I was handed a very narrow can and a bendy straw. I knew the soda was Pepsi–that was the easy part. The hard part was trying to open the can. It seemed to be a normal pop tab, where you flip it and push, but was not. Instead I grabbed the tab and waited. I had no idea what to do next. Someone had to show me how to peel back the tab, instead of pushing. That was the first, and one of the most important lessons I learned during my semester abroad in Amman, Jordan.
Why use a straw? Jordanian women are expected to drink soda with a straw, instead of straight from the can. Not only is this a weird concept, it makes the soda extra fizzy. Cans are inherently considered “dirty,” and frequently, they are. Usually there is some gunk encrusted underneath the rim. Straws allow women to avoid the dirt. Each time I got a pop, I was either handed a straw, or pointed towards a straw-filled container on the counter.
It is the little rules that tend to trip up the average traveler, like knowing to drink from a straw.
Another rule I had to learn was where to sit in a taxi. Women sit in the back-always (of course, if there are four girls, that is an exception). A man alone in a taxi must sit in the front, never the back. Middle Easterners view the back seat as a place of respect, which is why women should sit there. If a man sat in the back, it would be seen as incredibly disrespectful towards the cab driver, but also towards women.
I found Jordan an incredibly safe place. Sure, there were catcalls from men driving down the street. I got used to that quickly, but unlike in Egypt where I spent some time, no one physically touched me. I felt safe taking a taxi alone, walking down the streets of Amman, or talking to people about where the cheapest DVD shop was.
Perhaps one of the most eye opening elements of being a student in the Middle East was trying to find a bathroom! It’s easier for a man to duck behind a building when nature calls, but it is a lot more difficult for a woman, especially one wearing a jilbab. Almost all of the cheaper restaurants in Jordan don’t have a restroom for guests. I learned, rather quickly, where in the city I could find a bathroom. I was the Carmen Sandiego of bathroom finding.
I have been back in America for a month now. I can’t say I miss hunting down a clean bathroom, but sometimes, I want to pop open a can of Pepsi and stick in a bendy straw.