In my three years of living in Israel, I''ve had many surprising, and sometimes unpleasant, experiences with a wide range of stereotypical characters – from Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of the Interior) secretaries and health insurance costumer service representatives to makolet (convenience store) owners. But the most entertaining bunch has been the taxi drivers.
Starting from my very first taxi ride as an Israeli citizen, I''ve learned to never step into a cab with expectations of how the next ten minutes of my life will go. On the very same day I made aliya, I managed to catch a cab with a very enthusiastic driver. Hearing my accent, he launched into a lecture on how amazing it is that I''ve come to see the Holy Land. There''s no place in the world like Israel, he explained, insisting that I absolutely must marry an Israeli man and raise Israeli babies on Israeli land.
Agreeing with his Zionist sentiments, I informed him that I''d just made aliya. Suddenly, the driver shifted in his seat to face me. Why would you do such a thing? he asked. Who in their right mind would want to live in this place, what with the constant existential threat and salaries so low? If only he had American citizenship, he lamented, he could live like a normal person, with dignity.
That ride was only a prelude to the experiences I was to have with taxi drivers. I have since learned to classify them into three easy groups. First are the Easily Excitables. The driver mentioned above is among its members. Passing by construction sights, they will wonder aloud what municipality has in store for the area. Called by radio to pick a customer up from Tel Aviv, they will curse the traffic they have yet to suffer. These drivers are constantly on a high. Whether it''s judging the incompetance of their fellow travelers and the prime minister or praising much-needed roadwork construction, they will always find a reason to raise their voice.
Mamba?! an Easily Excitable exclaimed to me recently after hearing the name called over his radio. Mamba, he''s as fat as a Bamba! (Bamba is a popular Israeli peanut butter puff snack)
Next up are the Intrusive Talkers. These drivers will do anything to keep the conversation going and see no topic as taboo or too impolite to broach. From IVF treatments they are undergoing with their spouses to incidents of hospital malpractice that led to the death of loved ones, they are ready to share it all. Don''t mistake them for self-centered though. They want to hear about your life too! So, how much do you make? How much do you weigh? How does your love life in Israel compare to previous relationships in the states?
The Intrusive Talkers also want to teach you how to live a better life. The reason you look tired, one might say to you, is because you''re doing your degree/career/life all wrong. Creative solutions as to how to be a better person always follow. In one of my funniest experiences since making aliya, a driver informed me that I must marry his son. He lives in Los Angeles and speaks perfect English, he explained. I responded that there are many other English-speakers in the world, and that this alone is not considered adequate criteria for a match. He did not understand, but did acknowledge that “from experience” long distance relationships are tough. Maybe I should look for someone more local, he decided, before launching into an account of a long distance relationship he once had with a girl named Sonia.
Finally, we have the Grumpy. Grumpy drivers do not want to speak with you or share. Besides for a quick explanation of your destination and the exchange of money and receipt at the end of the ride, there will be no interaction. I recommend sleeping.