The Israeli Chronicles: Erase and Rewind

It’s a funny thing coming home. Looks the same. Sounds the same. Even smells the same. You realize the only thing that’s changed…is you. – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
On my second day back in Israel, after nine months of separation, I found Benjamin Button’s statement a very challenging thought to ponder. I was sitting in my best friend’s living room, wondering if I was a changed woman or still that Israeli girl who just needed to shake off the “Minnesota nice” and rub some character on? I must say it was quite a conundrum. Israel and the Twin Cities are polar opposites of each other. There are no similarities and just to get by here or there, one must make a choice: yield to a major assimilation or get really good at juggling between two hats. The second requires being capable of pushing the erase and rewind buttons and waking up to a new morning ready to be wherever you are – with its unique lifestyle, culture and etiquette.
I have to admit, I’m the juggler type. It took me two days but I got my Israeli spice back. If I hadn’t, I would have been run over by frenzied Rosh Hashanah shoppers trying to get to the bakery’s last sweet bread while I was still busy smiling and saying “excuse me” Minnesota-style to every shopper that elbowed his way around me.
I found myself truly back in Israel – gray thinking box wiped clean of the nine month old brain cells that contained Minnesota nice behavior. I had successfully erased and rewound and could experience the flavor of Israel with a clean palate. Or, in other words (for those that have a melancholic temperament like me), it meant that I could compare and critique from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It gave me peace.
Here are some samples from my findings about what is here and what is there:
The mechanism of ordering coffee:
Let me share a true story, told by my friend Yael G, about her US coffee ordering experience…
The morning after arriving in New York City, Yael entered a well-known coffee shop to order her morning caffeine fix. For the record, she had never been to the states and didn’t have any prior knowledge of the coffee ordering process here. Being Israeli, her immediate action was to map the ground like a trained solder to decide if it was a friendly perimeter or an enemy trap.
Checking the place around her, she decided it was not friendly at all and she became aware of two alarming things that required preparation and courage: First she noticed the “coffee bible,” the huge black hovering board. It seamed to contain every possible American coffee variation, except the one that she knew. The second was the long crowded line of have-to-get-to-work customers. It seemed that every person had already memorized, practiced and knew how to say their order in the exact vocal velocity and sound needed so it would be immediately clear to the person behind the counter.
My poor friend. Can you imagine the stress? And all before her morning coffee?! Well she sure didn’t give up. She stepped aside, studied her choices and silently practiced the way she would announce her choice. She made it! The order was clearly understood, the shout of the coffee to be made was in the air. Until she was asked for…ROOM?!
Well friends, if you are an Israeli and not a native English speaker, the word “room” accompanying a coffee order can bring a lot of associations to one’s mind. Poor girl, really. In the same situation, any Israeli will think of anything BUT a space left for milk! It could mean “would you like a room to drink your coffee in?” or “would you like room service?
Yael’s final try for a normal association was (since room sounds a bit like rum to an ear accustomed to Hebrew) “would you like some rum in your coffee?” I don’t need to tell you the end of this story but only that in Israel this is not the way we do it. The menus in Israel are just a suggestion, so that people like me, who don’t have the patience to read before caffeine is already in the bloodstream, can go to the counter, smile to the person behind it and just say what we would like to drink. Isn’t that just easier or what?!
“You have pajama taste”:
This is one of the direct approaches my friends took when they went shopping with me. I picked a dress and my friend said, without any reservation, her honest, aimed-to-hit opinion. I love it! I have “pajama taste” and that is what she thinks! To an Israeli that has spent nine months in the Passive-Aggressive Homeland, it was refreshing. I didn’t have to hear the other person’s efforts to accommodate my ego and the dance-around-the-subject answer. Oh so good to get straight to your face opinions.
And here I have to share something, Dear Readers: I can’t understand why directness is considered rudeness here in the Midwest. It feels like people have fragile egos that can’t stand to be told an unpleasant word. Aren’t you concerned or bothered by the fact that most of the time you hear an opinion that has gone through a “sugaring process” so your ego doesn’t have to cope with the truth? Isn’t it just easier to know others’ raw thoughts and deal with it?
Friday feels like Friday, Sunday is just a working day and Lunch is BIGGER then Dinner:
Oh. Finally. I got it back. I got my Friday shut-down. In Israel everything closes on Friday afternoon. It’s like you get a message that says: Go home to your family. It’s Friday. On the other hand, Sunday is just a day. For me it was refreshing after nine months of three day weekends. I like it. Sunday was the day I went to school, got back to my military base and the first day of work.

Things I find absolutely ridiculous here:

Every culture has its quirks and as someone who wasn’t raised here, I can find plenty of culture shock moments and differences between the two places. Here are a few of my personal findings after living in the Twin Cities:

  • The first place prize goes to…pens at banks and hardware stores. I just can’t understand the tasteless decoration on those pens. Flowers at banks, plastic pipes in hardware stores. Why can’t pens just be pens? Simple blue or black plastic pens.
  • Second place definitely goes to booby lamps. Yes – Those horrific North American lamps that are scattered all around the house, hanging from the ceiling. They look like female breasts but I get the felling that no one but me has that association.
  • The lack of appreciation for the miracle dip known as hummus wins third. OK, I do have to admit: Israelis use hummus for everything! Really. The only thing hummus isn’t used for yet is curing wounds. We  put it on salads, chicken, eat it with cheese and so on and so on…

Dear Readers, if you have traveled to Israel (or are an Israeli here in America) and saw something different or even a bit ridiculous, please share and let your voice be heard!
(Photo: Shoshanah)