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The wife might find it odd, my little kids must think it queer, but I love bowling. Always have. The smell of the lanes. The sound of the crashing pins. The thud of the 10-pound ball against the shiny, hard-wood alley. The way the body instinctively twists to direct the ball toward a recalcitrant pin. Great sport.
True, bowling may not be the most athletic of activities, nor even the most challenging, but it has always appealed to me. First, it was cheap (at least when I was growing up). Secondly, in the hot summer days it was an activity that was done in an air-conditioned venue. And, most importantly, it was something I had an aptitude for.
Despite my best efforts, my athletic career has been, well, void of much glory, marked by precious few highlights: placing sixth in a fifth-grade, all-city Denver swim meet; advancing to the second round of a teenage-open golf tournament; and breaking 200 in bowling. The latter was, by far, my proudest athletic moment.
Much has been written about comfort food - the food that transports you back to the halcyon days of youth - food like Twinkies and tacos, M&Ms and corn chips. Well, bowling is my comfort sport. When I bowl, even today, I'm conveyed back to a purer, simpler time when I'm concerned less with mortgage payments, Iranian nuclear bombs and cholesterol levels, and more with grades, girls and looking cool.
SO IT was with joy that I greeted the news that a bowling alley had recently opened 10 minutes from my home. No more need to binge bowl on trips back to the States, or pine away for the bowling lanes of my youth. Ten minutes away, a bowling alley now beckoned.
But bowling here is unlike bowling there. Not better, not worse, just different.
Bowling opens up a peephole into a nation's soul, speaks volumes about a country's character. Show me how a nation bowls, and I'll show you how that society functions.
For instance, in the US kids imbibe what can only be called bowler's etiquette, those little unwritten rules that govern the game, make it orderly and ensure that crowds of people can bowl together without disturbing one another, without tripping over each other's bowling bags.
It's the little things - like knowing to wait for the bowler on your right to roll the ball before beginning your own turn; or not walking in front of another bowler when he bowls; or only using your ball; or returning the ball to the storage rack when the game is over.
It's amazing: Walk into any bowling alley in America, even in the toughest part of town, and there you'll see a bearded, motorcyclist with heavy gold chains and tattoos - someone who looks like he just walked out of a Harley-Davidson commercial - waiting patiently for the little old lady on his right to finish her swing before taking a turn. Heartwarming.
No wonder, therefore, that you can pull money out of an ATM in the States without some guy standing on your heels, or take a drive in the mountains without some shlub in the car ahead throwing an empty Coke can out the window. It stems from a respect for boundaries and the other's personal space - and it all starts with bowling etiquette.
WHICH BRINGS me to the situation in Israel, where people bowl as they are - full of life, with great animation, intuitively, without undo consideration for the guy next door, forcefully, confidently.
Watching Israelis bowl provides a fascinating insight into society. First of all, it is clear that this is a group-centered society. There is no four-people-to-a-lane rule here. Rather, bring the extended family and sit them right down. As a bowler who likes to concentrate, I've had my focus shattered by having the misfortune of ending up in a lane next to groups of six, eight and even 10 people.
It's tough to focus on a 7-10 split when 10 people are cackling right next to you. Bowling alone is not a concept that exists here.
Secondly, there is not a whole lot of consideration for what the guy is doing over in the other lane.
It's not as if the Israeli bowler is intentionally trying to disturb his neighbor's game; it's just that he gets so wrapped up in his own activities - laughing with the hevra, grandstanding for his girlfriend - that it doesn't even dawn on him that he may actually be disturbing his neighbor by straying into his lane. It's less malicious, more thoughtless.
And if a neighbor complains, the less than considerate bowler - not without merit - will ask what the big deal is; argue that this is only a game and not exactly brain surgery; and that there is a need to put things in proper perspective. Call it the "we survived Pharaoh, we shall survive this as well" syndrome.
Also, you rarely see any bowling instruction at the lanes here, no one teaching the young tikes, or newcomers, the fundamentals of the game. No, none of that, no time for that. It's all just get up and do, learn as you walk.
Despite it all, however, I've also noticed that many Israeli bowlers are not half bad. Which says something else about our society; namely that boundaries and etiquette - while warm, fuzzy and pleasant - are definitely not everything.