Caroline Hauser Slapak
Try | Make Mistakes | Learn | Succeed

5 Examples of Uncomfortable Situations and How I Overcame Cultural Gaps in Israeli Workplace

What I love the most about writing a blog is how much I learn. In order to reinforce my statements, I always cite other sources by adding a link. This is a well-known practice when writing a blog post. And I must read the source before I cite it (okay, some of them I read in dynamic reading mode). So, I’m always learning.

But why did I start this second post about Israeli culture in the workplace (the way I see it) by telling you that I always learn? Because I was almost done writing this post, but wasn’t comfortable on publishing it. By writing about my own experience on negative attitudes that I observed concerning Israeli habits, I felt like I was being grumpy. My tone was something like “Israelis do this/they react like that”. Since I felt uncomfortable with this, I began researching how other bloggers approach the same subject, and I came across Tamar Pross’ video on “How to Hack the Israeli Culture.” She began talking about stereotypes and voiced a statement that really made sense to me: “what happens when you only have stereotypes in your toolset to try to understand or translate situations, and you overuse them, you’re actually just distancing yourself. It’s like me versus that culture. (…) And they are over there and you are over here.” (for the link to only this part of the video, click here).

Having said that, in contrast to the first blog post, I’ll describe 5 situations that happened to me (or around me) when I didn’t feel so positive about the Israeli attitude. The different tone in this post aims to share with you how I overcame these differences between the culture of the country I grew up in (Brazil) and Israel.

Israelis are loud and don’t know to maintain their privacy

As also stated by a fellow writer in “The Times of Israel” (ToI), Sam Sokol, in his post Israelis are blunt and rude. In an open space office, more than just being loud, Israelis don’t understand the limits of being noisy and sometimes sharing too much information — they speak in speakerphone mode, they call people by their names by shouting out when they’re close enough to hear. Really?! I don’t want to hear your conversation with your daughter or your wife! “Put headphones on if you want your hands free (Israelis use their hands to talk)” or “write a WhatsApp message or just call your employee’s phone if you need him to come immediately” — I think. There are also stickers all over the train asking people to use headphones when using the telephone or listening to their own music. But for loud people, it’s like those are decorative stickers only…

Sticker on train’s walls: “I’ll talk to her when I’ll get home. Meanwhile, I’ll hear music on my headphones. When one takes the other into consideration, everyone enjoys more” – free translation by Caroline Hauser Slapak

What do I do? I put on my headphones with the very best of Brazilian music and forget about what’s going on around me. I know that this isn’t the best attitude either, but it makes me more productive than being interrupted all the time by overhearing other people’s conversations.

To finish this first item, I would like to share a video of an unaware Israeli old woman walking into a live broadcast of a Swedish TV channel in the Western Wall. This video went viral on the web (not only in Israel) and made everyone laugh at the stereotype. In case you didn’t see it, it worth the laugh. She became a meme after that and lots of remix songs were created based on this meme.

As a consumer or as an employee, the customer (or the employee) service sucks

This is also a well-known statement about Israelis. Haim Shore, another fellow writer at ToI, wrote about his experience as a consumer and his conclusions on why customer service in Israel is so bad.

Since I’m writing specifically about the Israeli workplace, the situation I want to share with you was with an IT team. They’re outsourced, so employees have a central number that they should call, go through a URA, leave a message and wait up to 1 hour to receive the support. After 1 hour, someone from the IT team called me, made me explain the problem and then told me “unfortunately, this service will take more than 15 minutes and I’m already leaving. Can you call our central number again tomorrow and open a new ticket?”. After his question, he was on the phone with me for over 15 minutes listening to me saying that I know ITIL’s processes, but the way he tried to go around the problem isn’t how you solve it – “blame” the time limit to close the ticket and maintain a green light on his ITIL dashboard.

Differently from Haim’s conclusion, senior management cared about the service provided to their “customers” and called me to say that there is always place for improvement in his company and I didn’t need to call their URA again to solve this specific problem. And I didn’t have to call them, they called me.

Expect interruptions – a lot of them

Another thing that happens a lot – and it’s very different from the culture I grew up in – is being interrupted. People have different definitions for this problem. I found 2:

  1. Cooperative overlapping – talking as another person continues to speak, completing their sentences
  2. Israelis like to get straight to the point (check Neomi Farkas’ advice by clicking on the link)

In addition, there’s a sad trend in the world called manterrupting, which is defined as a man interrupting a woman while she’s trying to speak.

