A recent conversation with my son led to this blog. He asked me what the word “idiosyncrasy” means. This started a highly entertaining conversation about the funny mannerisms of the people we know. Like a relative (who shall remain nameless) who carries around vodka in plastic poland spring bottles. It also inspired me to write about some of the the unique things characteristic of Israel that a tourist may encounter and find a little ...
Funny: Israelis consider themselves to be excellent advice givers. Chaim Weizman famously told Harry Truman that while Truman is the president of two hundred and fifty million citizens, he, Weizman, is the president of four million presidents. Everyone reading this who has been to Israel is either laughing, nodding or crying. Because it’s so true. How does this impact the traveler? Well for one, don’t think it’s rude if someone comes up to you on the bus to give you unasked for advice while you are managing your baby. Also expect lots of help from cab drivers, waiters, random people on the street, etc. Whether you want it or not.
Confusing: The same place or thing in Israel can be spelled many different ways. Even words like the shekel - the money in Israel - may be spelled differently in official places. One reason for this is that sometimes Arabic spelling is used. So the spelling could be “sheqel” or it could be “shekel”. Or it could be that a sound doesn’t exist in English so different people disagree about how it should be spelled. Example: the city of Katzrin - or is it Kasrin? Or maybe Qasrin? This can definitely lead to mistakes on Waze, so make sure you know where you are going.
Worrisome: Pay bathrooms. This is not something we do in America anymore. We generally recognize that when people need to go, they should not have search their pockets for loose change and potentially be unable to use the bathroom because they only have a twenty. But in Israel that’s exactly what can happen. Just make sure if you are traveling somewhere - like a road trip where the bathroom forecast is unknown - that you have change. Of all denominations.
Scary: Driving. My cousin, who is a tech executive in Israel, loves Americans and is always looking out for tourists, warns that driving in Israel is a contact sport. This is a slight exaggeration. However, it is true that Israeli drivers can be a bit, um, aggressive. A few things have made driving in Israel a little easier: The first is GPs and apps like Waze. City driving in Israel can be confusing. The cities are ancient and were built for a cart and a pony - not cars. The streets are winding and confusing and most are one way. GPS takes away the fear of of getting lost and driving around in circles. Another improvement is all the new roads in Israel. I remember traveling in the north as a kid, and driving on a narrow dirt road, on the side of a cliff, that is meant for two way traffic. Today, Israel has a great highway system that is well paved, well maintained and easy to navigate. So you may need to keep your hand close the horn, but don’t be intimidated out of renting a car in Israel if you like to travel that way.
Startling: If you see two people in the shuk yelling at each other looking like they might be about to start throwing punches, do not be alarmed. In Israel this is called conversation. Or negotiating. If you saw people in America talking to each other in the same tone, they are about to break out in a fistfight and you would be best advised to call 911. In Israel, as soon as they’ve reached an agreement about whatever it is they are yelling about, they will sit down and have a turkish coffee together. Americans may be taken aback by the intensity of the way people interact with each other here in Israel. And the intensity of Israelis in general.
Interesting: It is not unusual to see a 7 year old kid taking the city bus by himself. You might even see a 7 year old taking charge of her little brother with no parent in sight. This might concern Americans who generally like to implant their children with tracking devices so they know where they are at all times. At least that’s what I told my kids I did to them when they were born. But Israeli kids tend to be a little more independent than Americans. There is also very little crime in Israel, which may surprise tourists. Israeli parents are not too worried when their kids are out on the street, mostly because they don’t need to be. So go out and enjoy Israel until the wee hours of the night. The 7 year old is.