This is a question I’m asked often.
The manner in which it’s asked – with both its awkward wording, and the forwardness with which it would spew forth from a complete stranger upon hearing my terrible American accent in Hebrew – was once grating to my ears. I used to wonder “Are they asking me how long have I been in Israel? Or how long will I stay here? How much time altogether? Should I subtract trips to the states, in my final answer?”
Every Anglo expat living in Israel is familiar with the question. When an Israeli asks it, he or she is wondering how long you have been in the country. Yet they’re also probably curious about how long you plan to stay, if you are a tourist or you’ve moved here, if you made aliyah, what you do, if you have family here, why you came here in the first place, etc.
It’s a reasonable question to ask when you meet someone not from “here”. Yet I’ve struggled with the answer, and with the very question itself, since I moved here in August of 2008. It always felt like an unwelcome invasion of privacy; just because I’m interested in purchasing your fresh lemon and mint juice, doesn’t mean I want to open up and tell you my life story, discuss my language acquisition skills or recite any line from a well-memorized script of generic and vague answers to a series of tough questions.
- I’m from New York.
- I live in Tel Aviv.
- My Hebrew is OK but not perfect, and having this conversation with you in English is frustrating.
- No, I don’t have family here.
Now that I’m planning my return to the states next month, I’m looking forward to finally being free of questioning every time I interact with a stranger on the street, at the dog park, at the drug store.
But part of me already misses it. The feeling that I’m “foreign”. It can be extremely inconvenient, when you’re not in the mood to meet people and just want to buy a bottle of water. But it can also feel really empowering, exotic and exciting.
When I move back to New York in a few weeks, no one will be able to tell where I’ve spent the last 3 1/2 years of my life. How I’ve experienced life for the past 3 1/2 years as a sort of active observer. It’s a huge part of why I’m ready to move back home – but at the same time I’m already anticipating a sort of anticlimactic return to normalcy.
I don’t want to blend in with the normies. I’ll have to find other ways to stand out other than my accent.