Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Top 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy (in Israel)

Alright, alright; so it's not all peaches and cream. Sure, there's lots to love. So many new and novel foods, places to see and people to meet. However, I must be honest; there are a number of things on an almost daily basis that drive me absolutely nuts and leave me wishing I was back at home (at least temporarily). To be fair, I will post shortly a list of the "Top 10 Things That I Love Most (in Israel)". But seriously, us newcomers around here love to joke around about some of the things that are just plain "crazy" over here in the holy land (spoken lightly, of course). Without further ado, here is a list of my "Top 10":

10) Ladies first? Not over here they're not. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into a crowded bus waiting to hand my bus pass over to the bus driver, just as......a man pushes his way in front of me. No apology, no I'm sorry, not even a gesture of understanding. Oh, and he then jumps to snatch the last available seat, too. Don't for a second think that he will up and offer it to you; he will avoid eye contact at all costs. And it does not stop there. Forget about expecting a man to hold open a car door or any door for that matter. There simply isn't the mentality here of ladies first. And it's just plain rude. I think the only time you'll get a guy to hold the door open here is if he is the doorman at a hotel or if it's your boyfriend or husband who has been trained to be courteous. I am pretty sure it has something to do with the Orthodox mentality of men being superior (in a sense) to women - the very reason, by the way, that my father raised my sisters and I reform - and thus, because this is a city infested with Orthodoxy, the end result is a culture of inequality among men and women......or a city where men don't let ladies go first.

9) Lines? What Lines? That's right, Israelis don't have any idea or concept whatsoever of what a line is. Here, whether you're at the supermarket, bus stop or coffee shop, it's first come, first served - and I don't mean first in the line is the first to be served. It means the first person to push their way to the front gets served first - and doesn't get reprimanded for it.  It's sort of "if you snooze, you lose" mentality. This is a fabulous example of why Israelis get a bad rep for being harsh, aggressive and pushy. It's because, well, they are that way; but, if I may their defense, it is merely a symptom of their cultural upbringing. They're tough because they have to be. Because of all this line drama, with its pushing and shoving, Israelis have finally adopted a number system in the post office, at the bank, and in other customer service centers. They clearly can't be trusted in lines, so they are controlled, or, I mean monitored, by numbers. You don't ever want to attempt cutting ahead in this capacity, trust me. It reminds me of little Kindergarten kids needing numbers in line so there is no arguing about the order and who stands where (which there always is anyways...).

8) "Vy You Not Speak Hebrew Yet?" Locals ask us, "You've been here three months, now, correct?" To which we coolly reply, "Why, yes, that's right, I've been here's just about three months now." A baffled look on their faces, and then the question, "Why aren't you speaking Hebrew yet? You should be speaking already!" Oh my, *sigh*, this is just like the "Why don't you have a boyfriend?" question all over again. Because I don't people, I just don't!!!  Really now, what kind of question is that? For your information, ladies and gentlemen of Israel, it is NOT an easy language. It's hard. Like, really, really hard. On a scale from 1-10, we're gonna put it up there at like a 9 or 10. I don't know if you're aware, but Hebrew is not like any other language in the world. Maybe you should go try to learn something like Chinese, Japanese or Mandarin and come back to me in three months; let us see then just where you will be at in your language abilities. In three months time, I could carry out full, fluid conversations in Spanish after studying the language, so, no; it's not that we can't learn languages. It's just going to take us some time. You all grew up speaking English in combination with your Hebrew, but we did not grow up speaking Hebrew at all. It's going to take us some time. Believe me, we can't wait for the day when we will be able to walk down the grocery store aisle and know what the hell we are looking at. Please, please, be patient with us, and stop making us feel like idiots for being at our current language level. Your mockery won't magically advance our abilities.

7) The Run-Around. Oh yes, it's true. Anything and everything that you want to do here in Israel takes you three times longer than it ever would in the U.S. Want to book a doctor's appointment? Your driving test? How about getting an ID or applying for a passport? Oh, well, let us tell you how it works: even though it clearly states the exact instructions online, and even though you have all the documents you will need in hand, you will still have to go from A to B, back to A, to C, back to B,  to D, back to C, and return to A where you knew you had to go in the first place. Oh, and along the way, you will have to reproduce important documents (that you've already reproduced twice before) such as a notarized copy of your wedding license or birth certificate. At the end of the day, you will need to schedule time for a drink, because you will need one, every time. And be ready for each destination to have a screaming, unreasonable person telling you that you need to go back to the place you were before, even if you insist that the last person at the last destination told you differently. Round and round and round we's a circle game.

