On Etiquette and Other Things that Perplex Olim

My husband recently returned home commenting on how lovely it was that a colleague of his, who had left the firm, handed out little handmade goodbye gifts with personalised messages. Even for him; who never speaks at work from what I can gather. He was touched. I told him that I have had several experiences of this since making aliyah – a girl in my dance class who went off to the army did the same. My sons ganenet who left the area gave them smiley faces with goodbye messages and a chocolate bar with her name on it – could you imagine the uproar of that elsewhere?! Not to mention the lovely personalised mishloach manot (food parcel gifts) we received on Purim. Great plan having a baby before Purim, or even moving house on Purim (we have done both in the last 2 years) as you receive some lovely goodies. Often with personalised notes form people we haven’t known so long. And countless other examples which I forget as my baby is currently on a major growth spurt and my brain is a bit fuzzy from non-sleep…

Anyhow, all this is in stark contrast to the No Thank You Notes and even No Birthday Cards Israeli culture which we know and love. We have never received a thank you note for wedding gifts here (apart from one English aunt – we exempted her son from the procedure but she insisted) and I have long ago given up purchasing birthday cards since there are very few places to buy them (assuming I have access to a car) and then very little choice. This is strange to us as we come from a culture where its considered perfectly normal to send birthday cards to people you don’t even like.

So how does this paradox reconcile itself? Oooh, I haven’t used that word in ages. It’s not really a word that comes up during a teddy bears picnic. Here’s my theory;

From what I can see it’s all about the difference between being warm and being, well I am just going to say it, being fake.

It’s the same antithesis (oooh there I go again) you see on public transport or just generally. In the States you get told to Have a Nice Day, in the UK pedestrians will politely apologise to a lamp-post if they bump into one and give directions if asked. In Israel, people go Out Of Their Way to help you, even if you don’t want or need it. As I have said before, in the holy land, everyone’s your mother-in-law. It can be annoying but I actually think it’s because people care. Which is always a good thing. I’m no expert, but I would imagine that when this goes, that’s when the crime rates shoot up. I have many a time flung a baby at a random person if I have needed to be hands-free in an emergency; received advice about whether my baby should or should not be wearing socks; been picked up by a passing taxi driver and dropped off home (for free) because a stubborn toddler has glued himself to the pavement and; not to mention all kindness I have written about in the past.

Oh and when it comes together, it’s a different world. I remember, back in the old country, inviting people for Shabbat, who would say things like “we need 6 weeks notice” or “lets put something in the diary” for a casual Friday night dinner. Here, you’re lucky if you get 6 days notice. And when people invite you in, they mean it. A neighbour invited us to use their pool yesterday, so we off we went! A very welcome offer on a hot day where the local pool is hideously expensive.

When I was growing up the one thing people always said about me was how honest I was. How if I didn’t like someone – they knew. Ouch! And if you’re bum looked big in it I would tell you (if it wasn’t too late to do something about it), but at least you knew where you were with me. Unfortunately it also got me into a lot of trouble. I did on more than one occasion, at the precocious age of just 14, tell my teachers that they were rubbish. To their faces. Without mincing my words. An old friend once said at school that when it comes to teachers, I would say the “unsay-able”. I was often told by those in authority I would Have To Learn When to Speak and When to Keep Quiet.

Well friends, I never did learn.

I just moved to Israel.

About the Author
Deganit made aliyah in 2010. She is a full-time earth-mother and an aspiring writer living quietly tucked away on a hilltop in Northern Israel. Her writing features encounters with Israelis, her advice (wanted or otherwise), living with small children and animals and her family's attempted eco-living against the odds. The views expressed are her own.
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