It wasn't long after I started living in Israel that I picked up on the general Israeli impoliteness. It's everywhere - it saturates the entire country. The moment you step foot on the holy land, your circle of personal space shrinks quickly. In this land, tact is nonessential, conversations are direct and queues have a culture of their own. Strangers make comments to you about things that, in America, you'd only hear from the mouths of close kin.
Now, many Western foreigners get hit hard. The atmosphere in Israel is something new. The country is developed, modern and civilized. They see the Americanization at work and wonder how Israelis still aren't behaving American! They seem so direct and, well, unrefined! In fact, I found a really hilarious post by an Israeli communications company on how to do business with Israelis. Cheap design aside, they actually get their shit pretty right and try to lay out how and why Israelis conduct business the way they do.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that most Western tourists make the following assumption: Israeli's are rude and inconsiderate.
But I wouldn't go that far. They might be impolite, but that doesn't necessarily make them rude. Since this is my blog - I ain't no non-biased journalist- I'm just gonna go ahead and say that there are definitely some annoying things about Israelis and their so-called rudeness. But, once you embrace it, this lack of etiquitte and politeness can be extremely liberating and refreshing. Sometimes Israelis remind me of the way New Yorkers used to be, before the city got all cleaned up.
In fact, Israel taught me how to stick to my guns and be pushy when the occasion calls for it. I don't sugar-coat things the way I used to, no matter who I'm talking to and I don't feel like I need to smile and be friendly to stragers if I don't want to. I know how to speak up for myself, and I definitely know how to find the right people to help me get my foot in the right door.
So, what exactly has contributed this Israeli phenomenon of impoliteness? Well, here are what I believe are the top 5 reasons Israelis seem so impolite:
1) Most Israelis are Jews.
Take your quintessential Jewish mother, or father- or grandparent, for that matter. Imagine your Mel Brooks ar Billy Crystal character - a Brooklyn Jew with a strong Eastern European background.
"Francie," she might say with a thick accent, "wat's with your hair today?Eh? It always looks so nice- but today you have this gnarly look, eh?
"Joshua," he might say, "I'm an old man, I've lived through so much...I deserve some extra desert. Go ask the waitress if she'll send over an extra dish."
The presumptuous Eastern European Jew lives on in Israel, a state founded by those same nagging and tactless parents who know the best way to embarrass their children in public. Everything is everyone's business.
2) Much of Israel is Still kinda Third World.
Take for example, the buses. It's rare to find a bus station with adequate route maps. The buses themselves have no maps on the walls inside, nor are there bus maps regularly distributed to the public. When you get on a bus that you've never ridden before to a place you've never been before, the only way to know where you need to get off is to ask the driver or a fellow passenger. No one announces each stop. In fact, the bus driver will not even stop at all of the stations. If he sees no one waiting at the stop, and none of the passengers have pressed the "stop" button, the driver will zoom by a station without a second thought.
The bus schedule is also only a loose timetable. Never rely on the bus schedules to be accurate. Buses can arrive 20 minutes late and leave 5 minutes early. If you're waiting for a bus, give yourself some wiggle room.
The buses are only one example of many state-run systems that simply seem to have no real order. With no order, no sign postings, no public information, the systems become what Israeli's call "Schunah" or "neighborhood". The people who have been through it know. The newcomers have no clue. They are forced to communicate with strangers and ask for advice. There is no other way to get by.
3) Israelis are Like one big Family/Neighborhood
Israelis are a family-orientated people. Blood ties run very thick here and is part of their collective strength. The extended family becomes a network of support and connections meaning that everything in Israel comes down to who you know. This phenomenon they call the combina."
-2006 RoadJunky.com post on Israel
This couldn't be more true. Israel is a small country, and everyone seems to know everyone somehow. In fact, nearly every time a friend of mine is introduced to someone new, they usually spend the first 5-10 minutes or so trying to figure out how they might know eachother.
Did they go to school together? Did they grow up in the same neighborhood? Could it be that they went to the same summer camp or served in the same area during the army?
The thing is, they are almost always connected somehow -whether it be through a relative, a friend, or directly. And that's Israel. Everyone seems to know everyone and everyone knows how important it is to rely on a little help from their friends.It's this small-town feel that makes who you know so valuable. People let things slide when they know you.
And this is where the word "Schunah" (שכונה) comes from. Schunah literally means "neighborhood" but it's most frequently used to refer to the casual, neighborhoody way people go about doing things here. This is one of the reasons why the police here aren't nearly as scary as American police- it's "schuna". It's not unlikely that the guy who pulls you over for speeding sat next to you in middle school and wrote you love letters or that his dad was your dentist.
4) Nearly all Israelis Serve in the Army
Israeli army. And when I say army, put that clean crew-cut out startched stainless suit of your mind. This is a draft army. Fery few actually have the luxury of choosing to enlist: all Israeli citizens are is drafted at 18. Men serve for three years and women for two.
The Israeli Army is probably the best example of poorly directed Israeli bureaucracy. I wish I had more first hand info to give you here, but I can tell you that much of the army is serious "schunah" just from hearing my friends's many stories.
5) Hebrew Just Doesn't Traslate Easily to English
English is an extraordinarily rich language compared to Hebrew. By rich, I mean wordy. There are far more words in English, meaning that English is a bit more subtle and a bit more nuanced. Descriptions can be more specific and niceties are more common.
Hebrew, on the other hand, has relatively few words, many of which are used to describe or refer to more than one concept. The language is complex, yes, but less wordy and far less subtle.
So when Israelis translate literally to English - everything comes out sounding sharp, blunt, and extremely straight forward. Fewer words are used in Hebrew to say something in English. Any paper,book, or literary work is simply longer in English.
Plain and simple, Hebrew translated directly to English can easily sounds rude or curt, even if, in Hebrew, it sounds completely normal.
Israelis who have lived in Israel for generations are refereed to in Hebrew as "Saabras". Saabras are desert fruit that grow on cacti. You can find them all over Israel. The fruit's meat is sweet and juicy, and peachy orange to deep red like a beet, or a heart, but the meat is covered in a thick, prickly skin. And to get to the fruit, one has to carefully pick it from the thorny cactus. The real land-grown Israeli is well known as being hard and prickly on the outside, maybe hard to get through to, but sort, sweet and full of heart on the inside. Maybe the rudeness is really just that thick prickly skin...because it's true - inside, Israelis have big bleeding hearts.