Do you know how to get there? Yes.
This yes from an Israeli can mean anything. From ‘Yes, I will look into it’ (meaning, No, not yet), to, ‘Yes, I hear that you are asking something.’
I call it ‘the yes of no.’ They also have ‘the no of yes.’ Very dynamic.
NB: This has nothing to do with dishonesty. They will generally be true to their word — only not the words they or you said but rather the words that they assume that you or they said.
You’d wonder how anything could get done if yes can mean no and no can mean yes. Israelis have a talent additional to being fuzzy about answering. They don’t really listen to answers so it doesn’t matter what is said.
This sounds to Westerners as sloppiness. How could you make progress like this? Truth is that everything in Israel is in flux so that planning is of no use. But improvising makes the day here, creating real flexibility.
The only gateway to understanding them: ask follow-up questions. Or simply repeat the question. A simple yes may turn into a simple no and back to yes again.
When you ask the same question five times (they will never tell you, you just asked that), go with the majority unless the last two times are the opposite. So: yes, no, yes, yes, no means: yes. And: yes, yes, no, no, yes, means yes too. But yes, yes, yes, no, no, means: it’s no — I just woke up.
Israelis never listen to what you ask. Even not after you specify: ‘Listen to every word I’m gonna say now.’ They listen to what they think you mean.
Don’t ask them what you just said or what they just said themselves. The Israeli brain doesn’t come with built-in memory. “What did I just say?” is not an uncommon question in Israel and it’s not rhetorical. But if they dislike your literal repetition of what they actually said, they’ll deny it because it seems unlikely to them, not because they remember. Really.
If you insist that they’ll repeat what you just said to them, they’ll repeat it word-for-word like a recording device but the words have no meaning to them. They’re just sounds. They only get meaning when they translate them into what they assume you meant.
When they ask something, never just answer Yes or No. If they heard you at all, they’ll ask: What do you mean? When you say: That was my answer to your question, they’ll say: What question? When you say, of 15 seconds ago, they go blank. I don’t know how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in Israel.
Did you call them? Yes.
That can mean anything from ‘Yes but the line was busy’ or ‘Yes but no one answered’ — you didn’t tell them to keep calling — to ‘I will call soon.’
Did you tell them? Yes. Ask what the response was. You could learn that ‘I told them but I’m not sure they heard me,’ or ‘I planned on telling them but they seemed not interested in listening to me.’
When Israelis meet you, they may ask: How are you? Where are you/have you been? What’s new? What’s happening? Don’t answer or you are a chatterbox. You just fire back: How are you? Where are you/have you been? What’s new with you? What’s happening? Tell me. Just as faxes or computers connecting, this is a ‘handshake,’ not to exchange information.
When Israelis write, they will go way beyond yes or no. They will give you endless sentences to sketch what they mean. In a spoken contact, they’d never have time or patience to wait out all these details. But when it’s written, they’ll scan all the details to get a feel of what is meant!
In the Netherlands, yes was yes and no was no. There, the implication of ‘yes’ was: I took care of it. In Israel, it means: ‘I got it off my plate.’
Don’t get me wrong. Israeli kids are great. Only, they do make you go nuts.