Thursday, April 5, 2018

Usual sights

Israel is a unique country in many ways, including typical behavior.  The following is a short list of rather commonplace phenomena that visitors might see in Israel that would surprise them but attract no notice by the locals.

Looking around, it becomes obvious, especially in certain cities, that Israelis love children.  It is not extraordinary to people out and about with four or more children in tow and a baby in hand.  The religious and Arab populations in particular tend to have large families but, in general, the more the merrier applies to children here, including two rounds of them in order to avoid empty nest syndrome. Also, numerous people, not just soldiers, pack guns openly here.  My father was rather shocked at the amount of weaponry among the guests at my first wedding.  I stopped noticing this long ago.  In terms of shopping, security guards and bag checks are routine and standard at every store and mall. Women automatically direct their bags for a check. As for fashion, due to a noticeable religious presence, some level of “modest” clothing is the norm.  In other words, a woman walking with her breasts exposed tends to attract much attention, most of negative.

Israelis in public tend to be quite friendly.  They routinely say shalom to people they meet, including strangers. Curiously, even non-religious Jews use Shabbat shalom in Friday and Saturday communication.  If someone needs directions, Israelis are very helpful if not always so knowledgeable. It is not an accident that Ways was invited by an Israeli.  He was probably tired of receiving incorrect directions. If someone collapses in an Israeli street, people drop everything and try to help.  The odds are that at least one of them is/was a medic or medical staff member. It is well known that Israelis are so happy or relieved to land safely (or return) that they often clap after the plane lands. This is a perfectly normal thing to do, right?

Alas, not everything is rosy. Israelis, like most people in the Mediterranean basin, tend to be aggressive drivers. Woe to the sleepy driver at light that turns green.  A sharp honk is quick to come. Also, the parking shortage in many Israeli cities brings out the worst of its hypertense residents as expressed in countless shouting matches for precious parking spots.  Age and gender have no impact on the ferocity of these territorial battles. On a more dangerous note, certain groups for ideological reasons periodically express their opposition to others by throwing rocks at passing vehicles.  The most notable perpetrators are the ultra-orthodox on holidays on any car that dare disturbs their peace, including ambulances sometimes, and radicalized Muslim Arabs, generally youth, that want to emphasize their non-Israeli identity by punishing cars with Israeli license plates.  Fortunately, this is not common but still somewhat expected at certain times of the year.

I wish to add a few words on behavior.  In terms of food, Israelis find it perfectly normal to eat vegetables for breakfast and a large lunch, not dinner. In terms of main dishes, alongside the usual carnivores, Israel has the highest percentage of vegans in the world, which is good news for travelling vegetarians. In terms of travel, due to the limited size of the country, even those who own cars often choose to travel to another city by bus if not train.  Intercity flights are generally not practical. Israelis, even those try to ignore it, are addicted to the news.  No news is truly good news here but unfortunately all too rare. Hebrew being of limited value outside of Israel and a few spots in the United States, Thailand and Turkey, just about all Israelis know English, albeit not quite as well as they think they do. They happily apply this language skill in helping stranded tourists and ordering items from the Internet.

Granted, some countries share part of these behaviors but Israel is still a unique experience for a visitor.

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