Are you a peach or a coconut?

Understanding cross-cultural differences in Israel

May 30, 2018 14:50
 peach  coconut

A peach or a coconut?. (photo credit: ROBERT HERSOWITZ)

ONE OF the delights of making aliya has been the opportunity to make new friends. This often begins in Ulpan (Hebrew school) where most olim (immigrants) go to learn Hebrew. When I came on aliya in 2014 from London, there were at least nine different nationalities represented in the class. I was in an advanced class and so the majority of students were able to express themselves relatively well in simple Hebrew. Things got decidedly better when the teacher paired us off with an individual from a different culture. The Americans, who had very little previous exposure to Europeans, were particularly excited. One of my classmates, Helen from Brooklyn, New York, found herself paired with Laurence, a French olah (female immigrant).

In France, the name Laurence is a name given to both men and women. Laurence and her husband Philippe were from Strasbourg and came from Orthodox backgrounds, as did Helen. A few weeks into Ulpan during one of the breaks, I found myself sharing a bench with my fellow students including Laurence, Philippe and Helen. It became apparent that Laurence and Phillipe spoke perfect English and we soon moved from broken Hebrew into English. It was at this point that the rather loud-voiced Helen turned to her French colleagues and asked:


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