AFTER 6-MONTHS BACK: 7 Israeli Quirks I Want to Keep

I’ve been back for 6 months after living in Israel for almost 4 years.

I returned to the States in March.

This is probably not exciting to anyone but me (and my mom), but it feels weirdly huge to me. And even though this is my blog – I don’t want my mom to be the only person who reads this, so I’m going to try and make it applicable to something bigger than just me.

There’s certain cultural idiosyncrasies I was made aware of while living in Tel Aviv; I picked up on some of them, and I don’t want to see them go. Here’s a few:

My Tel Aviv Apartment

Michal Street was “home” for awhile…

1. The “wait” signal – holding up your hand, with all fingers touching each other on the tip, thumb included, facing upwards. The first few times you see someone do this, it looks rude or aggressive. It reminded me of an Italian gesture, which I’m not entirely sure of its meaning…(I recall Julia Roberts’ character in Eat, Pray, Love going through an absurd montage in which this and other Italian cultural quirks were explored. I cannot believe I just admitted to the internet that I saw Eat, Pray, Love. I swear I saw it as a joke.) The Israeli version literally is a perfect translation of the American holding up 1 finger to symbolize “just a minute”. Very useful if you’re on the phone or busy, and someone nearby starts talking to you.

2. The expression “Stam!” (סְתָם) – A slang word that’s hard to translate. Pronounced “stahm”, it can be used to mean “just kidding”, “just because”, or “no reason”. Or nothing really. It has this power to reverse the current of a conversation in a way. You can go on about one thing, and throw in a “stam” and totally change it up. For example: Say something silly . . . “Stam!” . . . take it to a serious place. Or: Make a deep statement about the world . . . “Stam!” . . . back to light-hearted banter.

3. The sound/expression “Pshhhhh!” – I HATED this at first. It’s a sound you make to signify you being impressed with something. If a friend tells you about something exciting they just bought (or a great deal they got), this noise comes out of the receiving party. It’s kinda like “Girrrrl! Look at YOU!” or “Oh no you DIDN’T!” It made me uncomfortable at first – I’m not sure why. But I like it a lot now.

4. The expression “B’tayavon” (בְּתֵאָבוֹן) Pronounced buh-TAY-ya-VONE, it means Bon appetite. Not really an English translation, but people say it to each other at the beginning of meals. Or even snacks sometimes. I remember eating at my desk in the first few months of me living in Israel, and a co-worker walked by my desk and said it to me. I recall feeling sorta violated, thinking “Why are you like congratulating me for eating?” It’s not a “congratulations” but it felt like it which made me feel super gross inside. And now a little voice inside my head utters it quietly before meals.

5. “Teetchadesh” (תתחדש)- Pronounced exactly how it looks. But an emphasis on the last syllable. It means “Enjoy!” in reference to something new you just bought. It’s really nice to say when someone makes a big purchase like signing a lease or getting an awesome new bag or something legitimate like that.

6. Not sweating the small/meaningless/irrelevant stuff – The amount of patience I gained while living in Israel is one of the most valuable things I got out of the entire experience. The culture is extremely “laid back” in many, many ways; arriving on time is virtually unheard of, as is dressing in formal attire to pretty much anything including job interviews and funerals; one of the most common expressions you hear on the street/at work/with friends is “y’hiyeh b’seder” meaning “it will be OK”. The service industry is a total joke compared to the customer-satisfaction orientation of corporate America. At first I hated this difference, but later grew to appreciate it and am still not sure which extreme I prefer: the lackadaisical, no-rush attitude of Mediterranean culture, or the American focus on fast-paced productivity.

7. Dressing casually…no matter what – The concept of “business casual” is sort of non-existent. You either work in a law firm, wear a uniform, or wear pretty much whatever you want to work. I never once wore my black pants in the almost 4 years I lived in Israel, and I went on job interviews, attended conferences, funerals, etc. You can wear a dress to a wedding (many brides go all-out), but if you want to wear pants as a woman – that’s OK too. Same goes for funerals. Jeans are not frowned upon at an Israeli funeral. It’s refreshing once you get used to it. I sort of took it to the next level, and sorta stopped wearing makeup and earrings regularly to the point of my Dad telling me I look like a lesbian. I think it was due to a combination of living in a hot climate, feeling like some sort of permanent back-packer, and being in a serious relationship…but I only “put my face on” once in awhile. I realized today that the women in my family always wear makeup and earrings, and that it’s just nice to feel attractive even if you might not have a reason to.

I’m constantly struggling to view the world not in black-and-white, but somewhere in between. Some of these quirks represent that struggle; I don’t want to choose between an overly-relaxed, casual lifestyle versus a race for achievement, efficiency and success. Somewhere in the middle sounds best. I’m trying to find a place like that, closer to “home” . . .

6 thoughts on “AFTER 6-MONTHS BACK: 7 Israeli Quirks I Want to Keep

  1. Israel sounds awesome! I’ve always wanted to go and these cultural snippets make it sound even more appealing, especially the more laid back nature. Everything here in the US can be so high strung, so much pressure all the time. I’m glad you got to have such a cool experience. I can’t wait to read more about it.

  2. Hi!, I stumbled for your blog while looking for pictures of my once “home” in Tel-Aviv: Michal 7 pinat Borochov. What a coincidence! Only I lived there “some” years before: between 1978 and 1980, when learning the ropes of my turf (political cartooning) at Maariv daily (back at Buenos Aires, Argentina, since then). How much I miss those days. Thanks for help me to remember!

    • So glad you found it! Happy you were able to relive some of the memories. It’s very much part of me still every day, in ways that change and evolve but I’m grateful for them being there.

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