6) The 9-5....I mean, the 8-12, and sometimes, just sometimes, the 8-12:30, if you're lucky. I am talking about working hours here. Every government institution - whether it be the "DMV", the post office,  the bank, a health clinic, the Ministry of the Interior, or the Ministry of Absorption, etc. - is only open on Sundays to Thursdays (the work week) and only between the hours of 8-12 pm, only 4 hours a day.  And forget offices being open for half a day on the weekend, as they are in the US, giving us the luxury of doing errands on the weekend. No sir, not here. You've got to do whatever it is you have to do between their hours, on their time, no matter if you have the time to take off work/school or not. I don't know if this is a news flash or not, but most people work during those hours and it's a little difficult to make an appointment during that small chunk of time.

5) Weekends Were Made for Fun. Clearly, Debbie Deb and Janet Jackson did not live in Jerusalem. Sure, the whole point of living in Jerusalem (for most of the population here at least) is because of religious and Zionist reasons, and so, they are thrilled to death to cherish the Sabbath and to have an entire city obeying the obligatory tenets. But what about the rest of us? And, there are A LOT of us. Want to throw a party on the weekend? No, sorry, everything's closed. Alright, then. Want to go shopping with friends? Sorry, all the stores are closed too. All of them? Yes, all of them. Okayyyy, how about running some errands, like say sending out the laundry or mailing a letter? I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but those aren't options'll have to save all your errands to do in that small window of time that we touched on in the paragraph above. Alright, alright, alright, fine; I'll leave the city entirely, let me just go rent a car. Ohhhh no, did no one tell you? You have to rent the car a day earlier because they are closed too on the weekend. Seriously? Yes, there is no other option but to give in and get used to it; maybe it'll even do you some good.

4) Do It Yourself. The U.S. has groomed itself and prided itself on being a customer service driven economy, and for the large part, it has resulted in a lot of success. But, with this success also comes expectations. Here in Israel, we Americans still find ourselves expecting certain things. What do you mean I have to bag my own groceries? I've NEVER done this before, ever, in my life. You mean I have to put my items on the track, pay you, and then bag all of my items myself while the next person hovers up and over me? Yes, that's right......and, "maher, maher (quickly, quickly)!!!" But I can barely even get these darn plastic bags to open, I need some help!!! This is a "do-it-yourself" kind of culture. No more of that warm and fuzzy, "Let me help you!" attitude, no; that doesn't exist here. Same story if you're looking for a driving instructor and/or Hebrew tutor; the presumed sources of assistance (i.e. the DMV and/or the school) offer no help whatsoever (even though they might secretly be able to point you in the right direction).

3) Just Because I'm American...doesn't mean you have permission to a) rip me off, and b) judge me. For your information, just because I look like an American, I'm actually living here in Israel, living a solid Israeli life. So, no, you can't rip me off. You think I have extra money because I'm from abroad? Well, newsflash taxi driver: I wouldn't be taking the taxi in the first place if I was so fortunate to already have a car here. So if you want to try to charge me 40 shekels to get to the city center when I know it should be 25, well, you're out of luck! We'll happily wait for the next taxi driver who actually has a soul. Oh, and for all of you vendors at the shuk (outdoor marketplace), we aren't stupid; we know that you didn't accidentally give us back a 10 cent piece instead of a 10 shekel coin. Give us the correct change, for god's sake. We're really getting tired of being ripped off. And also, for all of the religious folk out there, please stop judging us. We respect your ways and your culture, so don't judge us for ours. Just because we don't keep kosher, don't cover our hair and don't dress like the rest of the women doesn't mean there is anything wrong with us. The way we were raised, we're allowed to do what we want on the Sabbath, so please, please, respect us and we'll do the same for you.

2) Thanks, But No Thanks! It might have been funny the first time, but it's really just getting old now. When I first got to Israel, I was in a home goods store when a 60-something year old male employee tried to sell me a hair straightener by examining my hair and recommending certain ones to me (the most expensive ones of course). It was quite humorous at the time and really left me giggling, almost enough to write a blog about it. Sorry to tell you, sir, I really hate to disappoint you,'re actually not an expert in this arena. If I wanted advice on hair products, I'd go to the hair salon. And to my neighbor on the bus, if I wanted your opinion on where to buy rain boots or which workbooks my class should be studying from,  I'll ask my local salesman or my current teacher, thank you very much.  We just can't seem to win; most of the time, we're left to do it ourselves, and the only time we do get help is when we don't want it. I think the reason that we continue to find this pattern of advice coming from all the wrong places is because there really aren't specialty stores here. Instead, you have a thousand different items sold in one little shop which ends up making everyone an expert in everything. It must be the American in me, but I really prefer to get my baked goods at the bakery and my shoes at the shoe store, thank you very much.

