You’re doing it all wrong!

Learning to accept cultural differences is one of the biggest challenge for an expat and for the most part I’m able to go with the flow, but there are some days when keeping the smile on your face becomes a bit harder . There are days when I would like to run and hide in my bedroom, pull the blankets over my head and have a good cry.

Living in a small village means that the lifestyle maintained by most people is traditional, conservative and simple. But it works and there are certainly lots of positives about this lifestyle over the fast paced, technology driven lifestyle that many of us have in the West.

The process of how you learn is generally still one of the traditional ways of life where the elders of the family and the community pass on their experiences and life lessons to the younger generations. There is a great amount of respect for elders in families and the community and their advice is listened to and the way which you are shown or taught something is adhered to. In other words there is only one way to do things and that is the way that your elders do it and if they don’t “teach” you then how are you meant to learn. There is no room for doing it your own or different way as this would be disrespectful of your elders.

This is in contrast to the process of learning that I was exposed to where your elders are but one source of knowledge and teaching and subsequently you are exposed to and encouraged to seek out lots of different options and ways in which things can be done.

There is also no ability to relate to the concept that as a 34 year old woman I’ve lived out of home since I was 17 so am experienced (albeit it in a different way) in keeping house.  Here as being only married for 2 years I’m put into the category of newly moved out of my parents home and keeping my own home for the first time and therefore I need all the helpful advice and teaching that I can get. It’s all coming from a good place, but for me it’s sometimes hard not to take it the wrong way.

There are times when I have to put on my best fake smile and endure the “helpful advice” that is dished out in spades. I was obviously overdue for some “teaching” and the other day I got more helpful advice than I could keep track of. My head hurt and there were times when I was only just managing to keep the tears from spilling out.

I had put Alia to bed and headed outside to make the most of the gorgeous early evening light from the setting sun and photograph some of the wildflowers and grasses near our house. I had left the front door of the house open so that I could hear if Alia cried out and I was enjoying capturing the beauty of nature through my lens.

The family arrived and they headed inside and out onto our balcony where they proceeded to start with the helpful advice.

I got told that I shouldn’t leave the door open to the house as someone might come and take something (I’m within 20 metres of the house), or that the dogs and cats will go inside (there are no dogs and the cats are so wary of humans that they don’t come anywhere near the house and also are more interested in what scraps are in the bins). I explained that I had left the door open so that I could hear Alia. This started the next lot of helpful advice.

I should never leave Alia inside the house by herself (she’s sound asleep as she’s out like a light when I put her to bed at night) and it’s not like I’m leaving her (I’m within earshot of the house on that rare occasion that she should cry out). Then I’m told that I shouldn’t put her to bed at this time. It’s not good to sleep at sunset time and that I shouldn’t put her to bed until an hour after sunset so that she sleeps all the night. I have given up trying to explain that Alia sleeps through the night unlike the children here who go to bed at the earliest at 9pm and if they do have an afternoon sleep it’s late in the afternoon from around 5pm and they are then woken at sunset time if they are still asleep so that they will go back to sleep at 9pm.

I’m receiving all this advice from the balcony whilst I’m trying to enjoy the soft light and find all the different wildflowers. I’m down on my hands and knees, scrambling over the rocks and doing my best to ignore everything around me. Obviously my close interest in the wildflowers is unusual (why on earth would I want to take photos of what the sheep eat!) and my behaviour is definitely out of character for a women here. The next round of helpful advice is to tell me that I’ve taken enough photos and that generally that’s enough. In Arabic the word used is ‘kalas” which roughly translates to finish, stop, enough, over.  Then I get told to be careful as I’m scrambling down the hill. Of course I slip.

I was ignoring the chorus of kalas that was being directed at me, so the big guns were drawn out. I’m told that Alia is crying. This of course bring me back inside the house, only to find that she’s not crying at all – not a sound is coming from her room. But I’m inside now. If I thought that I could finally get some quiet and rest from the helpful advice then I was in for a rude shock. It was only just the beginning.

