Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just Sign Here...

This might be the ultimate oleh chadash (new immigrant) story.

About a month ago we had a week of terrible rainstorms, hail, etc.  It basically rained heavily for a week.  Israel is not made for rain like that so there was a lot of flooding.  In addition, lots of people had water damage.  We were lucky - even though we are on the top floor, right under the roof in other words, we only had one spot which developed mold at the end of that week.

We called the builder, since they are still responsible for the construction, and they sent a very nice man over to take a look.  He went into each apartment in the building to assess any water damage, took notes, and said he'd be back.  We did not expect to ever see him again, and since we are such experienced Israelis, we are used to this.  As Donny says, "If he said he'll be back that means he won't be back."

Well, color us surprised when he did come back. 

Like most of the employees of the construction company, this man is an Arab.  And like all of the employees we've come in contact with, he's very nice and helpful.  He came to the door and I answered.

This is how the conversation went (all in Hebrew, ahem):

  • Man: Hello!  How are you?
  • Me: Fine, how are you?
  • Man: Great!  So I finished the work, just make a list of what I did and sign it.
  • Me: Huh?
  • Man: Just make a list of what I did and sign it.
  • Me: Huh? Bern!
  • Bern:  OK, what do we need to do.
  • Man: Just make a list of what I did and sign it. This is what I did [incomprehensible incomprehensible incomprehensible]
  • Bern: Huh?
  • Man: Just get a piece of paper and I'll tell you what to write.

OK, I know what you are all thinking.  Listen, if someone comes to your door and tells you to write down the repairs he's made and then sign the paper and you sign it, you're an idiot.

We agree.  And we felt like idiots.  But it comes to a point where you throw your hands up in the air.  I mean it's hard enough to argue in English, but in Hebrew? Fuhgeddaboudid.

So begins the dictation.  Now, the Arab man is not literate in Hebrew, in that he speaks it but cannot write it.  So let me paint the scene for you:

  • Bern writing on a piece of scrap paper everything the man says.
  • Man using words we do not know (technical house repair words we've never heard of or that he is making up.)
  • Bern asking the man to spell the words.
  • Man cannot spell the words because he cannot write Hebrew.
  • Man saying the words loudly hoping that makes up for his lack of spelling talent.
  • Bern giving up and writing the words he THINKS he hears the man say.
  • Man looking at the paper, not knowing if it is right since he apparently can't read Hebrew, and saying it looks fine.
  • Bern signing the paper.

I'm guessing that we did a very stupid thing.  But hey, it rained last week and we didn't have any mold! 

Oh, sorry, I guess you assumed I'd write about Purim.  It was awesome.  Nothing like it in the States because the kids are into it for about a week, and on the day before they all go to school in their costumes.  And almost all of the adults dress up here, religious or not - it's like a national dress up holiday.

But really, the story about the illegal legal document was so much more interesting...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hebrew Takes a Vacation and I Learn a Lesson

When I was in Ulpan, my Hebrew was going great guns.  I mean, I dreamed in Hebrew, I could speak in class, and I was feeling pretty confident as the weeks went by.

Fast forward to 6 months after Ulpan. My Hebrew knowledge decided to take an extended vacation.

The truth is (I know, this is a shocker), if you don't speak it every day at some point, the words, phrases, and grammar start to find sneaky little crevices in your brain and decide to take a long nap in there. 

In order to wake them up and force them to stretch, have some coffee, and actually work for you, you have to be in a situation where Hebrew is needed.  Otherwise, those guys just book a new hotel in your brain, mosey on over, and go back to watching ESPN.

Last week I went to my regular beauty salon for a haircut.  The owner, Ilana, is a lovely lady and I enjoy speaking Hebrew with her.  On my way over there, I realized it would be the first Hebrew conversation I'd had in weeks, if not months.  I was a little nervous.

I was OK until just after "Ma Nishma?"  "B'seder."  That part I have down cold.  Then she asked me something and I came up with my usual brilliant rejoinder, "Mah?"

So she kept talking and eventually the Hebrew started yawning and blinking their eyes, grouchy because they were being awakened, and then begrudgingly started to work for me.  Pretty soon I was talking to her about the elections!  The Hebrew was starting to enjoy itself, I think.

Soon Ilana was telling me about her childhood, having come to Israel from Iran in the 60s, living in a tent camp for many years, struggling, hungry, with 8 brothers and sisters, and finally making a life for themselves.  I was crying with her as she remembered how hard it had been for her as a little girl.

