Illustrative photograph of Israelis standing in line at a supermarket..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
“THE BIGGEST challenge for you is going to be the culture shock,” a wise Israeli diplomat warned me, when he heard we were making aliya. Our paths had crossed in the working world in South Africa, and I knew him to be professional, charismatic and trustworthy. I remember thinking that learning a new culture at this stage in our lives would be part of the adventure of starting out in a new country. Surely it can’t be too different? After all, if you love shawarma, are happy to have salad with your eggs at breakfast time and are open to having friends over for coffee after 10 at night, aren’t you halfway there?
The first taste of what he may have meant hit me with a thud when I waited in a line in a nearby supermarket – and by waited, I mean South African-style, standing patiently behind the lady in front of me. The woman in front launched into a loud argument with the cashier, and then directed her frustration at two managers standing on a raised platform at the back of the shop. Soon, all four were shouting as the disgruntled shopper pointed to an advertisement in a newspaper clipping.
One didn’t need a thorough knowledge of the language to work out what the dispute was over. All this time, I wondered if any of the four women involved in this increasingly heated argument were aware of the growing line in the supermarket. It seemed they weren’t, or if they were, it wasn’t a priority at the time. The real surprise wasn’t the fact that the “dispute” continued in public for several minutes. It wasn’t the fact that those involved didn’t seem to hear the heckling from some agitated customers. It was the way the shopper responded when the situation was finally resolved. She packed her groceries into her bag, smiled at the cashier and cheerfully said, “Yom tov!” (literally, “Good day”). Without turning to look at the queue, she waved at the two managers, smiled and left. The three women who had been arguing with her all said goodbye and carried on working, as if nothing had happened. As a life coach, I had to marvel at the way they immediately resumed their duties. No anger, no rolling of the eyes, no chirping… just back to business as usual.