Line is line: A nitpicking German perspective on Israelis

I admit that we Germans are often very fussy. Sometimes it is funny, for example when the German Civil Code regulates the ownership of a beehive with ridiculously sounding articles like: “Where a swarm of bees takes flight, it becomes ownerless if the owner fails to pursue it without undue delay or if he gives up the pursuit.” And sometimes this fussiness is embarrassing or annoying, especially when Germans travel abroad and complain that the pavement is not even and the ordered half liter glass of beer is not really filled to the last drop slopping over the edge. And with this God-given (some would say: cursed) mindset, I came to Israel.

Just to make it clear from the beginning: I love Israel! I can’t really make aliyah, but I can’t really imagine a better place to live in right now. Even so allow me for the following few paragraphs to be the complaining German who seems to know it all, and let me address the most absurd things about Israelis!

Have you ever thought about those crazy straight lines painted on the concrete in front of traffic lights? They indicate where you are actually supposed to stop your car so that pedestrians can cross the street. I really love doing sports, but I do not need a showjumping course at every crossing. And imagine, dear Egged driver, that if you do not stop at the line with your high-rise bus, I can’t even see when my light turns green. So when I just assume all others see red lights and I could potentially cross, I am playing an Israeli form of Russian roulette!

Talking about the division of spaces, I always thought that a bike painted on a bike lane indicates where bikes are allowed and pedestrians are kindly asked to use their usually even wider walkway. Well, I was proven wrong when I came to Israel and noticed that apparently bike paths are a communal good, according to momentary needs converted to a parking lot, playground, or a (at least even) strolling promenade. And as my bell is a kind request to blaze the way, the same is true for my sirupy “slicha” that I utter when I want to pass you in the narrow alleyways of my local “Super-Baba”. But instead, I am either ignored or the passage is made even a bit more complicated. I really like to get in touch with Israelis, but not in the literal sense when I just want to get to my daily kilo bucket of hummus.

I always wanted to be taken on a ride in a formula one car by my racing national hero Michael Schumacher. But a monthly bus ride of half an hour through Tel Aviv is actually an equal and even cheaper substitute. I also really appreciate that all cab drivers in Israel seem to have studied political science, but when I come from a club in the middle of the night I honestly prefer listening to your weird mixture of Celine Dion and Shlomi Shabat tapes than to your lecture why you think the Golan Heights belong to Syria.

If I start to talk now also about customer service this article will not find an end. So let me just tell the cashiers that throwing and crushing my “Bisli” snack on the check-out counter doesn’t really win me over to take your mumbled offer of five chewing gum packages for only fifteen instead of sixteen shekels. But the customers are unfortunately not the innocent angels in this story. Just because the dear Israeli postal costumer has only one letter that he wants to send, this doesn’t entitle him or her to bypass the entire line which has been sorted orderly, German-style, by drawn numbers. I also just want one stamp, but my number is 962 and now it is only turn for 894 (and only ten people in the post office), so I will wait patiently like a German for two hours, because: Line is line.

But just one last thing. It is more of a plea than a complaint. When I tell you Israelis that I came here for my studies and I am not Jewish, take out your reproachful and slightly self-hating tone in your voice, asking me “why Israel? Are you crazy?” People like me envy you for living here, therefore don’t be so turned off by your own country. When I can love it, you should be able so much the more.

About the Author
Robert Friebe is a graduate student in Tel Aviv University's “Security & Diplomacy” Master program. He runs a personal blog about the experiences of a German student in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.