I’m still a little scarred by the open sociopathy on display in the streets of Seattle. So when a car speeds towards me I assume a soulless cubicle ghoul has decided today I am the symbol of all that is wrong in the world, and today is the day they finally do something about it. In Amman, cars are always speeding towards you.

I don’t think this is sociopathy. I think this is actually an extension of the Jordanian approach to forming lines, where everyone shoves in proportion to how urgently they want to be in the front of the line. The people in a rush move forward more quickly than those who are not in a rush, or who for whatever reason are afflicted with politeness. And what is traffic but a web of overlapping lines to get somewhere? To show that you want to go in a direction blocked by a car you speed towards that car and then stop inches away waiting for the car to move. And maybe honk. It’s fun sometimes to honk. It never seems to change anything, but if nothing else the horns here are all in good working order. They aren’t angry, I can assure you of that. Close scrapes often involve rolled down windows and a convivial discussion of what the next moves will be. I just saw a fender bender where the first thing the drivers did was shake hands. Don’t know what happened next, but it wasn’t yelling.

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If you walk in front of a driver they will proceed towards you as fast as they can without an actual collision. Otherwise how will you know they want to keep going? And if other cars are in front of them and they aren’t trying to pass, well they aren’t trying to get anywhere are they? So the roads are not lined with columns of cars but instead with cars weaving, speeding up, slowing down, buzzing like a swarm of insects. The space between opposing directions of traffic is a probabilistic margin, a quantum fiction. I suspect cars spend 20% of their time on the road in imminent danger of head-on collision. To quote an Uber driver: “in Amman for passing every centimeter is calculated”…

So don’t drive in Amman. You aren’t qualified. And don’t walk in Amman while tired or distracted. An empty road won’t stay empty for long and there are no straight roads. The car that kills you as you glance at your messages may not even be in view yet: 😴🚗💥

Cool, we aren’t driving. No problem with drinking then eh? Let’s hit the bars! Some neighborhoods, including ours, are actually pretty hot nightlife spots. There are also regularly spaced stores that sell wine and alcohol, and on sidewalks along with other trash you find broken vodka bottles. So people are drinking in Amman… but going out to drink is a strange experience.

For one thing, the bars that serve alcohol have private patios. You will not be sitting at a cafe table streetside and find wine on the menu. If wine is on the menu there is usually a single line for Jordanian wine: “Local wine”. This probably means red, white and rose are all available. And you actually do order it like: “Local wine. White”. I think one bar put it on this menu like this and everyone else copied them. There is some groupthink going on, maybe because they are making this whole drinking culture thing up as they go along. But the local wine is really good, and deserves to be called out by name.

On the west coast we’ve got a very liberal drinking culture but not the most liberal by any means. Consider the liquor control boards that run sting operations on bars. They bust places that don’t properly check ID. They enforce all those rules about container size, serving size, etc. There are rules against offering discounts and “2 for 1 deals” and so on. In Jordan the drinking age is 18 but I don’t think anyone ever checks, and I don’t think there is any sort of enforcement. There are deals and coupons to encourage more drinking. A table in Amman ordered a bottle of Stoli Red. They sent it out in a bucket of ice with some soda cans in it as well. I was shocked, shocked I tell you! But I did the math and by the drink (I estimated 16 drinks in the bottle) it was the cheapest thing on the menu at 60$ US. There is no cocktail culture to speak of, though I do know a place that makes a mean Negroni for about 11$ US. At another place I had to describe how to make a Manhattan, which they hadn’t heard of, and I was served something undrinkable made with cheap whiskey for roughly 15$ US.

At more than one place we’ve been served experiments as we left - “Hey here is one on the house”. In one case it was peach schnapps with a little gin and juice. Yuck. In another (the same place that made a nasty Manhattan) it was blue curaçao, triple sec, vodka and cranberry juice. The vodka and cranberry couldn’t be detected over the distinct taste of my mouth wanting to die.

“Nice, thanks”

“Have some more”

“Run Kristin! These people are monsters!”

To be fair, minimum drinking age be damned, I’ve been drinking wine since I was 8 years old. My mom’s Catholic. Blood of Christ and so on. So I got past the awkward “peach schnapps” phase when I was still young. I’ll give the Jordanians more time.