On culture.

Here’s my contribution to July 4th, apparently, since I totally forgot about it:

Friend: Happy 4th of July. I have a question for you: If I were compiling a list of things for foreigners to know about dealing with Israelis, what would jump to mind?

On cultural differences:
So I’d say that there are a lot of cultural differences and people should be cognizant of that. What Anglos would perceive as rude – like, interrupting in conversation, asking about someone’s rent or salary, speaking loudly, answering the phone mid conversation – is considered normal. So don’t take things personally. Israelis are generally more blunt. They are also more laid back; you have to ask for details if you really want them, and they will know you are Anglo for caring about the details right away.
National character:

Because most of the population has served in the army, there is a giant rate of machismo among men, and I think that lends to the argumentative nature of Israelis, although at the end of the day, there is a sense that everyone is brothers. Also because of the army, there is usually a collective sense of purpose, although I think with a growing trend in capitalism that is becoming less important to people. While people are generally more family-oriented and less materialistic, there is a national love of shopping, and being in debt is normal.
I think people are friendlier here, and it’s an economy built half on tourism. Israelis like meeting people from other places. They also love to travel. For instance: A common experience for a lone traveler here is to have some Israeli ‘adopt’ him. Even for an hour. Israelis love showing their country, they are proud. even though they say they’d rather be somewhere else. at the end of the day, they’d rather be here(just richer).
There is also the sense that you must live today because tomorrow is uncertain.
Business is laid back. Weddings and celebrations are laid back. People don’t wear suits and ties. Even politicians don’t, except for the really high up ones. The word is perceived as important, and sometimes as important as contracts or written documents – that’s in smaller transactions, like a plumber or dry cleaner. I actually think people are more honest here, at least I have an easier time trusting people here since the word is culturally held to a higher standard. Deadlines are not usually taken seriously, not as much as in the States… There’s always room for extension.
Thursday night, Friday and Saturday are the weekend for the most part. Most people are not religious, so Shabbat is a shopping day or a family day or a watching TV day. But generally, things close on Friday night and Saturday in many places. The concept of siesta exists here too, like in Europe, meaning, 2-4pm are siesta hours and banks and post offices are closed for that time. Business hours vary; a bank that might open at 8:30am-2pm and then reopen from 4-6pm on Monday and Thursday, and then open from 10-1 on Friday and 8-2pm on Tuesday and Wednesday. Post office also has varied schedules like that, government offices too.
Cultural quirks:
When at the ATM, the person behind you will stand on top of u even though it’s supposed to be a ‘personal’ experience. Doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Arab slang is big. People are so rude but at the same time so nice when it comes to pregnant women, old people, little kids. You have to pay to watch the World Cup.
Religious factors:
Obviously there is a lot of conflict between Charedi and secular. Pretty much everyone will have a Charedi cousin or a secular cousin. Secular people hate the fact that Charedis don’t serve in the military and dodge taxes.
The American would have to understand that most buses don’t run on Shabbat and much is closed. He’d have to know that to visit holy sites he should be aware how to dress because u need to cover up at certain places.
Danger & Coping:
Sadly, I think people have gotten very used to it. I think ten years ago the country would have reacted differently to Eliyahu and Gilad. I think we hear about bombings, calculate who we’d know, and then move on. But the thing is, I’ve never lost anyone close to me I can only say what the general mood is. And I think people have different built-in mechanisms. For instance: I have a ‘safety seat’ on the bus; in my head, I won’t get killed in that seat; I play games like that and I know that other people do too. Oh here’s one: people who live in Tel Aviv won’t go to Jerusalem because they think it’s dangerous. People who live in Jerusalem wont go to Tel Aviv because they think it’s dangerous. People won’t go to the West Bank because they think it’s dangerous. Its funny because all of those places are, what are you gonna do? Life goes on.
Negotiation/Shuk culture
It’s pushy, it’s busy, it’s aggressive… I guess I go into shuk-mode. Personal story? I’ve gotten fruit for being cute, the younger Israelis and Arabs love to show off when they notice I’m a foreigner. I don’t really negotiate. I’m American. In the shuk people don’t really negotiate on food. It’s more on stuff. At least from what I’ve seen. Well, food might be, I’m just not poor enough to need to. I guess bills don’t get negotiated on or when you buy from a department store.
Oh, cab drivers yeah, that’s easy. It’s a system, it’s not too hard. You tell them where your going, and if it’s nighttime, they’ll give you a price and if you don’t like it, you name something lower, they huff and puff and then agree as you start to walk away. Sometimes they just won’t take you though. We get discriminated against for sounding Anglo as far as prices go.

In closing I’d say never take anything personally, because chances are it’s a cultural thing.






  1. ifyouwillit Avatar

    A great summary and a good perspective. Not only can I relate to this very well, but I think I will forward to people come over to visit. I know what you mean about the safety seat on the bus, where is yours?!

    18 months ago, these were all huge differences, now they are the norm.

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