A Piece of the Middle East

Even your favourite countries aren’t perfect. As much as I love Israel and its people and its culture, it has its challenges. Here are some I’ve noticed, so you can prepare for the surprises of this special place!

Initially, arriving in a foreign country is so exciting, that one can let go of the negatives. It’s fairly easy to wave off the bad and focus on the good. However, if I want to be an honest reporter and traveler and blogger, I must tell you, Israeli is not all sunshine, hummus, and stray kitties.

I have compiled a list of some of the negatives of living in Israel. It’s up to you to decide if the positives outweigh the negatives or not….

Pricey, pricey! Everyone kept telling me Israel would be expensive, but as the most frugal person in all the land, I figured I’d be fine. And, truth be told, I am fine. However, even in my fineness, I am finding that stuff is so expensive! Like, if I were them, I’d be all, “Told you so!” It’s not the quality, it’s just that Israel exports most of their goods. This leaves the Israelis stuck with whatever overpriced imports they can get. There are all sorts of political explanations, as well, but I wasn’t an economics major, with good reason.

Traditional views and values. Israeli people are old-fashioned. Even some of the more open-minded, younger citizens still have that voice in the back of their heads that tell them feminine men are bad, and body art is weird, and all these values that they were raised to believe. Much like when I went to Taiwan and tattoos were uncommon. When I asked the guys why they didn’t have any, despite loving ink, the response was always, “My parents would kill me.” Different country, same attitude.
Of course, it’s funny, because compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Israel is the most progressive and welcoming to modern thinking. I just think family has a stronger influence on people than back in the States. Americans are rebels… from our parents, at least.

It gets hot. I like it hot, very hot. Not everyone does, though. Between the blazing sun and the humidity, the heat is happening! My tan is out of this world, but if you’re one of those people obsessed with the beach or who isn’t interested in sweating every second of your life, it might be rough. The good thing is, you know it’s hot and sunny, so you know when you need more suntan lotion or when it’s time to get out of the sun. All that sweating is hard to ignore, so you’ll keep hydrated. If you’re smart, that is.

Pushy people. Another dangerous tradition around here is that Israeli men come and they conquer. I don’t know if it’s because they have to be “masculine” for the ladies or just because that’s the only way they think they will get what they need. Either way, this machismo attitude gets old really quickly. When men (and some women) in Israel don’t get their way, the aggression is laid on heavily. You have to fight back or get stepped all over.

Being Jewish is a big deal. Nowhere else in the world will you find Jews everywhere! It’s kinda exciting! Thus, when I meet an Israeli and they see the Jewish star on my necklace, they act like I worked hard to earn it. As if it’s an honourary war medal. Although it’s nice to occasionally not hear about Jesus and see crosses everywhere, I rather just cut the religion thing out entirely. Same goes for Muslims. If you’re a Muslim, the Muslims are psyched! Forget it, if a Muslim meets a Jew or visa versa, it’s almost like there’s a need for everyone to explain that they accept you and love your people. You know that thing when you say “cheers”? When you’re supposed to give eye contact as a sign of trust? It’s that, but there isn’t alcohol… because Muslims don’t drink alcohol. To be fair, two sworn enemy cultures getting along is a pretty big deal. I’ll drink to that!

The food doesn’t stop. From early morning to late at night, there is falafel being made and sold at every corner. It’s not just sustenance, it is joy and peace and life. As a matter of fact, I may have discovered the fastest way to make enemies in Israel. That is, denying food offers. If an Israeli offers you beer, it means they accept you. If they offer you hummus, it means they really like you. If they offer you beer, hummus, and hashish, and tell you to meet them on the beach, they want you to fall in love with them. Handle this situation carefully. Rejecting an offer of love and food is no joke. Carefully consider this decision. However, don’t be surprised if he proposes after his second pita.

The other day, I also made the fatal choice of eating hummus and broccoli instead of pita. Three young girls just stared at me the whole time. Finally, the mother told them it was okay. The youngest girl (maybe 5 or 6) said something in Hebrew. Her mother laughed and translated, “She says, now she’s seen everything!”

Learning Hebrew is discouraged. After my second time being in Israel and not learning an ounce of Hebrew, I was really hoping to learn some this time. I still would like to do it! But every time I ask an Israeli about it, they all tell me the same thing: “Shalom, you know this? If you know it, you don’t need to learn anything else. Trust me.”

Sometimes too much is too much. Confidence is everything in Israel. You can’t be timid or shy. I know this because every Israeli I meet tells me this over and over. They actually get offended if I don’t act like their home is my own. Mind you, I was raised to respect other people, other people’s things, and other people’s homes. I don’t just grab what I want, put my feet up, and take a load off. Unfortunately, this really seems to bother Israelis. There’s no messing around or games. Which is great, but not really. I’m used to the games and using the clues to understand people, I try my best, at least. In a culture where everything is out in the open, what use are my psychology skills? On the bright side, there’s also a nice aspect of this. Israelis never want you to be modest or humble. If you are strong or smart or have done something impressive, they never expect you to lower yourself down or hide it, and they never seem to be jealous. They share your happiness and pride!

Talk and talk and talk and talk! When I get going, I can kibitz with the best of them. Sometimes my rants turn into tangents turn into lectures. However, that’s on occasion, that’s once in a while, that’s when I’m really feeling the energy. For the most part, I’m a listener and I’m happy that way. In Israel, if my partner and I aren’t interrupting each other, it’s assumed that there’s something wrong. It’s expected that you’ll sit at a wooden table with a beer and every conversation will sound like an argument, all while spitting out hummus and olive oil on each other’s faces (unintentionally… I think.) My hope is that hummus makes a good face wash.

Fear is looked down upon. As admirable as it is to face any fear and go into war, both literal and figurative, without thinking twice, that works best when it’s your own war. Rather than the case of Israelis, in which they expect you to be as traumatized and hardened as they are. You can’t back down, be soft, or give in. Whether you’re at the supermarket or at Tiffany’s, they expect you to haggle and not back down until the cashier is paying you money.

Israelis are tough people with high expectations of people. They work hard and speak harshly, and most of all, they expect you to follow their customs just the same. Standing out in Israel is uncomfortable and you will definitely get noticed for it. But it’s a land with room to change. Tradition is slowly being washed away, religion has less and less influence, and it really is the most progressive Middle Eastern nation. Once the men learn that life is not one big war and women realize that their children will get fed, without having to harm others, I think things will be a lot calmer around here.

If you’re interested in seeing my list of good things about Israel, check out my last post: http://sweettoothtravels.com/5435-2/

Please comment if there are any positives or negatives that I failed to mention!

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