1) I Have to What?! And finally, you've made it to the number one thing that drives me crazy here in Israel. And that is the seemingly constant instance that I find myself saying, "I have to do what?! Huh?!" What do I mean? Well, for starters, we have to turn the hot water "switch" on for one entire hour in order to get hot water. There's no hot water on command here....unless you join my awesome gym, which is the main reason I'm enticed to exercise here (for the oh-so-heavenly reward of a long, hot shower vs. the maximum 10-15 minute shower I'd get at home after an hour's wait). Then there's the fact that nearly no homes have driers in them (luckily where I live does....) and so you have to let your clothes dry outside, old-fashioned, on a line. That's right. And don't expect any dishwashers either, you're going to have to dry those dishes by hand.....and don't forget you'll be washing them with cold water, too. Oh, how we miss the luxuries of the good ole' USA...!


  1. That all sounds positively frustrating! Excellent post--most of the time when hearing traveling/living abroad you only learn the good things. Reading your list though reminds me of the summer I spent in China. Though it was marvelous and I only have good memories, I still think back to the little things that irked me and I smile. I look forward to your "10 Things That I Love Most" post!

  2. I LOOOOOVE it. Ohevet. Mamesh. A few things:

    1. The "Mold and Cold" problem that comes from no central heating. When you have a wet, cold winter (but not cold enough to kill life forms like fungus)with no central heating, you get the 1-2 punch of "mold and cold." Welcome to my apartment.

    2. Dead on accurate about the shuk. The last time I tried to buy spices the guy gave me 3x more than I asked for AND put dried rice in the bag to weigh it down. Did he think I wouldn't notice that 75 sheckels for spices is a bit high? An Orthodox man, of course. A man of God who'd rip off another Jew.

    3. The cars are equally as rude as the pedestrians. I have had drivers fight me for the crosswalk. Every time, I desperately want to slap the hood and yell, "I'm WALKING here!"

    4. I want to print this post, give it to my luvah's father, and simply point to #8. Ze oh.

    Can't wait to see the 10 Things You Love!

  3. Erin, I love this post. However I have to disagree with number 10. I think that "Ladies First" is an old school gesture that is rooted in the culture of gender inequality and male chauvinism. Israeli men are progressive in the sense that they don't think that as a woman you are physically weaker and therefore need to be offered a seat. I think we should see it as a positive sign unless we are willing to accept our inferiority to men in certain aspects of our lives. I think this culture goes back to the founding of Israel as a utopian society where everyone is equal and work shoulder to shoulder to dry out swamps, built settlements, and fight intruders. After all, if Israeli women are strong enough to serve in the military, do they really need the car door opened for them?

    I completely agree with the other 9 items on your list. Annoying!

  4. Ola, I will always leave it up to you to show me the positive side of things. After hearing your side of the argument, I always think "she's right!" Maybe you should have been a lawyer!! :) I was worried I might be offending Israelis with this post, but it's all in good humor!

    Ariele, the shuk comment was totally courtesy of wonderful you. I thought about identifying you in the post, but I had an inkling you'd find it anyways. How could I forget the mildew/mold situation!? And excuse me, the tipping scenario? Get with the program and add a line to tip on the receipts, PLEASE. Trust me, Israel, it's totally worth it! And, oh yes, the smoking situation here = BAD. And one last thing, the shopping? Seriously? Can we have just ONE good store? Okay, clearly I need a top 20...

    Thanks guys! It's fun to show you a "picture" of what it's like here...

  5. Okay, the tipping thing. That deserves its own post. It doesn't help anyone to not allow post-payment credit card tipping. Waitresses are left at the mercy of customers who may or may not have appropriate small change. Customers are forced to either tell their waitress the tip amount before paying - which is very awkward for most Americans - or tip in cash. And if you don't have cash, and you're unfamiliar with the custom, you might end up stiffing your waitress by accident. Who benefits from this?!

    Also, the fact that negotiating is such a big part of life here kills me. I just want things to have price tags so I can decide whether or not it's a worthwhile purchase. Don't make me haggle over everything, I find it exhausting and distasteful. And don't make me ask you the price and fear that everything will be more expensive for an American. Just put a price tag on it and let's call it a day.

    This isn't even MY blog, yet I find it incredibly cathartic!

  6. Love it Erin! I have never been to Israel and shamefully, do not know very much about the culture so while all your blogs are educational for me, this was so informative to read from your perspective! Thanks for sharing!


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