Little Differences (April 19, 2009)

Disclaimer: the following post is in no way intended to be a serious critical discussion of the cultural and religious differences between the U.S. and Israel. I am not qualified to make those types of distinctions, nor, in the end, do I ultimately feel they are important. I am interested here in the little quirks that let me know, as a girl from Chicago, that I am definitely somewhere else. In the last two days, I have walked upwards of ten miles around Tel Aviv, a midsized City of 500,000, and for every one of these observations, I did not consider it recordable unless I witnessed on at least three or more occasions. So it’s not an exact science, but I stand by my claims that these are discernable Israeli behavior patterns.

– Solo riders in taxis sit right up front with the driver, and most of the time, *gasp!* even engage in conversation with them. Most of us regular Janes in Chicago like our cabbie to take us where we asked to go without any extraneous chitchat, and we certainly don’t ride shotgun.

– The pedestrian “walk” signal, rather than white in color, is green over here. For whatever reason, I have a Pavlovian response to this that gives me the urge to run very fast when it is time to cross the street. The childhood game “Red Light, Green Light” apparently penetrates into the psyche far deeper than previously imagined.

– On that note, traffic laws and signs are apparently offerred as suggestions, as opposed to hard and fast rules. This explains the inordinate amount of people who drive on the sidewalk (yes), go the wrong way down one-way streets, and run red lights without the slightest “tsk, tsk” from passerby.

– Coffee shops ALWAYS double as pubs. It is perfectly acceptable for the Israeli corporate type to get an Irish coffee to go and finish it at their desk before starting the day’s work. I honestly think this practice needs to make its way to professional America. Imagine the increase in job satisfaction.

– To continue that thought, convenience stores put individual beers in the cooler at the front of the store, right next to the bottled water and soda. There is nothing at all strange about a person popping in for a brew and merrily sipping it as they walk down the street. This may seem counterintuitive, but it appears to cut down on the incidence of public intoxication and drunk driving, because the taboo is completely removed. Something to consider.

– I have not seen even one stray dog, though there are plenty of dogs in Israel. However, stray cats roam the streets in abundance. For some reason, I find this both increasingly depressing as well as less threatening.

– People think those who jog are mentally ill, a response I ran into hundreds of times as I ran through the streets of Bobby and Moish’s neighborhood this morning. Running just doesn’t seem to be understood in a place where it’s far easier to drink an iced Irish coffee on a sweltering morning. That being said, Israelis can literally walk for miles without any visible signs of fatigue. I am nearly 20 years younger than my companions, and as I arrogantly thought, in far better shape. But guess who was begging for mercy after these lengthy jaunts the last two days?

– Israeli men, well 85% of them anyway, are H-O-T. In fact, the incidence of pulchritude amongst both sexes is astoundingly high, and almost no one is obese. I would be positively drowned in envy were I not too busy looking. Hey! I am married, not dead, you know?

– Whereas Chicago has pretty well defined boundaries between downtown and residential areas, the layout here is continuous and fluid. It is not at all uncommon to have a sprawling shopping mall, a car dealer, several apartment complexes, and a high rise office building on the same block.

– Chicago is abominable when it comes to recycling, one of the few things about Chi town that really sticks in my craw. On the other hand, Tel Aviv is very casually green: plastic bottle receptacles scattered casually throughout the City, solar panels, lights, even attached to businesses, that operate on motion detection.

– Buildings, even new construction, are built solidly of stone, not brick, or even the much maligned (by me anyway) glass and steel. These materials may come into play, but they are not the sum total.

– People bring their kids everywhere, and that includes bars, clubs, late night cinemas., etc. There appears to be no such thing as an “adults only” haven, much to the chagrin of my hosts. Fine, I hate this too. I said it.

– Each shopping mall appears to contain at least two or three tattoo parlors.

– People stare at you. They look long and hard. I realized belatedly that this not rudeness. They are just trying to gain some understanding before they speak – not a bad habit in my opinion, although it takes getting used to.

– Israelis work to live, rather than live to work. One of my hosts, Moish, is an RN. He opts to work three days a week because that is enough to satisfy his material needs, and still allow him the time to pursue his music, work with animals, etc. If this philosophy could be bottled and sold, I would be the first customer in line.

– Fast food restaurants are few and far between (see my above comment on lack of fat Israelis).

– Curls, rather than flat irons, are celebrated as beautiful. Obviously, for very personal reasons (see Boop on the right in the above photo), this brings me great joy.

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