Cultural Adjustment

“Ha’tachana Ha’ba’a, HaMelech George,” is announced by a pleasantly robotic voice as I serenely sit on the bus along with two of my friends. As I transverse the now familiar landscape I can’t help but inwardly smile as my companions quickly look around to see if this is indeed their stop. They say a hurriedly yet sincere goodbye as they depart. I quietly hope that this is the closest stop to their desired destination as I have occasionally found myself a couple of stops away from my intended station.

After they successfully vacate, a woman fails to exit before the impatient bus driver closes the door. She yells something in Hebrew that as of yet I cannot understand. The driver miraculously reopens the doors and allows the relieved woman to leave; Tel Aviv bus drivers are known to be extremely abrasive and unaccommodating… at least from an American standpoint.

The headphones, which have been sitting uselessly around my neck, are quickly snapped over my ears. After a seemingly long and fruitless internal deliberation, I decide to put on Linkin Park for the five remaining minutes of my ride to Allenby.  Having lived in Tel Aviv for a year, I know exactly where I am. In that fleeting instant I recalled the numerous times I had been on different buses and mentally charted their routes. During these trips I had been glued to my iPhone 5c memorizing my routes with the assistance of Google Maps. The satellite images and the reality around me have since coalesced in my mind.

As much as the media in America likes to exaggerate the dangers of buses in Israel, I have come to accept them as my primary mode of transportation. I find myself unworried about any possible threats, however, I am constantly vigilant in being aware of my surroundings; I automatically look around for rogue, unaccompanied backpacks. The rest of my ride is, of course, uneventful, and as I step off the bus my mind returns to the task at hand.

Walking into the Leumi Bank on Allenby I am pleasantly surprised by a new change of procedure. Instead of the normal and chaotic lines, they have entered into the 20thcentury by incorporating the ‘take a number’ system. The computer that distributes these wasteful papers fortunately offers English instructions (the lack of recycling receptacles in just about every establishment is an issue I will address at another time). I think to myself of the small percentage of Israelis who don’t believe the concept of common courtesy and waiting in lines. I cannot count how many times I have witnessed angry middle-aged men who don’t believe societal rules apply to them.

Without missing a beat one such man enters the premises and is immediately dismayed by the Misrad Hapanim-esque system. He engages in a “passionate” dialogue with the unfortunate bank employee charged with overseeing the implementation of the new protocol. After an exchange of what can only be many choice words, the defeated aggravated man succumbs to the number structure. I find myself unwittingly smiling at the plump, brunette bank employee regarding her minor victory. She gives an appreciative smile back. In this non-verbal exchange we give each other a mental high five (I like to imagine).

These are a couple of minor daily events that unfold in this exciting country that reveal themselves as much more difficult tasks. Despite these impediments I have adjusted well, especially with the assistance of both family and friends. My quest to conquer the Hebrew language however remains a slow and difficult process. This culturally essential mission provides me with endless almost-comical situations. The other night, in an attempt to order a medium soda at the movies, I was presented with a medium popcorn instead; I could have sworn I uttered the words “Coke Zero.” Another such instance occurred while ordering a coffee that same evening when I handed the cashier thirty shekels instead of thirteen. For some reason my mind decided shalosh-esray and shloshim meant the same thing. Such is the learning process I guess!

In all, I have learned that keeping a flexible, open, and most importantly- humorous attitude have been the keys to success in establishing myself in a truly foreign land!

About the Author
Jonathan Arnold holds a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. He received his Master’s in Secondary Education from Lesley University and is a high school history teacher, activist, and writer. Jonathan currently resides in Tel Aviv.
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