Culture Shock: Questions you need to ask when immigrating to Israel

The contrasts continue. The good, the bad and the meshuga!

Streets of Tel Aviv (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Streets of Tel Aviv
JOURNALISTS ARE naturally curious by nature. We love to ask questions. Research and fact-checking are crucial. It’s no different when making a life-changing decision. Despite the many in-depth conversations we had with others who had relocated with their families from South Africa, there were a few situations that still took us by surprise.
After just a few weeks living in Ra’anana – about 20 kilometers from Tel Aviv – here’s a taste of just some of the surprise situations we experienced...
Driving Miss Daisy
That’s the only way to describe the pace one drives for the first few weeks, in the wrong seat of the car on the wrong side of the road! Soon though, you realize that the cacophony of hooting in the vicinity is not always about you. It might be directed at the unsuspecting older lady in the car at the traffic light, who didn’t put foot to the accelerator as soon as it turned green. Any delay at that juncture is likely to spark a loud response from the surrounds.
New immigrants can drive with their existing driver’s license immediately – they have one year to take a new driving test. Until then, when there’s mass hooting nearby, just smile and wave.
The size surprise
Space is something we’d become accustomed to in South Africa. A large family home with a garden and pool was about to be replaced by a cozy flat with a garden roof. Watching your furniture being wrapped up and packed into a large moving truck in Johannesburg was a unique experience. Seeing it being unpacked in the northern hemisphere a few weeks later is a huge relief. Watching a crane hoist your couch into your new lounge though the balcony window? Fascinating.
The shekel
As we all know, economic uncertainty is affecting most parts of the world right now. Converting the South African rand to the Israeli shekel can make you feel nauseous, as you sip on your 60-rand coffee. The expression, the ‘rands and cents don’t add up’ takes on a whole new meaning. Public schools and medical aid are free. But the cost of living is high. We’ve met many people who have two jobs. Many commute to America, Britain, France and South Africa.
Lost in translation
A teacher phoned me just a few weeks after we arrived. Her tone was upbeat, but between my matric Hebrew and her English, we couldn’t understand each other at all. The solution? She texted me in Hebrew. I texted in English. We both used a ‘translation app’ on our phones to understand each other. A great short-term solution, but I’m not sure I agree with those who say one doesn’t need Hebrew in Ra'anana. Let’s see if the five month Hebrew Ulpan course helps, at least with basic conversations.
This is the most heartwarming culture shock. I took out a credit card to pay at a small shop the other day, but the machine wasn’t working. “Not to worry,” I said. “I’ll go and withdraw cash and will be back in a few minutes.”
“No need," the woman smiled. “Come back another day or whenever you have time.”
I was stunned, and asked her how she knew I’d return. “Of course, you will,” she laughed. Of course, I did. But I was so struck by the trust she showed a stranger. Refreshing.
And so the contrasts continue. The good, the bad and the meshuga!
Favorite new word of the week
- Besimcha (with pleasure)
New phrase of the week - Hafuch chalash bevakasha (a weak cappuccino please – because a latte doesn’t seem to be so common here)
Lesson learned When packing up one’s home, mark the box contents clearly, lest you can’t find your much-needed kettle till you open the very last box.
Smile of the week Our children’s school doesn’t have a regular school bell. Instead, upbeat music blares out across the premises to mark the start and end of each lesson.