To summarise I was offered all sorts of helpful advice about how I hadn’t brought the washing inside, I hadn’t done the dishes from lunch, sweeping and not washing the floors was wrong, I hadn’t drawn the blinds at the right time, I shouldn’t have had the blinds open at all as the sun was going to fade the carpet, I hadn’t turned the heater on at the right time and the house was cold, I washed the dishes the wrong way in a sink full of water,  I haven’t cleaned the stove top, the bench top was gritty because I’ve had the window open, I shouldn’t have the windows open, I need to clean the windows and the glass balcony door as there are hand prints on them from Alia, I shouldn’t let Alia touch the windows or the door and I’m told how to water the indoor plants, one of which is taken off me and taken home with them as I’m not looking after it. It’s not one that I’m particularly fond of so yes guilty of neglect.

By the time my “lesson” in the right way to do things had finished an hour later and the family has left I’m mentally exhausted. It’s been very trying and I’m left feeling duly chastised and inadequate and the tears did finally spill over and flow down the cheeks.

As I said earlier I know that this is all coming from a good place and really I feel blessed that I’m totally and utterly accepted into the Jordanian family which I’m married into. The way in which they have welcomed me into the family with all my differences, which must be just as confronting for them at times, is something that I’m truly thankful for.

So I’ll just continue to nod and smile at all the helpful advice that will continually be given out, remember that they love me and be thankful that I’m accepted, but continue to do some (most) things differently (and have a cry in private every now and then!)

Anyway here’s one photo from the  photos of the wildflowers. A blog post with more photos coming soon.

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7 responses to “You’re doing it all wrong!

  1. Your in laws sound like my parents.They worry so much it drives me crazy. Eventually I learned to let them say what they wanted to without getting a reaction from me. They know that I am capable but they have to give me unsolicited advice. It’s an old people thing. Hang in there. You know the advice is coming from a good place.

    • I’m sure that with time it will all become water of a duck’s back! And yes it is coming from a good place so I just have to keep telling myself that and let them include me into the family in their way. 🙂

  2. I’m so sorry for these discouragements! I experienced just a bit of what you’re talking about when I moved to Jordan, but without the intensity you’re experiencing, having married into a Jordanian family. I think that identity issues are some of the hardest challenges for the western woman transplanted into middle eastern culture and life. Are there any other western women married to Jordanians in your area with whom you can spend time? Maybe someone who has walked this road before you and can offer practical words of encouragement and understanding?

    • Thanks Melissa for your support and encouragement. There is an expat community in Wadi Musa, but only one woman my age and she and I are the only expats who have children. She’s lovely and we do support each other. You certainly hit the nail on the head with identity issues being one of the hardest challenges – especially living in a traditional, conservative, rural village. I tend to be unlike anything they have ever come across before! So no doubt it’s just as challenging for them at times. At least they have welcomed me into their family with open arms and for that I’m truly thankful.

  3. Hey I love your posts. You give great insight into a world I can only imagine. I feel your pain regarding being told what to do. Being Aussie we are taught to be independent free thinkers and advice is usually only offered if we request it because otherwise it is regarded as condenscending and rude. However, you are not living in “Kansas” anymore and I guess this is how family show love in Jordan. I am pretty certain their constant telling you what to do will drive you up and down the very walls you live in. Just remember your unquie qualities that you possess and your spirit you have inside you which brought you to love, marry and live in Jordan. Your awesome qualities will become appreciated even if they think you do everything all wrong and upside down. Next time you are taking photos demand that they take some too. Should be a hilarious experiment and you get to put them a bit off guard and distract them from their ever wise and knowing advice. Should be fun I think.

    • Thanks Tam – don’t I know it that I’m not living in “Kansas” anymore – lol!!! Certainly learning not just one new thing every day by choosing to get married and live in Jordan. I love the idea of inviting them to participate in my “crazy” adventures – such as taking photos with me. I will have to give it a try sometime – should make for an interesting blog post at least! 🙂
      Most of the time I’m able to shrug it off and not get all riled up inside and have a laugh. Hearing funny stories from other expats certainly helps put things back into perspective as well. There is always someone who has a story/experience that is better (worse) than yours!

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