What is it like to be a foreign, unmarried girl in Jordan? I’ve been asked this question many times already -friends and family want to make sure I’m safe– and I must say the situation reminds me of that hilarious French film where a guy moves to Normandy and starts lying to his wife on the phone because she can’t believe how different (and much better) everything is than she imagines in her sterotypes.
I have no desire nor reason to lie though 😉 Very simply, my experience in Jordan so far has made me feel as safe as can be. Thinking of it, I’m not quite sure why “we” Westerners would expect it to be any different; Jordan is not even one of those countries you hear about in the news very often. In any case, this is my personal truth: being a (foreign, unmarried) girl in Amman is just the same as in Toronto, Christchurch, Milan, London, and maybe a little better than in Istanbul. As in every place, here it is important to conform to local cultural rules; but once you do… hey, you’re safer than ever. There’s a nicely comprehensive article on Rough Guides that details Jordanian cultural rules very well, by the way 😉
Practical examples? Contrary to my school’s recommendations (because they’re super prudent, and OK I appreciate that too), I have
– given my number to strangers, quite a few of them in fact
– socialized with random men on the street and in the shops
– spent hours alone with guys I had just met, in the evening
– been in these guys’ cars without even knowing where we were going
– worn T-shirts!
– walked alone in places I didn’t know
and IT WAS FINE.
As if that weren’t enough, besides, the door of my building is always open, my housemates and I (all girls, all foreign, all unmarried) often forget to lock our apartment door in the evening, sometimes the breeze even opens it without us realising for hours… and yet nothing happens. Nothing at all.
So what’s the secret?, you may ask. There really isn’t one, but it is true that I am always careful to (1) listen to what my instinct tells me, (2) make things super clear to people (things such as “I have zero interest in a romantic/sexual relationship with you”) and (3) be as street-wise as I would be in ANY other place. Add to this that Jordan is adamant as per what’s an appropriate social interaction and what isn’t, and that every single Jordanian is an attentive pair of eyes ready to report whatever wrong they see… and it’s basically like living in The Truman Show: everybody is your ally (again- so long as you do your part in being appropriate, which is mostly expressed through your clothing really, and how you relate in public to the males you do know).
Then of course, my friend and I have been stared at by a bunch of huge guys the other day at the gym when we were doing our yoga exercises, but that just means the next time we’ll choose to use a women-only room. Similarly, one of the guys I went out with last week was very obviously physically interested in me and I didn’t like that- but all I needed to do was tell him I didn’t want to see him again, and that was it. The same things could have happened in Italy or in tons of other countries too, and at least in Jordan it’s considered more normal that a girl may want to keep a distance.
Even if I were molested here, to be honest, I wouldn’t blame anybody but the person in question: I have already had very unpleasant experiences in this respect in Italy, Turkey and Belgium (on a train, on a tram and in a station respectively), and it would seem incredibly generalising to me to say that those three countries are unsafe for unaccompanied young ladies.
One last thing: I LOVE IT that nobody here (except for that guy whose company I didn’t particularly enjoy) ever asks about relationship status. I could have a boyfriend, a girlfriend, be in a threesome, be married, be a multiple divorcée, have kids, be devastatingly heart-broken, be dating a new guy every week, have a Tinder account, be a nun or anything else, and people wouldn’t know because, cleverly enough, they seem to understand that that doesn’t define who I am.
I really like living in Amman 😉