Written by Anna Horton (University of Michigan), Student Correspondent CET Jordan Summer 2019
Imagine this scenario: You’ve just finished a long morning at your internship, and when you walk out the front door of the office building, a blast of desert air hits you in the face. It’s mid-July and the temperature’s tipping past 35˚ Celsius without a hint of humidity. Above you, the sun’s beaming down like its intent on grilling you alive. What do you do?
You could call an Uber. Although technically illegal in Jordan, they’re the most hands-off way to be trundled from the office to your apartment without needing to speak a word of Arabic. That comes at a price, of course, but who doesn’t want to step into an air-conditioned sedan before getting roasted in this heat? Or you could hail a taxi.
They’re a constant on Amman’s overcrowded streets – yellow and green cabs weaving in and out of traffic. You’ve been cautioned to avoid the white ones, which tend to overcharge, and then there are the fake taxis which both overcharge and operate chameleon-like among their older, more rickety predecessors. But what the heck – you’re in Amman, aren’t you? You swallow your hesitancy and stick out your arm to wave down the first empty yellow-green car that passes.
The driver honks his horn and pulls over.Now what? Don’t fret – you’ve had a week’s worth of taxi etiquette drilled into you by now, so you know exactly how to greet the driver (يعطيك العافية!) and tell him where you need to go. You’re even savvy enough to ask whether his meter is working, since some drivers like to come up with special prices for less wary passengers.
Once you’re settled in the back seat, however, is when the real fun starts.
Because there’s a bus that runs right by my internship, I try not to take taxis every day (and trust me – once you start paying 40 girsh a ride, two dinar is going to seem like a lot of cash), but class, work assignments, and going out with friends has me sitting in one of those plushy back seats at least five times a week. In general, all that riding around has been a very good experience since I’ve not only been able to practice my Arabic, but I’ve gained a new respect for the skill it takes to navigate Amman’s congested streets.
In my very limited experience, however, taxi drivers tend to fall into a series of types. To put it broadly, there are the unexpectedly nice ones, like the cheery guy who offered me coffee and kept stuffed Despicable Me minions on his dash. And then, occasionally, there are the not so nice ones, like the dude who charged me five dinar to get from the center of town to Jubeiha – late at night, admittedly, but still.
Keeping in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list, I’ve narrowed down five types of taxi drivers you’re likely to meet in Amman. Consider them a reminder, the first time you get ripped off, that there are drivers out there who just want to do their jobs and get paid.
In other words, don’t let one bad experience scare you away from these yellow-green chariots for good.
1.The Strong, Silent Type
In my experience, the majority of taxi drivers here are quiet, straightforward guys (there aren’t many female drivers here) who reply to your greeting, figure out where you’re headed, and take you where you need to go. Part of their silence could be because they don’t speak a lot of English (or, even more likely, because you don’t speak a lot of Arabic).
If you’re female, their silence might also be common decency, since it’s traditionally inappropriate here for a guy to talk to a woman he doesn’t know. In the end, if you’re wondering whether a quiet cab is a bad sign, double-check that meter, but otherwise feel free to sit back and let the man do what he does best.
2.The Smooth Operator
My co-CET students and I frequently run into taxi drivers who can’t stop talking on their phones. This isn’t a problem unless you’re trying to give directions – or ask a question, or do anything that involves communicating with the guy. There’s also the inevitable moment when you assume his stream of Arabic is directed at you, prompting a moment of panic, an attempt to reply, and eventually a wave of relief once you notice his earbuds.
Something I like about Smooth Operators? They tend to make me feel like just another customer – which, in the end, is all I want to be.
3.The Chatty Kathy
This guy might as well be your tour guide to all of Jordan. Once he’s welcomed you to the country, congratulated you on your knowledge of Arabic, and offered you one of his business cards, he’s telling you about his cousin who’s studying English in Canada, or his daughter who just graduated college, or how much he loves John Cena, or the like. Really, he seems more than happy to open up his life – and his continued taxi services – to you, which can be both delightful and overwhelming.
Although you may not want to take him on his offer to be your personal chauffeur, some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in Amman have been with taxi drivers. Although you shouldn’t feel pressured to reply, consider an extra gabby driver a chance to practice your Arabic and maybe get some suggestions for future destinations.
4.The Nosy Parker
He doesn’t seem unsavory…until his questions start getting strange.What are you studying? How long have you been in Amman? Are you married? Would you like to be? Can you exchange WhatsApp numbers and keep in touch now that you’ve become fast friends? Admittedly, the border between Chatty Kathy and Nosy Parker is going to vary for different people.
I get it that these guys want business and that I look like I’m loaded, but the buck stops when I get asked for my number. Maybe guys don’t find it weird to add each other on WhatsApp after one taxi ride, but I cringe whenever a driver thinks I’m naïve enough to hand out my personal information.
My advice: memorize the phrases the CET director will teach you during orientation, which include how to say, “I’m not interested in talking to you” and “You kiss your momma with that mouth?” (or something similar)
Pick any of the previous types, add a dash of insincerity, tack on a crazy fare, and viola, you have the Opportunist. Your first warning? His meter isn’t working, or else it’s racking up charges faster than you can keep track. Your second warning? He’s a strangely careful driver, or he takes a weird, unfamiliar route that doesn’t save you any time. There are other things to watch out for, of course, but regardless of how he does it, the Opportunist is the guy who jacks up his price because he thinks you’re either too inexperienced or too nervous to challenge him.
What do you do? It’s hard to say. Most of the time, I’ve paid up simply because I don’t want to cause conflict, but sometimes there might be room to use your judgement (and your language skills), if the guy seems reasonable. That said, when in doubt, hand over the cash and ask your CET director about how to deal with similar situations in the future.
And there you have it. Ride safe, and honestly, take a bus if you can. There’s a reason most Jordanians opt for “service” (a rideshare taxi that I still haven’t figured out) or the white micro-buses that crop up wherever there’s a crowd.
*When transliterating Arabic, sometimes numbers are used to represent letters not present in the Roman alphabet. The number 6 represents an emphatic “t” in Arabic because it looks like the letter “ط”. 6=ط