The Forward Taxi Driver Phenomenon

Have you ever noticed that wherever you are in Jerusalem– the Kotel, Nahlaot, or even Givat Shaul– if you try to just get into a taxi, they’ll always quote you the same starting price?

kama le’–?” How much to **insert-destination-here, I ask with the heaviest Israeli accent I can muster.

“arbaim,” 40 shekel, he replies.

“o- shloshim o-moneh.” Either 30 or on the meter, I say, channeling my inner sabra.

“jajaja, yesh harbeh pkakim achshav,” ohhhh, he replies keeping the tone light, but there’s so much traffic right now!

“az, lo. Qol tuv.” Um, no, I say. See ya! And with that I always begin to walk away.

He honks.

b’moneh!…” okay, on the meter…

At that point, you have them hooked and you’ll either bargain further or just give in to the meter.

That’s just the Middle Eastern business model—bargain-ad-nasuem—but it’s not quite what I mean when I say forward taxi drivers.

You know how taxi drivers in Israel are, well, extremely blunt—sexually or otherwise? Whether you’ve taken a taxi here once or you’re an avid taxi-er, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice.

Now, I personally don’t always take taxis—actually, I seldom take taxis, especially in Jerusalem; however, when the need arises, I get a tiny bit of a thrill because I know it’ll always prove worthy of a dinner party story, if you know what I mean.

There was this one time after I landed in Israel for my two month summer stint here when instead of going to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon, the driver began driving me in the direction of Sheikh Jarrah and the likes (read: East Jerusalem). Naturally, I called him out on his “shortcut” and made him turn around. Laughing, he said to me in Hebrew, you’re very smart. Tell me, do you have a boyfriend because I would like to take you out tonight.

Riddle me this though, if you essentially just acknowledged that you were trying to take me to God-only-knows-where, even if I wasn’t otherwise romantically involved, why oh why would I go out with you tonight!?

I asked him this exact question. Do you sleep with your boyfriend, he asked me? Israeli taxi driver from East Jerusalem say WHAT!?

EXCUSE ME!? little Jewish girl in a skirt (that’s me) replied. That’s a very personal question—what do I look like?

He then proceeded to give me a five minute lecture on how Orthodox girls are living in an archaic era and should have sex.

…and he would be happy to show me how its done.

Thankfully, we arrived at my stop at that very moment, I threw the money at him (25 shekel as per the pre-determined price, naturally) and ran out of the taxi. 

My next taxi ride a few weeks later was eerily similar. After I finally got the driver to agree to run the meter, he spent the entire ride telling me how “melodic” my voice was and how “beautiful” it was—could he just listen to it all day? Perhaps all night? I shook my head, telling him how kind he was, thank you for the compliment. But then he wouldn’t stop… I told him he was being too forward and not making any sense. He proceeded to ask me out for drinks to “continue the conversation.”  About my voice? I asked. He looked at me through the mirror, “oh American women…”

My reaction? Smiling, my melodic voice replied really achi, is this how you get all of your women? If so, I hope it works out for you next time. I then changed the subject.

What is it about me that coerces all these men to think they can even ask me to go to bed with them? Guys, I’m in a skirt and long sleeves in the middle of the summer for a reason for goodness sakes— do you really think you have a shot? Apparently, they do.

A few days later, on my way to a business lunch in town, this taxi driver literally turned the meter off half way through the journey because “you’re so beautiful. It is an honor to have you in my taxi. We should go for drinks later.” Out of literal fear for my life (and the meter) if I were to have said no, I humored him until my destination telling him I have a boyfriend—how would I explain it to him that I was going to go for drinks with my dashing (read: I’m complementing you, please don’t stab me) taxi driver?

He yelled his number after me, hoping I would take it down, as I fumbled my way out of the cab and as far away from him as possible.

The final time, and my personal favourite: that time when a taxi driver physically took my phone out of my hand called himself so he could save my number. And he did. Not only that, he used it. I had to kindly refuse his dinner invitations, eventually just screening his calls until he got the message.

This whole phenomenon is cultural, creepy, comical, and yet simultaneously constructive.

Stereotypically, Middle Eastern men are more forward and ask for what they want. Regardless of whether that is a good trait or a bad one, this aspect of the Middle Eastern male very much ingrained in Israeli culture.

The comedy in it though, is that while I am completely disturbed and sometimes even disgusted by them (like in my first anecdote—really, you tried to take me to East Jerusalem and now you want to go out!?), these taxi drivers remind me that there is something to learn from everyone. What oh what could I possibly learn from these testosterone-filled, horny taxi drivers, you ask?

Coming from a culture where no one knows how to just ask anyone out on a date anymore (cough, American modern Orthodox circles, cough), these taxi drivers’ moxy is completely shocking, not to mention slightly “creepy.” (#semgirlvocabulary); however, it is that moxy from which Anglo men can stand to learn a thing or two.

Just. Ask. Someone. Out.

Worse comes to worse, the other party says no and you move on with your life. Best-case scenario, you find your soul mate! Nike said it best—just do it. I mean seriously, if a taxi driver who hasn’t even known someone for 5 minutes can do it, you’ve totally got a shot, insert-any-anglo-male-here.

Reason number 538 why I love this country: Even the overly-forward, Middle Eastern, hard bargaining, creepy taxi drivers have something to teach.

About the Author
Rachel Delia Benaim is studying at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is just trying to tell it like it is. If you enjoy my articles, coffee is always appreciated. Cheers.