Beth G. Kopin
Inches to Metric: Zionism Through Design

Inches to Metric: Oil and Water

Owning a home in Israel has led us to wear many hats and play many roles. The most important role we play? We are unofficial amabassadors. What I love most about being an ambassador is the ability to help others see a situation either a bit more clearly or in a fresh perspective. There are endless misconceptions…I often laugh at even simple misconceptions of “the other.” I refer to the two cultures in Israel and America as oil and water. I decided to distill down some of the funniest cultural differences between Americans and Israelis when it comes to dealing with professionals and trades. These were hard earned life lessons…

In America:
-The client is always right
-The client is asked what they’d like to have ( whatever that is)
-The trades and professionals try to warn in advance of a tricky or troublesome issue
-It is considered professional to admit when you are unsure of something and say you will look into it, then report back to the client
-The client expects the professional to be prepared
-Punctuality is expected and considered a sign of professionalism
-Returning a phone call promptly is considered a sign of professionalism
-Clients are quite savvy, there is no culture of trying to fool anybody
-A trade can be expected to stay until the client is satisfied
-A trade always takes notes
-A trade or professional will bring the proper supplies necessary to do the job well
-A trade will clean up when the job is complete and throw away any trash
-A trade can expect to be fired if too may excuses for poor performance are given, including late appointments
-People expect perfection from the outcomes of the job and service

In Israel:
-The customer is always wrong
-The trade professional will tell you what you need
-A salesman will try to sell you what they want to sell you regardless of what you ask them to show you
-A salesman will always oversell, and will hardly let you get a word in
-Americans often confuse Israelis speaking as screaming
-When an Israeli says not to worry, that is when you need to worry
-Admitting you do not know something is considered a sign of weakness
-Unless it is an emergency, don’t bother
-A scheduled appointment is anytime that day and considered a suggestion
-At the end of the day if the trade did not show and you call them, they will scream and say you were wrong, it was for tomorrow
-Sad truck stories are common; I had a shivah, bris, truck broke down, thought it was for tomorrow, had military duty, kids are out of school, bad traffic for delayed appointment, did not see your text, call, email…
-If a trade says they will call you back in five minutes it means almost always never or when they need something from you
-If you get frustrated and yell at them they go poof and will disappear
-An Israeli will always try to get away with something. It is not that they are testing you, it pervades all of society
-A trade will drive across town to fix something, spend less than five minutes, say it’s fixed (even if it’s not) and has to return again tomorrow to check it again
-A trade never takes notes
-A trade never brings needed supplies and will ask for your supplies whether rags, ladders, pens and paper, flashlights, or tools
-Most trades will not clean up after themselves or throw trash away
-KE-EE-LOO means approximately. You can expect 90% good enough or approximately what you expected, but almost never exactly what you wanted, whether dimension, finish, or timeliness
-Most trades expect a cup of coffee when they first arrive

How I learned to cope? I call it “shenanigans,” and it makes me feel better. I call them on it. Instead of getting angry and screaming, I shake my finger and laugh with them. The truth in any culture is, once you learn the rules and norms, you can survive and thrive. I learned the hard way that when an Israeli interviews me for a project, if I ask them what they want, some see it as a weakness since they are so used to being told. For a US client, if I don’t ask them what they want and need I will get rejected outright. I often have issues with trades and shop owners in Israel when I tell them I want to decide, or if I want their opinion I will simply ask for it…often they look hurt.

Many of my clients are starving for professionalism. When I show up on time, return phone calls, send follow up notes, then do a good job, they act as if it’s a miracle. Back in the US we call it being a professional.

Opportunities are abundant in Israel. There is a tremendous amount of construction and hope in the country and economy. Fortunately for the consumer, the culture of “the client first” is an emerging concept in Israel. The country is graduating from being a newborn baby and growing up to become an adolescent/young adult, learning how to become a customer centric and concierge focused society. The best and most concierge type professionals are thriving in Israel. Their names rise quickly to the top and get rewarded with job opportunities. In the company of a good team anything can be accomplished.

We pinch ourselves every time we are in Israel. We pulled off what most of our friends in the US thought impossible. A magnificent home built by an extraordinary team and had a blast doing it. We are living the greatest miracle of our lives and are the luckiest Jews in the history of our people. The fact that we can live a piece of the history of this modern miracle is a blessing unlike no other.

Word to the wise, wait until the trade begins to work and puts in a fair amount of time before offering a cup of coffee.

Beth Kopin is an Architectural Interior Designer working in both the US and Israel,

About the Author
Beth Kopin is a trained interior architectural designer from the US. She has experience in the design/construction world that spans thirty years, and works and lives in both Chicago and Arnona, Jerusalem. She commutes regularly between the two cities. She brings her work ethic, training and US standards to Israel. Beth has surrounded herself with extremely talented trades. Her design team developed a way to CAD (computer aided design) plans in both US and metric standards. This enables both the US born clients (some of which live in Israel, some as second homes), and Israeli trades to better understand the plans, ensuring a more fluid communication. She is able to help bridge the gap of cultural differences, manage expectations, relate often confusing metric standards, as well as all the basic elements of designing a beautiful and functional home.,
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