Not only for Western men it may be confusing to not shake hands with women.
Local women keep themselves exclusively for their husband, so any other men outside the family is not shaken hands. You may find a women who does, but this would be an exception in the town I live.
For all guys visiting Jordan: don’t be concerned about being rude not to shake hands! It’s even more polite when you don’t even try it.
For me, I always say hello and shake hands with women. Inside our outside the family. I would be rude when I wouldn’t. It comes together with kisses and the Arabic phrase for “how are you, any news?”, followed by the answer “Al Hamdullilah” (A kind of thank you to Allah for still being alive).
For me, shaking hands with men is actually more confusing than you would think. Why? Because when men did their ritual washing before praying they can not touch women until they finished their prayers. Or even for a longer time when they don’t feel like washing again for the next prayers. Some men don’t keep to this rule, some do. It’s not that they refuse to give hands to women at all times, like sometimes is pointed out in the Media, but at certain moments. At least by the Islamic people who I know. It’s all about the interpretation of the Quran.
So I never know if they washed, if they would mind washing again or if they don’t. Always confusing and frustrating, while sometimes I was offered a sleeve to shake.
Because most of the time I still don’t know if I can shake hands or not, my strategy resulted in waiting until the man offers his hand to shake. If he doesn’t I know enough. In the beginning it was frustrating and I thought it even was insulting that they wouldn’t shake my hand. Now I am fine with it, and know that it’s just a part of the culture and religion.
You can look at it different ways. If the men don’t want to shake hands because they need to pray, you may feel like they think your dirty or not clean. Or that they are too lazy to wash again. But that’s the Western kind of view. Here they do this out of respect for you and/or your husband, since touching a “strange” women would be interfering in a marriage and is something rather private. And in a culture where women are covered and keeping the whole hand shaking things for just their husbands, shaking hands may encourage thoughts in the man’s brain, which he shouldn’t have when praying.
My answer to that? I’m just too hot to handle! 😉
This was again your reporter from Jordan!