Now for the lesson part.  As we talked, I felt quite sheepish.  You see, recently I've been feeling quite sorry for myself about having to work while many of our new friends here are retired and can travel, do tiyulim, and not have to worry about money.  For us, we always have and probably always will have to worry about money, and coming here, finding new work, earning less, figuring out how much we need - it all causes me some level of panic as I wonder how we will manage over the next years until we can also retire (yes, that was one of the longest sentences ever).  I also wonder if I really WANT to retire.

And here was this woman whose family had left with nothing, come to Israel, lived in a tent with 10 family members, been hungry, and finally, after many years, eked out a living.  All to get away from a horrific life as Jews and live in their own country.  What right do I have to worry?

So the visit to the hairdresser gave me an opportunity to speak Hebrew and get those guys out of my brain hotels, and also to realize that I am pretty darn fortunate to have come here with so much and to find work so quickly, and to be able to live in the only place we really belong.

Because in the end, regardless of the language, the economics, the crazy drivers, and the August heat, we are where God meant us to be.  Nothing, ever, has felt so good.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Day of Hebrew

We had quite a day of Hebrew speaking yesterday.  And not all of it went that well. 

Calling to make a physical therapy appointment:
A friend (thanks, Wendy!) gave me the number of the physical therapy office.  I called.  I could not understand the instructions, but I knew I had options for 1, 2, or 3.  The option for 1 didn't sound right, so I tried 2 which (I think) was to make an appointment. I understand the part when they said they were busy with other customers, but the next sentence was an instruction about what to do and for the life of me I could not understand it.  Wait? Hold? Hang up?  Dance a jig?  Whistle Dixie? 

So I called my trusty phone interpreter, Gila, who called the number and tried to figure it out.  I followed her suggestion and was (I think) on hold for about 1/2 hour.  Then I gave up.

So....we drove over to the office and made the appointment.  Problem solved. 

Getting my phone fixed.
Going to the Orange service center is almost as much fun as sticking needles in your eye.  You get a piece of paper with a letter and number on it.  Mine was A216.  I looked at the monitor - hey, they were serving A215!  I'm next!  hahahahahaha!  No no no no.  The next number they called as A601.  I am not making this up.  I have no idea how this works.  We waited for an hour and there were only 2 other people in the waiting area.

Seems their business model is as follows:
1. Make everything they offer incredibly complicated and hard to understand
2. Only have 2-3 people working at one time
3. Do not train the employees so that they have to keep running around asking each other what to do
4. Have one guy in the back who knows everything eating his lunch all day so he can't be disturbed.

My phone's problem was that it kept turning on and off by itself.  I asked if I could upgrade to a new phone.  In Israel, upgrade seems to mean, "You can buy a new phone at an exorbitant price!  hahaha! gotcha!"  I did not buy a new phone.

Taking a survey from Hyundai:
Recently we had our car serviced.  There were also some, um, er, dings that had to be fixed.  Let's just say we replaced a bumper and let it go at that, shall we? 

The day after we received the car back (they brought it to us at home!) we got a call asking if everything was OK.  Very nice!

Yesterday I got a call from what must be the national Hyundai center asking if I'd answer some questions about my experience.  At least that's what I think she said.

So I said sure, thinking it would be a few questions. This woman spent at least 20 minutes with me on the phone.

She said Hebrew words I knew like "satisfied" and "recommend" - yay!  But she talked very fast and most of the time I was saying my favorite phrase of all time, "Lo hevanti" (I didn't understand).  Then she's say it again, just as fast.  My poor brain - I could hear it working, all creaky and tired sounding.  I would struggle to catch a couple of familiar words, but by the time I got one or two the next fifty were out of her mouth.  I kept asking her to repeat and apologized for my Hebrew. 

Finally I understood that I could respond by saying "m'od" or "harbeh" or "beinoni" or something else I didn't understand but I knew it was something negative and I didn't want to respond negatively because I was afraid that Mr. Hyundai would come and bash my windshield in late in the night.

OK, I like "m'od" because it was the highest recommendation and actually I was very happy with the service.  So every time  she asked a question, I said "m'od."  She was very happy with me until she asked a question that had to be answered by a ranking of one to ten and I said "m'od."  She didn't like that.  But after I figured it out, I gave a ten.