Reverse Homesickness by an Ex-Expat

This is the longest period of time I’ve been in America in nearly 4 years – since I moved to Israel in August of 2008. It’s been 3 months and 5 days since I moved back home. It’s given me a sharper perspective on just how different life in the states is, compared to life in Israel (specifically Tel Aviv).

It remains to be seen which place is “better”, but here are a few observations I’ve had lately about NY vs. TLV:

1. The Pace of Life is Rapid

Saying that Tel Aviv is more laid back than Manhattan is an understatement bordering on absurdity.

New York: People on the street walk like their escaping from a burning building but are only allowed to move at a pace just shy of running. Everyone speaks much faster, it seems. Time is a commodity and every second counts. Even if you’re not quick enough to finish a sentence it’s like someone else will jump in the middle and shift the conversation in a new direction.

Tel Aviv: The Hebrew expression for “Everything is fine” is offered anytime you get stressed or impatient about something. Which is really soothing, once you’re already worked up. It’s like those people who tell you to “calm down” when your head is already about to explode.

2. Customer Service Means Something

New York: Bank tellers greet you with a smile and ask how they can be of service. Waitresses refill your coffee at diners before you realize you needed any. Customer service reps give you claim #’s so  you can reference them if the issue isn’t solved.

Tel Aviv: If you dropped dead at quite a few cafes in Tel Aviv, it’s not clear if the wait staff would notice. Customer service is where this is most noticeable. My service provider in Israel made me feel like I was doing them a service. I once approached a kiosk in the mall about a repair, and they replied they only dealt with sales. I once went to the wrong branch of my bank, and they couldn’t look up the address of my branch. Same bank!

3. Public Transportation Doesn’t Make You Want to Kill Yourself

New York: There are apps upon apps to help you plot your route from A to B, including to-the-minute schedules for buses, trains and subways. The official websites for the MTA and LIRR are fast, easy to use and updated constantly with the latest information.

Tel Aviv: Looking up a bus route is like searching for the holy grail. There is no such thing as a downloadable version of bus routes. The bus company websites are from the early 90’s in terms of usability and accuracy of information. I actually had the phone number of the main Tel Aviv bus company saved in my phone, and I’d have to literally speak to a person for route information anytime I wanted to get to a new place. The bus you’re on won’t have a map of its route inside the bus, so if you get on the wrong one, you’re screwed. If you miss your stop, you’re screwed. The bus stations occasionally have the route maps posted, but only for the specific bus you’re waiting for – with no info on connections. Oh and the only places to buy monthly bus tickets are central bus stations located totally out of the way for

4. Betsy: We’re Not in Tel Aviv, Anymore

One of the hardest parts of adjusting to life here is how limiting having a dog is compared to the way it is in Tel Aviv. It’s not that bad taking her on the train or subways, but I need to bring a carrying case for her just incase a conductor or MTA official tells me to put her inside it. The worst part is finding a place to eat…

I’ve adjusted pretty well to what was a huge life change. I think I prepared myself well, after experiencing culture shock and over-stimulation during my previous visits home over the years. My first time returning to the states for a visit, after 9 months away, was a disaster. Every commercial on TV felt like an obnoxious assault on my senses. I felt like I had more in common with homeless people I befriended in Union Square, than friends of mine running to their jobs in the rat race.

This time, I dove in head first. Moved back home with my parents, taking the train into Manhattan a couple times a week to see friends, doing freelance projects and thinking about my next move in my professional and personal life.

I only had one panic attack since I’ve been back. It happened last week while preparing for a weekend in the city. Packing my stuff for 3 days, my dog’s stuff for 3 days, my computer, rainy day boots/jacket/umbrella…it suddenly felt like too much to handle and instead of packing I sat in my room crying on-and-off for 5 hours only to finally make it into the city for a late dinner. Thankfully, I was meeting two of my best friends who were willing to walk in search of a dog-friendly place to eat.

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