalent in the Arab world as much as it is in downtown Manhattan.
    Finally, there is a type of hypocrisy that is tied to the livelihood of some people. I feel sorry for all those having to resort to it. However, this is excusable given that many of our institutions are run as a one-man show. The absence of proper rules and regulations that govern the workplace and that ensure the protection of employees form arbitrary ad hoc practices will always result in practices that we might deem hypocritical. I personally do empathize greatly with those having to to resort to it. Sorry for the long reply.

  • WOW! This article made me think about life in a whole different way!

    I think the reason that all this seemingly unnecessary flattery goes on is because it lets other people know that you are one of them.
    The Jordanians know that the compliments are exaggerated and you know it’s exaggerated, but the fact that you know this ritual lets others know that you are a fellow Jordanian. When you conform with others’ beliefs, they will trust you because they understand you.

    When we meet people, we have to build up trust. We have to be sure that the other person isn’t going to fuck us up. If that other person thinks and acts like us and belongs to the same group, we are more likely to trust them.

    This is why many of the people in your AWESOME blog article have built there careers on flattery. Because they communicated to others that they could be relied upon to not do anything crazy or groundbreaking. Most people don’t like the unknown or the unpredictable.

    These rituals are really important in Eastern cultures where blending in and agreeing with everyone else is important. I know because I’m Vietnamese.

    I too have had to work on the art of flattery and blending in because I am naturally a flashy and aggressive douche bag. When I leave college and get a job, I’ll have to know how to suck up to my bosses so that I can get ahead.

    By the way, awesome blog. I’m going to read your stuff regularly now.

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