Israeli flags 521.
(photo credit: Illustrative photo: Reuters)
This week I decided to put on my official “Jane Goodall hat” to explore the
sometimes astounding cultural differences between Americans and
As many of our readers reside in the Diaspora, and no doubt
have important questions about what it’s really like to live here, I have
consolidated a brief “master list” of definitive cultural anomalies that I’ve
experienced over the past 14 months.
So, to welcome the New Year and
lighten the mood in these tense times, I present to you my (first) annual list
of Israeli idioms that explore the very important sociological issues I have
observed as a stranger living in a strange land.
They range from the lack
of good beer here, to why it is that Israeli women appear genetically engineered
to make Hugh Hefner finally fall into an irreversible epileptic fit. (Just
kidding, Mr. Hefner. Please: Let’s hang out with some of your most gifted
employees at your place sometime very soon.)
Now, without further ado, let’s
take a minute to bask in the beauty that is Israeli culture.
women of Israel will always top this list, and blow my mind, for many
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They are so absurdly beautiful that I developed whiplash during
my first few days here from flagrant rubbernecking.
I had no
kid you not when I say there was a dark period when I came perilously
close to necessitating a neck brace, as (to the naked eye) it would have
appeared as if I was
watching a never-ending, epic Wimbledon final between John McEnroe and
Connors – in their prime – every time I stepped foot outside.
became more excitable and afflicted with ADD than the fat kid in Willie Wonka
with the golden ticket after he got past security.
But like all things in
life that appear too good to be true, the vast majority of women here are no
Most of them are in “very committed relationships” (or so they
tell me), and are about as attainable as Super Bowl tickets in Philadelphia the
night before a match-up between the Eagles and the
Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that “waiting out”
relationships in this country is something of a national pastime, on par with
humous-making or hookah-smoking.
Don’t pity me though, as I feel as if
I’ve been juxtaposed into the most awe-inspiring Abercrombie & Fitch ad ever
I have never seen so many machine guns and side-arms in
my life. It’s like the movie Starship Troopers, except with cooler uniforms and
less appealing accents.
Believe me when I tell you that you haven’t lived
until you’ve sat on a bus across from an Israeli soldier who is in REM sleep –
and clearly having a bad dream – while his M-16 is pointing directly at you.
Talk about courage under fire.
I have literally dictated my last will and
testament into my iPhone – in the midst of radically irregular breathing
patterns – while I was en route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. (That said, Mom: you
make out like a bandit.)
Unlike in the US, fat people in Israel are
the exception rather than the depressing norm. Indeed, compared to Americans,
the majority of Israelis – young and old – are built like ninjas and view extra
body fat as about as necessary as a third nipple.
It never ceases to
amaze me how fit the people in this country are.
phenomenon is largely due to the fact that most Israelis are former soldiers, and
that food portions in restaurants here are roughly a fifth of what they serve in
In fact, I’m convinced that if restaurants served portions on
par with US standards, an Israeli would ask for multiple doggie bags and feed
himself – and his entire family – for three weeks straight.
That said, if
you were to take any given sabra to an American TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s or
Chili’s, my guess is he or she would think it was some kind of bizarre eating
competition being filmed for a bush-league reality show.
ongoing chagrin, you’d have a better chance of finding a Yeti in a tuxedo in
this country than light beer of any kind.
I have done battle with
countless bartenders over the past year about their limited beer selection,
knowing all too well the high caloric intake of regular ales and lagers – and
what they do to my waistline.
I swear, it’s like living in the UK in the
‘70s and choosing between BBC 1, 2, 3 or 4.
In New York,
jaywalking is an instructive art-form – on par with break-dancing or miming – at
which I actually excelled.
To be sure, I reached a point in my
development when I could have solved the most challenging of high school math
equations involving how much time it would take to cross the street with any
given number of ridiculous variables.
For example: Let’s say a livery cab
driver is traveling erratically down Broadway in midtown Manhattan at 50 miles
per hour, with three oil slicks, four crater-like potholes, two agitated,
intoxicated homeless men, and a family of seven cute ducklings waddling between
point A and point B.
