I enter the café in hopes of finding some good wi-fi to skype my parents with. I ask if there is wireless internet, I am informed by the waiter there is indeed wifi at this particular establishment. Then I am asked how many guests are with me. Just me, I answer. The maître’d overhears my response and mutters something and I am abruptly informed by the same waiter that there is no more room at this café. I can see empty tables; there is plenty of room.
It is clear what has just happened. The host of this establishment doesn’t want to have a lone American use up his wi-fi and buy essentially nothing (I would have probably bought an overpriced bottle of water). Or maybe this particular café is “couples only.” Either way, after this experience I came to a realization. I came to Jordan with a particular mindset; I’ve studied abroad before, I’ve learned a considerable amount about Arab culture from my friends back home, cultural shock couldn’t possibly happen to me. But the truth is that I have been affected by it—I have been culturally shocked. I’m shocked when the above scenario plays out. I am shocked by the ubiquitous impatience of Amman, as well as the tardiness (ironically enough) which all events here subscribe to. Or by the difficulty of making new friends here, and the impossibility of meeting Jordanian women. By the lack of nightlife and recreational activities for youths life myself, and by the often hollow mimicry of American customs I see every day in malls, on TV, brand names, and fast food.
I’m not entirely sure how best to cope with this ‘shock.’ I experienced it a little when I studied in Haifa, and significantly less so while in South Korea. I realize that I’ve been handling it pretty poorly—spending too much time with Americans, perhaps for the comfort of familiarity, and not making enough time for experiencing Ammanian culture with Jordanians.
On the other hand, I do feel that I’ve learned a considerable amount of conversational Arabic, which was my main goal in coming here. While it will be important to regain familiarity from time to time (sealing myself off in my ipod or Minecraft), that needs to not take up the bulk of my time here if I am to pursue my goals of coming close to mastering conversational Arabic, making lasting friends here, and becoming deeply familiar with Arab culture as well as the politics and worldviews of the region.
So, hopefully things start looking up!