AMMAN, Jordan — Every undergraduate who sets her heart on studying abroad tells herself (and her family, and her friends, and her professors, and the guy standing next to her in line) that she’s looking forward to experiencing a new culture, making friends with the locals and learning to say more in the local language than “a little” in response to the question: “Do you speak [insert language]?” She even hopes to learn enough witticisms in a foreign tongue to justify her inevitable feelings of superiority in being one of the few to escape from the insular land of slush and Ivy.
I am no exception. While studying this semester in Jordan, I’m even partaking of that most stereotypical and slightly arrogant of travel endeavors: Keeping A Blog (yjtorbati.wordpress.com). But after a few weeks of worrying about rogue taxi drivers, encountering (and avoiding at all costs) squat toilets and eating more hummus and falafel at “charming” holes-in-the-wall than even I, a vegetarian, can handle (I’m taking a hiatus from Mamoun’s when I get back to New Haven), I find my previously earnest desire to immerse myself giving way to a guilt-ridden pursuit of my America fix.
For some on my study-abroad program, the fix might be found in the nightly happy hour at the American-dominated bar La Calle on Rainbow Street, which, oddly enough, serves Italian food. For others, it’s shopping at Forever 21 and Aldo in Mecca Mall, finished off with a meal from Pizza Hut (here a swanky sit-down restaurant). And for still others it’s spending a night with their home-stay family (who speak perfect English, of course) watching “American Idol.”
Perhaps a better way to be reminded of home while still acknowledging your new surroundings is to celebrate an American holiday, preferably with a local, with whom you can share the joys of overcooked turkey, begging for candy and bunnies bearing sugary beans.
With Feb. 14 just around the corner, my patriotic side has delighted in shop after shop stuffed to the brim with Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. The day of love is everywhere, from the small dukans selling scarves and Palestine key chains next to a mountain of bright red teddy bears, or the university bookstore devoting an aisle to Valentine pillows, Valentine mugs, Valentine lamps and Valentine notebooks. It’s odd, though; the one thing America hasn’t succeeded in exporting to the Middle East (other than freedom and democracy, of course!) is comfort when it comes to the kind of PDA and open celebration of (premarital) love that Valentine’s Day embodies.
Unfortunately, for a single female student abroad, the romantic pickings are indeed slim. Girls outnumber guys in my program about three to one (about 65 percent of study-abroad students in general are women), and getting dates from among the local population isn’t quite as easy for us women as it is for our male counterparts. Thanks to the Hollywood image of Americans as easy and loose, any American woman who shows any sort of friendliness toward local men (more than stone-faced silence, basically) will immediately be assumed to be a regular [slutty American celeb of your choice]. So we’re left with passivity, waiting for a Jordanian man to approach us. And those who do, they’re not really the ones you want to date.
Let me put it bluntly: The men here have no game. I’m saying this as someone used to the Yale dating/hookup scene, so the situation is dire indeed. On a daily basis I am swept off my feet by passing whispers of “very pretty,” and of course the national catchphrase/pick-up line, “Welcome to Jordan,” which can sound surprisingly creepy and threatening. And let’s not forget the unabashed staring and ogling, enough to make you feel slutty for wearing a three-quarter-sleeve shirt.
I’ll admit I am being a tad unfair. Classes just started this Sunday (ha ha, kids back home), so I haven’t really gotten to know a lot of Jordanian students. And until recently, most of us have been walking in packs, a mode of travel that invites the most creepy of comments and looks. For the sake of simplicity I may have to resign myself to a dateless semester, which means I will be sitting this Valentine’s Day out.
10 minutes later
Oh wait — some of the students are having a V-Day party this weekend. God bless America!