Apart from small things like working on Sundays, driving on the right side of the road and having to learn a language that is not spoken by any other nation on the planet, the most drastic difference to someone making Aliya from England is culture. And by culture, I mean ‘shuk’ mentality.
Without sounding too much like a 19th century Polish or Russian immigrant and without putting either a negative or positive tilt on the situation, everything in Israel is negotiable. This mentality creates a totally different mindset to how things used to be in ‘the old country’. It doesn’t make a situation better or worse. It just makes it different. And by different, I mean interesting.
Back in Blighty when I bought an apartment, everything was very ‘matter of fact’. It was a new apartment in a new block with a fixed, advertised price. There was little room for negotiation of what would be included in the price, but overall, the price was more or less the price. For used properties, estate agents handle all the negotiations whereby buyer and seller are distanced and the negotiation process can be a long, and all too often, drawn out affair.
The first property I bought in Israel put me face to face with the seller inside the dingy offices of a real estate lawyer. After twenty minutes of writing figures on small notes of paper and passing them back and forth, we had found a common ground. The deal was struck. The seller, who for the sake of this article I’ll call Bob, then asked if I would be agreeable to writing a lower figure on the contract to represent the price of the property. He then stated, “And then I make a small deduction for cash.” Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more guvner. It was all very exciting at the time. Needless to say, the real negotiation had only just begun but was over just as quickly as the main negotiation. We both walked away happy and the beginning of a beautiful friendship began.
Next up was the mortgage. And here’s the thing. When I took a mortgage in England, advertised rates were advertised rates. Unless things have changed, I really don’t recall walking into Nationwide, asking for their rates and then proceeding to tell them that RBS have just offered me one percent lower than their best rate. Or even adding, “But I like you, so if you can do something better, I’ll take the mortgage with you.” Would I have been laughed out of the bank?
But that’s how things roll in Israel. Every situation is negotiable as long as you a) can find something cheaper elsewhere, b) know someone who knows someone, or c) you’re in the position to show you don’t care and could just as easily walk away. And, depending on the situation, any one or a combination of any of these options usually works. But to date, and from experience, the preferred solution is always b). Knowing someone goes a long way. And now, from buying his place, I knew Bob.
Fast forward a couple of years, to driving down Nahariya High Street the day after Shavuot. I could see, in my rear view mirror, that a police car was driving directly behind me. From experience, the police in Nahariya always seem to enforce driving laws with revenue attachments around the Holidays. This only served to make me drive even more carefully than I usually do, which given the Israeli benchmark for driving, doesn’t necessarily set the bar so high.
I was approaching a traffic light and, as I turned right, it began to change. Obviously it was still green when I went through. What kind of ‘mefager’ would I be to intentionally drive through a red light with a cop car on my bumper? A few seconds later I heard the sirens and saw the blue light as the smoke rose from the tires of the police car while he drove through the red light and screeched around the corner. For a split second I wondered what heinous crime he must have seen to warrant such a pursuit. Then, as the loudspeaker from the police car ordered me to pull over, I realized it was me.
Without even waiting for the policeman to come over to the car and go through the ‘hello officer, what did I do?’ routine, I unwound the window and began yelling. “There’s no way that was red. Absolutely no way.”
To which the officer replied, as he handed me a ticket “Then argue it in court.”
Angry was an understatement. I was still livid the next day as I entered a local coffee shop and saw my old friend Bob, the former owner of my house. He could clearly see I was disturbed and asked what was bothering me.
By the time I finished explaining the whole story, Bob had taken out a cell phone and was making a call. I had actually become used to people making calls in the middle of a one to one conversation, so I didn’t pay too much attention to what was being said. Seconds later, Bob put the phone away and began to speak. “Go now to Akko police station. Ask for Ginger and tell him Bob sent you. Everything will be alright”.
‘Everything will be alright’ I thought as I entered Akko police station. ‘Where had I heard that before? Oh, I know. Everywhere. It’s the public mantra of the Israeli nation.’ So, feeling skeptical I asked for Ginger.
Ginger took me to a room where I explained exactly what had happened. Then he fixed a hard stare at me and said “Look. I’m not going to take sides here. Maybe you were right, maybe the police officer was right. I’m not a judge. But answer me this. Do you want to pay the 1,000 shekel fine or not?”
“Of course not,” I answered.
“And you promise to drive carefully in the future?” Ginger added.
“I do.” I replied, already knowing that I was probably the most careful driver in the whole of Israel.
Ginger continued, “So now we write a small note asking to change the fine to a warning, then we get it stamped and approved.”
“Who approves it?” I asked.
“I do.” Replied Ginger with a big cheesy grin, as he took out his official police stamp from the desk drawer.
As I write down these experiences, I offer these take-away snippets of advice to anyone who has made it this far through the article. First, shop around before finalizing anything. The only thing ever set in stone in Israel was the Ten Commandments. Second, try not to drive in front of a police car after a holiday. Third, don’t yell at a police officer when all they’re expecting is a little ego massage. And finally, become friends with Bob.