Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ah, Hebrew

As I said in my last blog, learning Hebrew and being comfortable enough to speak to an Israeli are constant challenges for olim.

I can practice and practice, but the words trip over themselves on the voyage from my brain to my mouth and I always end up sounding like an idiot.

Yesterday, though, was interesting.  We had a fix-it person over who only speaks Hebrew.  He is a sweet fellow who has done a lot of work for us.  Interestingly, and shockingly, I was able to speak to him pretty well.  A lot of the words came out of my mouth correctly, and some were words that I didn't even know I knew! 

But I figured it out. There must be a safe that keeps all of the correctly conjugated words in the deep recesses of my brain - there has to be because I LEARNED ALL OF THIS IN ULPAN and I don't remember most of it.  But for some reason, it must have mistakenly been open for a few minutes, and I'm hoping that happens again.

I have found that reticence to speak to Israelis happens with women more than men.  I think that women are more nervous about sounding stupid and men are not (no, I am not man-bashing here, I am man-honoring!).  My conversations with Anglo friends here have borne this theory out.  We are more reticent to "just try" speaking - maybe that's an age thing, but I kind of think it's a woman thing. 

Also, I realize that no matter what I say and how good my accent is, they always know we are Anglos - you just can't fake being an Israeli.  In fact, it must have something to do with physical appearance as well, maybe we Anglos have non-Israeli looks on our faces (less grimaces, more smiles?).  Yesterday we walked into a restaurant and before I had said a word they handed us an English menu.

The nicest experiences are when I apologize for my broken Hebrew and they look at me in shock, saying, "But your Hebrew is great, what are you talking about?" 

However, I am not naive.  I know that the government must pay them to say that ("Keep the Anglos here, tell them they speak Hebrew well!  Do anything, don't let them leave!"  must be the message).

Either way, I am, as I've said before, getting used to sounding dumb and to trying out my Hebrew on unsuspecting Israelis who visibly cringe when I speak. 

And every once in a while I'm hoping that the Safe of Correct Hebrew opens up by accident and I get a complete and correct sentence out without embarrassing myself and the entire Anglo community.

I'll keep trying.  Shalom, see ya.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Three Years

As of today, we've been here for three years.  I will share my accumulated wisdom with you at no charge.

Preparation for aliyah:
Bring less. It's a small country, the living spaces are small, there is very little storage space. 

Living with Israelis:

  • They have big hearts and big mouths.
  • They will tell you exactly what they think, every time - at first it is a little shocking, but after you realize how much they care, it's sweet - it's kind of like everyone is family.

Living in Israel vs. living in the US
  • Customer service is a new concept here (well, maybe that isn't such a big difference) - n fact, some businesses publicize their "American-style service" as an extra
  • You cannot get certain US items here, so learn to live without - begging your friends and family to bring you stuff gets old and probably annoys people

Assume KNOW that every single person in every single car is going to do something stupid NOW

  • Do grocery shopping online - yes, they charge for delivery but do anything you can to avoid the actual store and, even worse, the supermarket checkout line where:
    • Every single customer has an issue, an argument, or a question
    • The cashier is threatened with bodily harm if she does not make you buy one of the "specials" available only at the register
    • The cashier will tell you that if you buy 10 more of an item, you will save a shekel, and you say you don't want 10 more, and she will start arguing with you
    • You will have to fight off 5 store employees trying to convince you to get the store's "club" card
Clothes shopping - meh.  
You have to find the 1 or 2 stores that you can actually find decent clothes in, or just throw your hands up and start wearing cheaply made, weird looking clothing.

Living near Americans
In my opinion (this is serious) - you need to live around people who "get" American culture and upbringing.  I feel that our "frame of reference" is vastly different from an Israeli's, and it is comforting and helpful to have others around you who you can talk to with complete comfort without having to constantly explain yourself. You also need to vent sometimes - well, a lot of the time.

Speaking Hebrew
You gotta face up to the fact that it may take a very, very long time to feel comfortable speaking to a non-English speaker.  If you come here with kids, that is a huge help because they come home speaking Hebrew and you can learn a ton.  As someone without school-age kids, it is a litltle harder.

It is frustrating at times not being able to really say what you want to say, without trying to find a work-around to get your thought out. 

      Some tricks I've learned:
  • When you can't find the right Hebrew word, use an English word - most often Israelis understand - even better if you can use the English word with an Israeli accent, e.g., "Ani mechapeset a peekturr freeemm" (I'm looking for a picture frame)
  • Dealing with services, stores, etc. - always ask if someone speaks English if you really can't make yourself understood
  • Practice what you need to say before you go to a doctor, store, etc. - seriously!  Look it up, ask someone. Facebook is great for this.
  • Let other people know you are an oleh/olah and apologize for your Hebrew. Then, immediately, every single time, the person you're speaking to will become the most helpful, kindest, person you've ever met - it's very cool. You might even get a "Bruchim HaBaim" hug.
Medical Care
  • There are some things that are super modern - like online appointment sites, results of medical tests online, etc.  
  • There are some things that are super archaic - like taking your strep test stick to the lab yourself.
  • There are three million kajillion options for levels of medical care and I've been at many Shabbat lunches where we sit around trading medical care stories and each has a different interpretation of the exact same medical benefit plan.  It's a sort of sport here.

Danger, War, Sirens
It's a fact of life - you live in a war zone surrounded by enemies.  It's a point of pride, but also very scary.  Then again, life is not that much different, danger-wise, in the US. 

At least here, every citizen feels like a soldier fighting against a common enemy for the life of the Jewish state.

On a serious note, anyone out there contemplating aliyah is most welcome to write to me - leibtag at gmail dot com - to ask pre and post aliyah questions.