How long would it take to cross the street? Answer:
Yeah, I’m that good.
However, since I’ve been in Israel I
have come extremely close to getting several jaywalking tickets from traffic
patrolmen who surreptitiously lie in wait to collect a small fortune from anyone
who dares to illegally cross the street. These guys come out of nowhere!
Although I understand that Israelis have been conditioned to follow medieval
traffic laws, it’s still bizarre to me that these people – perhaps the most
independent and strong-minded in the world – act like sheep when it comes to
crossing the street.
I have watched in disbelief countless times as the
most hard-core of sabras ever assembled stood in complete obedience – while
there was no traffic in sight – waiting like highly-trained seeing-eye dogs for
the light to turn green.
My talent is clearly wasted here...
Only in Israel will someone roll a shopping cart overflowing with
enough food to feed a family of 12 up to a “10 items or less” express line
without a hint of irony or embarrassment.
This happens to me virtually
every time I go food shopping.
I rarely have more than 10 items to buy at
any given time – and am almost always in a rush – so you can imagine my
displeasure at the prospect of waiting for an already apathetic (and seemingly
functionally illiterate cashier – always with elaborately decorated acrylic
nails) re-scan a bag of cashews 20-plus times for one of these line-violators –
who invariably has an “A-ha!” moment, remembering that there’s a two-for-one
sale on humous in aisle 54, and continue to flagrantly hold everyone up as they
nonchalantly walk to the Siberia section of the store.
Arguably, there are more stray cats in Israel per square mile than in any other
country in the world. They’re even in the desert!
I have heard blood-curdling
sounds from these creatures in the middle of the night that would make even the
most devoted death metal fan reach for earplugs and beg for mercy.
be deceived by their cute exteriors – these cats ain’t Garfield. To be sure,
when provoked, Israeli cats make rabid pit bulls look like hamsters.
said, cats here are capable of committing ungodly acts of violence within
nanoseconds that would normally be associated with mythical deadly animals like
“Jaws” or “Cujo.”
Take it from me, when a cat fight is about to go down
in these parts, stay low, and don’t even think about being a hero. You’ll live
I kid you not when I say some of these felines could
singlehandedly run a cell-block holding Attica’s most violent prisoner
However, I’ll also say this: If you feed them and are
generally kind, they’re pretty damn loyal (albeit in a gross way).
when I was living in the Negev for six months, I regularly fed a mother cat and
her three kittens, and was rewarded every time I opened my door in the morning
with various decapitated pigeon heads and wings at my doorstep. Nasty.
just told myself that it must be like being friends with “Dexter.”
I would be remiss to overlook an opportunity to articulate the absurd
double-standard to which only Israel is subjected.
Indeed, it would
appear that only in Israel is it acceptable to have missiles routinely fired at
civilians; neighbors who exuberantly and chronically restate their mandate to
blow you off the face of the earth; media, countries and institutions of all
kinds falsely libel you; and a UN that does absolutely nothing to help – and in
fact, facilitates the despicable behavior.
As an objective observer, and
seasoned journalist, it is abundantly clear that the international treatment of
this country is utterly deplorable on virtually every level.
country in the world would have accepted defeat by now, been irreversibly
traumatized, or filed – and won – the largest harassment lawsuit of all
In America, if an enemy of the State ever had the temerity to
launch a violent attack of any kind against its civilians, they’d be rightly
snuffed out by any means necessary – as quickly as humanly possible.
in Israel it’s different.
Here, evidently, women and children can be
targeted and the international community will still denounce us when we
retaliate with near surgical precision against terrorists who cowardly hide
behind women and children of their own.
However, in my heart, I know that
I’m taking part in the greatest story ever told, with the most outnumbered and
unfairly attacked people in the history of the world.
And because of
their otherworldly resilience and remarkably positive attitudes – despite their
abhorrent treatment – I remain profoundly proud to be an American- Israeli. And
always will be.
Happy New Year, everyone!
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