Food. Life. Travel

July 16: Amman Driving Club

Driving in Amman is an experience in and of itself, with traffic going in what appears to be multiple directions.  Just when you think your taxi is going to be hit you somehow manage to make it out alive. I think the best way to describe driving and the driving rules of Amman is organized chaos. From the outside nothing looks cohesive (in fact I don’t think I have seen more than three or four sets of traffic lights), yet there is a symbiotic relationship that takes place on the streets. In addition to the wayward driving, is the incessant honking. In Amman your horn is your mouthpiece. Amongst Arabs, communication isn’t purely verbal, it is embedded in our gestures, and in our tone. Sometimes one word has multiple meanings. The horn is a form of communication amongst drivers in Amman. In the two weeks I have been here I have managed to determine four types of meanings and tones in the horns.

1. A short one or two beeps is a warning call – signaling to pedestrians on the road that a car is in your proximity and indicating that you shouldn’t cross. There are no proper pedestrian pathways in Amman so crossing is a game of Russian roulette. You must be equal parts courageous and foolish to cross the road, chancing your odds that the driver won’t hit you. This type of honk is also used in the neighborhood streets to signal both irritation and a yalla sirra (hurry, go) to the young boys that play soccer in the middle of the road at night.

2. A medium-short two or three beeps is used when stuck in traffic to indicate to the drivers in front to go. Note that this honk is used in the following instances. It is used when the light (if there is one) has yet to turn green therefore making it a pre-emptive honk. It is also used in standstill traffic, making it a honk to release the pent up energy or excitement of being stuck in traffic. I also am under the impression that the driver (naïvely) assumes honking will somehow magically make traffic move. And finally, this honk is used to warn other drivers that you will not allow them to enter your lane, even if you have your indicator on and are already halfway in the lane. This move is combined with driving dangerously close side by side to further reinforce your position. Alternatively, on rare occasions this horn lets the other driver know that you can enter their lane with the caveat being yalla sirra because they don’t have all day to be this courteous on the road.  

3. A long and extended honk intermixed with short bursts of quicker honks is often employed when a driver has reached maximum irritation and anger at another driver’s behaviour. In my humble opinion, this is the honk I would use the most if I drove in Amman, but astonishingly it is not employed often. Perhaps there is an unspoken rule amongst Jordanian drivers that this tone of honk should only ever be employed in a worst-case scenario (i.e. when you are hurrying over to your habibti’s house and a driver has the audacity to cut you off). This honk is sometimes used in tandem with a few hand gestures and a word or two before the angry driver storms off and the other driver plays ignorant to the whole exchange.

4. The final honk, and perhaps the one that causes me the most stress is the honk used by male drivers to indicate to you- a female- that they have recognized your female presence on the street and the best way to convey that they have spotted a female on the road is to honk at you. This honk is completely indiscriminate. I have been honked at when I am dressed up and I wear makeup, and I have also been honked at while huffing and puffing my way up the hill, not having showered in two days. You get honked at by virtue of being a descendant of Eve. This honk is sometimes combined with either a few words thrown your way, slowing down or honking one more time in case you did not hear them the first time. And last but not least, if you are lucky you may also receive a complete 360 degree head turn whereby the passenger or driver cranes his neck outside the window hoping to catch one more glimpse of you. It is a pity there isn’t a brick wall in front of them to smack their head into.

To add insult to injury the cars these men drive are not even nice. I don’t think I have ever heard any female say “So he honked at me while I was walking by and I noticed he was driving a Prius and I knew at that moment this man was chivalrous and conscious of gas mileage efficiency!”

A word of advice – if for some odd reason you still feel the burning desire to honk at a woman on the street, at least have the decency to drive a Lamborghini. That might be your only saving grace!


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