I have, as my mother pointed out, been having a rash of blog-worthy taxi encounters recently. This is pretty unusual for me these days in Jordan. When I was here as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I must’ve had a more American accent or look, because people would immediately pick me out as a foreigner, and I had a lot of both interesting and uncomfortable encounters with taxi drivers. Now, though they may still think I look like a foreigner, the moment I speak Arabic with my heavy Bedouin accent, I guess people assume I must be Jordanian, or at least married to one. For taxi drivers, I think this means they don’t speak to me anymore because they’re afraid of what my family might do to them if they do.
Before I left with the Peace Corps, my mother said to me, “In Jordan, people will never mistake you for a native like they did in Switzerland.” And maybe, at first glance, that’s true. But it’s more than a family joke that Jordan is the Switzerland of the Peace Corps, or the Switzerland of the Middle East. Just as the Swiss don’t seem to believe that Swiss German can be learned as a second language, it also doesn’t seem to occur to most Jordanians that I might have learned Bedouin dialect as a second language. Most foreigners only speak fuS7a, what you might call Al-Jazeera Arabic, which isn’t anyone’s native language.) They’re so confused, they just treat me like an Arab.
Most of the time. Then occasionally I get taxi drivers like this morning. I get in the cab and tell him where I want to go. He starts to drive away, and then says, “Five dinar, right?” It rarely costs me more than JD 1.75.
“No!” I say in outrage. “By the meter, or you can let me out right here!”
“But you’ll give me a half dinar tip, right?” Though not quite illegal, tipping is strongly discouraged by the Jordanian government. Still, I earn a very lucrative salary by Jordanian standards, and while it’s just enough to cover my student loans back home, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in me feels guilty, and I usually tip generously. Unless taxi drivers try to rip me off, in which case I hardly feel that a penny extra is warranted! So I say, “Of course not! I come and go this route every day by the meter!”
And then, inevitably, the guy’s got no clue where he’s going, but when I give him directions, he either sneers at me in the rearview or tells me I’m wrong….