Here are some examples of why Americans (or people from ANY other country) are constantly amazed at the Israeli culture:
1. Turning down a mivtza (bargain or sale) - Israelis, bless their little hearts, cannot for the life of them understand why you would turn down a mivtza. To wit, yesterday's conversation at the supermarket checkout:
- Cashier: We have this HUGE bottle of shoko [Israeli chocolate drink, which may or may not have some natural ingredients in it, but I doubt it] on sale!
- Us: We don't want it.
- Cashier (with a look of utter bewilderment on her face): What? But it's a mivtza! Look how much you save!
- Us: We don't DRINK it, though. [This is when we start good naturedly laughing, assuming she will laugh along. She does not. Quite the contrary, she is supremely insulted that we have turned down her mivtza]
- Cashier: So what? You should buy it.
- Us: But we don't want it.
- Cashier shakes her head and continues completing our checkout.
- Us [on the way out] - they must get a kickback for selling that stuff at the register.
Israelis drive on whatever the heck side of the road they want to. It does not matter that it is YOUR side of the road. Defensive driving has taken on a whole new meaning here for us - it means assuming every single driver on the road is going to try to pass you or do something incredibly dangerous.
3. Customer Service
Hahahahaha! Sorry, I couldn't help myself there. Basically, as the customer it's not that you have no rights or deserve anything - you are on your own, buddy. You do get used to it, and Israelis are not bad or mean people, they are just very tough.
I heard on the radio the other day (in Hebrew, folks, so I may have understood the story completely wrong), the announcer told a story that he called the city government office to find out how much he owed in property tax. The woman who answered responded to his question with this one: "What do you think I am, a computer? I have no idea what you owe!"
I can't quite place the fashion sense of Israeli women. It's somewhere between tacky and OH MY GOODNESS WHAT IS SHE WEARING? Forget that about 99% of Israeli women dye their hair some unnatural color of red/maroon, and the makeup is applied, it seems, with a magic marker (permanent), but what bothers me is that in fact so many of these women are actually quite beautiful without a drop of makeup (my theory about most makeup/women, but that's a discussion for another time). The heavy makeup they wear, well, let's say it doesn't help them.
Maybe it's that they just don't care, they want to wear what they love and what they think is beautiful and fashionable, and I assume they think they look great. Maybe in the end that's how we should all feel.
5. Business culture
I'm new to this, but it seems to me that Israelis in the business world assume you are trying to pull one over on them, and that if they agree to something, they are being taken for a ride. I'm still trying to figure this one out, but there is a general sense of suspicion and not wanting to be a "fryer."
A "fryer" is defined as someone who you have taken advantage of. A sucker, sort of. The phrase "I'm not a fryer" tells the person you are talking to that you are not going to let them pull the wool over your eyes. There is even a website for Anglos who want to avoid being fryered - www.nofryers.com - check it out, I'm not making this up.
6. Living in a country surrounded by its dire enemies
So, of course this is a more serious one, and in a way it explains some of the above. But after having grown up in the US, which sort of has a "king of the world" mentality about it, here you are part of a thousands-year-old struggle which you feel every day. It's what makes Israelis so tense, yadda yadda yadda. But of course it affects every day life.
Every Israeli you see has probably lost someone in their family in combat or an act of terrorism. It's not like the US where only some people have relatives in the military. Here it's every single family. So these are the things you have to get used to:
- Seeing guns wherever you go
- People in military uniforms everywhere
- High school kids discussing which branch of the military they'd like to be in
- High school parents realizing their 17 or 18 year old is about to start risking his or her life
- Having your bag and car inspected before you go into a mall, store, movie, theater
7. Living in a country that is not someone else's
I know, I've said this before. But having been born and raised in America, it really is weird to be in your own country, where everything that happens is somehow related to your Judaism. Even the fights in the Knesset, the current battle over army service for hareidim - when you look at the big, big picture, it's kind of cool that it is all about the Jewish people.
That's it for now - I'm awaiting my American-born "shiputznik" (handyman) to come do some work in the apartment. I use him because his business card promised (I am not making this up) "clean, American style service."