Central bus station in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
There are four ways of getting around Jerusalem: by foot, by bike, by car and by public transportation. Public transportation means the bus, and waiting for the bus is the usual pain. The pain starts when the bus arrives and the small crowd pushes to get on, in spite of the fact that others are still trying to get off. The result is a scrum. The same also happens at lifts, and that is why the Hadassah Hospital has put up signs, “To save time, let the others off first.” It does save time, but bus and lift addicts see getting on as their priority, regardless of others and time.
By car may be more comfortable, but driving on the streets is another pain.
Other drivers have to overtake, and when they see a hazard they speed up. That is the Israeli way. Abroad, when one sees a problem one slows down, but not so in Israel, where the priority is to get past it, whatever it is, and speed on.
It’s the same on the pavement. Jerusalem pavements are narrow and getting past oncoming pedestrians is difficult. If they are a pair or sometimes even a threesome, one has to step into the gutter or squeeze against the wall to get past. No way will the pair or threesome divide up, or even if it’s only one, no way will he or she step to one side. No, the Israeli pedestrian must march straight on and he or she does it by not looking at you and just expecting you to give way.
For them to defer is out of the question, to do it for politeness is not on, it would be sissy, as it would be sissy for a driver to make way for you, or to signal his intention to turn in front of you. On the other hand, there is the rare occasional chap or lady who will step aside for you, in accordance with the French maxim of toujours la politesse (above all, civility).
It makes one wonder what Israeli kids are taught at school. The lesson seems to be look out for number one, show purpose and always advance; to step aside, to make way, to hold back, to slow down, to defer to another, is sissy and shows hesitancy and lack of resolve.
In a recent bus queue (yes, it was a queue), I waited for an intercity bus at the head of the line. When the already crowded bus arrived, the lady behind me jumped forward, ready to board first.
“Excuse me,” I said, “you were behind me.”
“Yes,” she said, “and now I am in front of you!” What could I do, or think, except realize that for her and all those other passengers, drivers and pedestrians, it was “toujours la pushinesse”? The author is a scholar living in Jerusalem.