When someone interrupts me (no matter if it’s a man or a woman), I think: “Do you really think you know what I was going to say?”. After being interrupted, it’s very difficult for me to continue the sentence and finish my thoughts… and I think it’s their loss. I don’t try to change that; I just accept it and try not to lose my temper. Sometimes, I say “Let me finish!”

Let me talk!

Even in the workplace, queues aren’t respected

If you clicked on any of the links I added to this post, you probably read that Israelis don’t know to stand in line. While in the supermarket, or waiting to enter or exit a bus/airplane/train (it’s hilarious when you land in Israel and Israelis begin taking off their seatbelts and standing while the airplane is still moving, and the commander tells them off via the plane microphone)… whenever there should be a line, there’ll be someone pushing you or going around you to get there first.

But I thought that this behavior wouldn’t happen in the workplace. Well, it does! To get into an elevator, to enter a vacant bathroom, even to get food during business events (as I mentioned in my first post, during “Haramat Cossit”). Sometimes, even when I’m patiently waiting to talk to someone, someone else says: “just a quick question, it won’t take a minute!” (Emoji Rolling Eyes).

To understand this behavior, Tamar, in her video, made a great comparison between Israelis and a jungle: the principles of the jungle aren’t about being the best, they’re about being the strongest. Weakness is perceived as something that won’t let you “survive”. In this context, there’s a word that is really entrenched in Israeli culture: “freier” (sucker/פראייר). This word guides Israelis every day, it’s an obsession NOT to be a freier! It’s such a national obsession that you can see even see billboards and books using this word!

A small collection of the word “פראייר” being used in daily Israeli communication. To see the picture bigger, click here.

A good example in the business context, is negotiation: people usually try to reach a win-win situation. Here in Israel, it’s different: they think “everything you get is something that I lose”. And this is what guides them every single day.

Since I didn’t grow up here, I always wait patiently my turn. Yes, I feel like I’m being a sucker. But if I’m really on a rush, I say “I was waiting here before you”. To me, this is a very weird statement to do on the workplace, but if this is the local behavior, I learned that it is mandatory to put some limits to it.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

Israelis love complaining. Yes, this is a full sentence. Here, I learned the term “polani” (man) or “polaniah” (woman), a reference to Polish Jewish mothers, who are never happy, who see themselves as victims and complain in a passive-aggressive way. This has become a cultural thing; even Israelis that aren’t “ashkenazim” (Jewish roots from Eastern Europe, mainly from Poland) complain a lot. And when they do that, they get nicknamed “polani” or “polaniah”.

Having said that, every day, especially during lunch, I hear complaints about public transportation, education, health, politics, how much we need to pay taxes to make sure we’re safe, among others.

Israelis often ask me: “why did you decide to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel?)” – with a shocked face, like “what the hell are you doing in this tiny country that I want to leave?”.

As I said in the subtitle, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I give examples about public transportation, education, health, politics, and taxes in Brazil, they say: “we don’t want to compare ourselves to Latin America, we compare ourselves to the USA and Europe”. I know a lot of American and European people that also decided to immigrate to Israel.

Well, I have lots of reasons why I love this country! And as I wrote in my first post, the most important thing to me here is: people are people and treat you as people. I love that! Tamar also made a great analogy with a bowl of soup: “how would Israelis share a bowl of soup?”. Watch it!

* * *

I want to finish this post by sharing with you what I try to think when I’m going through these uncomfortable situations I described before: I choose to live in Israel, so accept it or leave… I still didn’t leave and I’m not planning to…

About the Author
Caroline made Aliyah from Brazil in 2015. She has a BA in Business and MBA in Finance. Most of her experience in Brazil was working for business consulting firms (locals and globals). After she made Aliyah, she was "lucky" to find her first job very quickly. The second time she was looking for a job, she had encountered some differences in the hiring process. In an attempt to expand her network, she was constantly meeting new people and exchanging experiences. From these discussions, she understood that the differences are not only specific to the Brazilian job market, but they are very peculiar to Israel. As everybody else, she had to make mistakes and learn with her own failures; some important information she had to dig deep to find them. As a business consultant, she have learned a lot about organization & methods and this is how she's able to summarize them as "lessons learned". In this blog, she'll share her knowledge and practical tools to help all the other job seekers. "Happy is that one who transfers what he knows and learns what he teaches." - Cora Coralina (Brazilian writer)
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