Over dinner on the roof of the Al Quasr Metropole Hotel in Amman, an Egyptian woman is telling me about an upcoming year as a guest scholar at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. She is concerned, in passing, with her academic objectives. Once I assure her that Notre Dame is a highly regarded institution, she gets to the real question: How is the shopping? Are the stores good? Is there an Apple Store?
South Bend… ugh… it’s not New York. There is a television channel here that seems entirely devoted to Sex in the City reruns, and I can only imagine what her mental picture of life in the US must be like. I tried to let her down easy: “Well, it’s close to Chicago.”
She nodded and followed up: I have friends in Michigan… How is the shopping there?
I tried to imagine this sophisticated Egyptian academic road tripping to Flint looking for the latest fashions. I suggested she maybe try shopping online. Online shopping is uncommon in north Africa — the lack of credit cards is a barrier. She assured me she would get a Visa card.
After I remarked that the easy access to credit cards was causing the collapse of American social order, she nodded seriously. “I think America,” she said, “Is the most consumerist society in the world.”
Right, I said. But how is the shopping?
I write this post in the Amman airport cafe. I share a corner with a pair of women in modest hijabs sipping tea next to a Christmas tree. Across the way, a Cinnabon, a Pizza Hut and a Popeyes Fried Chicken do a brisk trade… except for Popeyes which is frightening in any culture. In the duty free, a woman in a burqa browses a rack of designer purses. I suspect the more modern Jordanian women would have chucked the headscarf long ago if it wasn’t such an excellent platform for glittering colors.
You want a traditional Islamic society? Umm, sure. You want fries with that? Yes, please!
— Jonathan Eyler-Werve