The first taste of what he may have meant hit me with a thud when I waited in a line in a nearby supermarket – and by waited, I mean South African-style, standing patiently behind the lady in front of me. The woman in front launched into a loud argument with the cashier, and then directed her frustration at two managers standing on a raised platform at the back of the shop. Soon, all four were shouting as the disgruntled shopper pointed to an advertisement in a newspaper clipping.
One didn’t need a thorough knowledge of the language to work out what the dispute was over. All this time, I wondered if any of the four women involved in this increasingly heated argument were aware of the growing line in the supermarket. It seemed they weren’t, or if they were, it wasn’t a priority at the time. The real surprise wasn’t the fact that the “dispute” continued in public for several minutes. It wasn’t the fact that those involved didn’t seem to hear the heckling from some agitated customers. It was the way the shopper responded when the situation was finally resolved. She packed her groceries into her bag, smiled at the cashier and cheerfully said, “Yom tov!” (literally, “Good day”). Without turning to look at the queue, she waved at the two managers, smiled and left. The three women who had been arguing with her all said goodbye and carried on working, as if nothing had happened. As a life coach, I had to marvel at the way they immediately resumed their duties. No anger, no rolling of the eyes, no chirping… just back to business as usual.
Is this seat taken? Recently, I was sitting in an empty coffee shop, working on a laptop. I’d chosen what looked like a quiet table in the corner, with a sea view. An elderly woman came up and asked in Hebrew if she could join me. The ever polite South African response was “Of course” – but I was confused because there were several empty tables in the room. Soon, her friends joined and there I was sitting with three chatty, effervescent women deciding on what they should order for lunch. Another scenario I’d never experienced in South Africa. It felt rude for me to continue typing, so I closed the laptop, smiled and drank my coffee.
Who will catch me when I fall? Many locals here have advised that the generally reserved and well-mannered Anglos quickly learn to speak up, hoot back in traffic and stand their ground in a busy queue. But we’ve also been repeatedly reminded that that the so-called Israeli Sabra is tough on the outside and soft on the inside. Walking down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem one night, we heard a thud behind us. An elderly man had tripped while walking with his wife. Seemingly out of nowhere, a well-built man in his forties raced to help the gentleman to his feet. He asked the frail man several questions to make sure he wasn’t hurt, before watching the couple walk away. It’s that kind of “culture shock” that will help balance out the many different, new “scenarios” that lie ahead.