Today 25 years ago I arrived in Israel. It’s a lifetime ago. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay, but the fact that I’m sitting here a quarter of a century (eek!) later tells the story.
To say that Israel is a quirky little country is probably the understatement of the quarter century. After so many years, it amazes me that there are still things that I cannot get used to (and it’s official – I probably never will), but some I wouldn’t give up for anything. So at this auspicious time in my immigrant history, it’s time for a “brief” list of some of the inexplicable as well as the “won’t give up for anything” quirks (and sometimes the intersection of the two) that make living here a unique experience.
- The list has to start with driving habits– 25 years later, and some of the scenes on the roads here still amaze and horrify me – red lights optional; parking in the middle of the road; driving down the wrong side of the road, etc., etc., etc., etc…. The upside: When you drive in Italy, you have no idea why people say Italians are the worst drivers. Compared to our roads, theirs are a pleasure.
- I have yet to meet an Israeli who isn’t disgusted by the combination of chocolate and mint! Adding copious clumps of mint leaves to sweet tea is a national passion, but that same flavor with anything chocolate is met with total revulsion.
- Bamba as one of the four main food groups for children! ‘Nuff said.
- Israel has evolved into a sophisticated country, with Tel Aviv known as one of the most cosmopolitan hot spots in the world, overflowing with happening clubs, bars, restaurants, high culture, innovation…and yet we still love that high priest of musical kitsch, the Eurovision Song Contest. How? Why? Oy!
- Hebrew spelling… after all these years I still make mistakes. The upside: It amuses my Israeli friends and colleagues, but nope, that doesn’t make me feel better.
- The phenomenon of the Israeli line/queue… a cultural icon and the cause of much public strife. I’ve never understood why people would rather argue about their place in the line for 10 minutes instead of just waiting patiently; why they have to insist that “they had been there and just went to do who knows what” and are claiming their rightful place; why they cannot help themselves from peering over your shoulder as you punch in your ATM code… Confession: When I’m abroad, I have been known to employ local tactics to get ahead in lines of very polite and patient locals. Why wait? I’m an Israeli.
Won’t give up for anything
- Living in Israel means being surrounded by technology, and being connected all the time (even if it does mean that 9 out of 10 people constantly have their heads in a phone). As a nation, our lack of patience with each other is only surpassed by our lack of patience with slow connections!I feel this most when I’m in another country and there’s minimal wi-fi, the connections are painfully slow and mobile phone reception is spotty, and I get to say how spoiled I am back home because we’re so advanced – score 1 for Israel.
Salad! No country in the world offers main course salads like Israel does. Our national obsession with fresh vegetables is a great habit we should be proud of. For years now I’ve never understood why you can’t get fresh vegetables for breakfast abroad or a big main course salad. Learn something from us, people!
- Instant conversations: Everyone’s up for a chat, whether you’re standing in line at the meat counter, or buying shoes or in a taxi (less fun). You’re never alone and you’re never going to have to wonder what someone’s REAL opinions are (also sometimes not too much fun). On the downside – be prepared to reveal what you’ve paid for everything you own.
- Our weather…we have a lot of tzurres here in our corner of the Middle East, that’s for sure, but one thing we can boast about is our weather. Years ago, a fellow oleh from the UK told me that he made not Zionist, but meteorological Aliyah – makes sense. Yes, it’s rather hot in the summer, but let’s face it, when our friends and family in the US are being battered by hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms, we can be a little smug about our reliable 8 months of sunshine and our relatively calm winters that every 10 years or so give rise to a conversation-worthy storm.
- Applause on landing is one of those corny yet irresistible Israeli quirks. After 25 years of flying to and from Israel, it still makes me smile.
- And then… coming home… no matter where I go, landing in Israel IS coming home, and there’s no place like this one.