… hospitality is a deep-rooted tradition woven into the very fabric of Middle Eastern society that defies simple explanations.
Craig S. David (Middle East for Dummies)
Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary, few travelers return from this amazing part of the world without at least one tail of unexpected, impromptu hospitality. Nearly every book written about the Middle East with the intention of educating the minds and hearts of people dedicates time, seeking to explain the history and reasons Middle Easterners have this wonderful trait.
Jordanian hospitality is no exception. But, whilst it’s fame may be spoken of and written about over and over, its importance should not be lost, after all, unquestionable kindness has the ability to challenge stereotypes and change those of us who are so fortunate to come into contact with this deep kindness. Jordanian hospitality must be celebrated, for it tells the tales of people in a land often scarred by stories of its neighbours.
Jordanian hospitality is the most natural and genuine characteristic of Jordanian culture. It runs deep within and is nothing less than heartwarming – if not at times a little overwhelming. It’s safe to say that Jordanian hospitality has made me re-evaluate myself. Growing up in the UK meant that despite being surrounded by kindness and generosity, society also taught us to be suspicious – suspicious of too much kindness or a random offer of help. It would be unheard of to invite an unknown passer by for a cup of tea or call someone in the middle of the night to insist them come join you for dinner! The hospitality I have encountered since my life in Jordan began has, at times challenged the English girl in me, it has brought me closer to my Mediterranean routes (my Grandmother’s family originate from Kefalonia, Greece) and I feel I am a better person because I have experienced this spontaneous, wholehearted hospitality. It is an infectious part of life in Jordan and I am sure it will continue to inspire others.
The Guest Room
Receiving and providing for guests is such an integral part of life here that in every home, you will find a room dedicated to visitors. In some houses this room has a separate door and is not entered until a guest passes through the doorway. My first glimpse of a family guest room was a little daunting – I was in Petra for the first time since meeting my husband and it was time to meet my future in laws. Their guest room or ‘diwaan’ in arabic is as large as the main area of the house. It is lined with traditional mattress style seating and carpets, its size and layout means it can accommodate 100 plus guests. Whilst most new houses have smaller rooms and some have opted for sofas/chairs and formal dining tables, the feeling is much the same. These rooms are filled with a families history and memories, a gathering place in both good times and bad. They are a spot that many discussions/debates and issues have been resolved, they are turned into celebration halls for weddings and graduations and a place for mourning when someone passes. The door is always open and a guest will always be made to feel at home.
Always Ready to Receive
In Jordan it’s quite normal for guests to show up with no warning – in fact the opposite is considered strange. It used to amaze me how each home I visited was not fazed by our surprise arrival. It is virtually impossible to visit someone without being served an array of drinks and goodies and very likely being invited for a meal. Many have visited a Jordanian home with the simple intention of bringing something back or to check on someone’s health only to find themselves leaving full to bursting with good food and sweet tea. Whilst I can assure you when you visit Jordan you will be well taken care of, I can’t promise you Jordanian hospitality is a great thing for your waistline!
Jordanians don’t go Dutch
In Jordan, it is virtually unheard of to split the bill. I guess you could say it’s all or nothing and is often a fight to the end (or ’till’ or ‘cash register’ in this case). Sometimes it can take half an hour arguing (in good nature and much to the amusement of those watching) about who was going to pay – the winner? Well, it’s often the one who manages to move a little faster or distract the other. My father often talks about one of his first experiences of Jordanian hospitality, it occurred a few days after our wedding. Sadly, we had a family member pass away, here in Jordan the funeral lasts for 3 days and during that time, meals are cooked for the family (extended family included). He found himself in a large guest room with the men after the first lunch. Someone was translating for him when suddenly what seemed to be a strong verbal disagreement erupted. Visibly confused, his companion quickly explained that it was ‘nothing’ – only a discussion about who was going to cook the next day! And sure enough after much loud protesting and to and froing, suddenly laughter and much back slapping ensued – all was now well!
As everything was so new to me when I first arrived and my arabic at that point was non existent – not only did I have no idea what was going on a lot of the time but I pretty much spent the first few months of my life here feeling guilty. But, there was no reason to feel guilty – for Jordanians do not feel you owe them, your happiness is a blessing to them and they value the role they have been able to play in your life.
Your burden is a relief to me
Jordanians will pretty much drop anything to answer someone in need of help. I discovered a new phrase recently, it translates to “Your burden is a relief to me” – it sums up the community perfectly. Whether its a phone call late into the night, a friend or family member they bump into on the street or a random stranger (although stranger really isn’t a term that exists here), priority is put on helping that person, whatever plans they may have had are put to one side and no burden is too great, it is as the phrase says ‘a relief’.
Don’t just take my word for it, come and experience Jordan for yourself!