As soon as our El Al flight landed at Ben Gurion airport and our grossly overweight suitcases were unpacked, everyone from old friends and relatives to minute old acquaintances had an opinion to share. My husband and I were dizzy trying to sort through all the suggestions of where to live, what car to buy and where to shop. In our naivety, we attributed this advice to our newcomer status and our perceived inexperience with all things “Israeli”. Now that we’re a bit more seasoned, we’ve come to realize that free advice is one of the country’s greatest natural resources.
Call it what you will; concern, curiosity or just plain nosiness, people probe deeper here wanting to know how you really are. When I was running errands not too long ago, I bumped into a recent acquaintance and looking me over from head to toe, they commented, “where did you get that purse? I saw one just like it 50% off in town. I sure hope you bought it there.”
This happenstance is foreign to a Canadian like me who is used to a salutation of, “hello how are you ?”, being succeeded by a conversation on a plain about as flat as the Saskatchewan landscape. It’s not that Canadians are simple folk, they just keep casual conversations limited to how long you can leave bran muffin mix in the fridge. Newsy rather than nosey is how I’d describe much of the discussion with someone you don’t know too well with talk of the latest hockey score, community newspaper headline and, for sure the weekend forecast. In Canada, unlike in Israel, cross- examinations are limited to the courthouse rather than the coffee shop when two parties bump into each other waiting to take away their hot beverage.
Unsolicited advice is as common to find in Israeli grocery stores as the sale signs that line the aisles. Toilet paper is a particular popular special and one week, yellow TP was the, buy 2 get 1 free feature. Being overly neurotic when it comes to health, I tend to limit body contact with chemical colorants to lipstick and hair coloring and not even a 1 + 2 sale sign can sway me. As I unloaded my white, 2 ply, regular priced 40- roll pack of toilet paper at the checkout, the cashier changed her tone from cheery to cheeky and asked me why I wasn’t buying the one on sale. My response ; “ I don’t think the yellow color is good for you,” was met with a blank stare and did nothing to dissuade her from continuing to point her index finger at the stack of pretty packages. Squeezing between the grocery carts behind me with 10 glaring eyes lining the path, I headed straight for the TP display and grabbed myself a pack. As I steered my cart to the car, I shook my head in disbelief that I would sacrifice a potential rash for some stranger’s concern that I have a few extra shekels in my pocket.
While it might appear otherwise, having someone mind your business can actually make your day. I happened to receive a package special delivery last week. I spotted the red and white post office truck as I was returning from a walk with the dogs and started to run so I wouldn’t miss the delivery. The driver, seeing me sprinting towards my house with two barking dogs in tow, yelled for me to slow down and to be careful not to trip. “Someone sent you a present from Jerusalem?”, the stranger suggested as he handed me the box. “What’s the occasion he continued, maybe a birthday?” he added.“Well it was my birthday last week,” I replied, a bit hesitant. “A birthday, mazal tov, may you live to 120”, he said in the most genuine manner before he got back into his truck and continued on to his next order of business.
Michel and I are notorious for making quick decisions. We aren’t prone to long drawn out discussions or dreying over much as evidenced by our marriage after a mere five months of courtship without any outside input from the parents. You can just imagine then the mental chaos, restless sleeps and vacillation that has resulted from this new found interest in our lives from so many no matter how close or distant the relationship. I’ve learned, however, that Israelis are in your business because well, even if they don’t know your first name, you are achi, a sibling of sorts and, as such, they have your backside covered. At the end of the day, all of the probes, pries and even the stares have made me a little wiser, a bit richer and even slightly more loved. Now, you can’t deny there’s value in that, eh !