Saturday, April 12, 2008

A new Salt document

In 1981, the Salt development establishment issued what was considered to be a revolutionary document. It outlined a new set of rules for spending habits on social occasions, which were the document considered to have been excessive and wasteful. One must understand the Jordanian mentality to appreciate this issue.

Traditional Jordanian (and Arab) culture places a premium on generosity. Anybody that is branded as being cheap has to face social pressures and all forms of embarrassment. Occasions in which there are large gatherings of people (weddings, funerals, passing the tawjihi, etc.) are considered to be tests where one’s generosity can be on display, requesting the organization of large feasts. Proof of generosity is also shown in the value of dowry and gifts given by the groom to the bride and her family. Gifts need to be given when visiting sick people. The list goes on, and these habits have been ingrained into the society and are part of people’s expectations.

Mixed with this, most people are too embarrassed to face up to the reality that they have limited financial resources. Because of this, even poor people became involved in exaggerated spending and displays of generosity, placing them into debts that are difficult and totally avoidable, if only society changed its expectations.

So, the original Salt document was drafted to spell out what was expected and appropriate for spending at various social occasions. It called for more modest festivities and gave people a social cover to curb their spending. People were not being cheap, but were abiding by the dictates of the Salt Popular Document.

Of course, habits and traditions die hard, and soon the document was forgotten, with minimal impact on how things were done. The ‘80’s were a time of economic prosperity (until the crash of ’89), and so there was little incentive to take the document as seriously as it should have. One notably successful result of the document was the abolition of a habit whereby guests at social occasions were offered cigarettes.

This year, the city of Salt has been proclaimed the Jordanian city of culture. On this occasion, the notables of the city have taken upon themselves the task of revising the document to take into account modern development and deficiencies in the original. Given the current economic realities, this initiative could not have come at a better time. The modified document places limits on various aspects of spending and other social habits related to different occasions, and it is recommending that people sign pledges to oblige by the document. An awareness campaign is also being planned to get as many people on board, in Salt as well as throughout the country.

This is a wonderful initiative, and I hope that it helps people both deal prudently during social occasions but also helps establish a culture that respects rational consumption patterns. This is what is needed now.



At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Thank you

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This IS great news! Once in East Amman, our neighbor's father died. They came to us and asked for a 400JD loan for funeral expenses. We were stupid them, thinking the poor man wouldn't have a decent burial or tombstone. Turned out, they spent all of it on flowers. Flowers. Two months wages for their family on flowers. They never paid us back, and never visited again.

I guess the shame of not having enough flowers would be more than owing a a friend a ton of money.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

very nice. thanks much for sharing. this will be on my forward list for the next couple of days :-)

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post.. i guess this document is announced to help all levels of Jordanian citizens .. and there were some similar documents in the past but it's still not taking place because traditional behaviors need some really big period of time to change!


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