This week marks our second year anniversary since we returned to Galilee, Israel after having lived in California for many, many years. My First Year Report Card spoke of mad drivers in Israel, of crazy road signs, of great coffee, of great people, delicious hummus, and of not so great dust storms, of oppressive summer heat.
Our second year is no longer characterized by shock, but more like getting used to things, liking or disliking things, or just putting up. It may remind you of your spouse when on the first date he/she burped or picked his/her nose in public. It wasn’t endearing, but in time it became familiar.
Here are some samples:
Cross-talking: Ten people are sitting at someone’s house. Everyone’s in good spirits.
Coffee and pastry is served. A juicy watermelon is sliced and diced. Nuts. Olives. Crackers. Diet Sprite is passed around (everyone carries a gut), sealed beer bottles sweat on tables (very few drink the stuff). Noise level: High, High, High. Ten mouths chew. Then ten mouths talk. The ears are just mounted on the sides of heads for show. They don’t work. ”Did you hear about the air-conditioning special at Home Center?” ”Pnina, what did you put in the cake?” ”I almost fell off the bike today.” ”My granddaughter got her first tooth this week.” ”What are your taking for high blood-pressure?” ”Whole chickens are sold out for the holidays.” ”Our water bill killed us last month.” ”Our Toyota gets 16 kilometers to the liter.” ”Moti sold his land to developers at full price.” ”Found a flight to Greece for next to nothing.”
Pass the watermelon, please.
Fruit: Unlike the U.S, where produce has to be trucked across hundreds of miles, here the fruit and vegetables are grown nearby. Plums, apricots, grapes stay on the vine longer so they arrive at the market ripe and sweet. Bite into a peach and it squirts. Tomatoes ooze, cucumbers snap, lettuce crunch. But bananas are bad. I really miss American bananas, and how they added zest to my morning cereal. They were always perfectly shaped and sized. They ripened so perfectly. Here the bananas are grown in the Jordan Valley and the Coastal Plain. They’re finger-size, odd-shaped, odd-colored, either too hard or too soft, bruised; they go from rock-hard to rotten in one day.
Pass the Chiquita, please.
Made in China (For Israel): China is the world’s factory. It manufacturers to order. It produces high quality for the U.S. and Europe and inferior products for the rest of the world. At first glance, the products here appear the same, but at closer inspection and use, they’re downright cheap. Toasters trap bread slices and release pieces of charcoal. Desk fans spread more noise than air. Garden hoses twist in knots, pee a few droplets. Refrigerator doors don’t stay shut. Beach chairs collapse after one use. Plastic cups crumble. Dinner plates chip. Sunglasses bend. Shirts shrink. Buttons pop. Zippers fall off the track. Shoes pinch. But you could pay more for American-designed, Chinese-made jeans ($120), shirts ($70), shoes ($200).
Paper-Size: Coming to Israel, I brought reams and reams of paper from the U.S. — all letter-size, 8 1/2 by 11, known here as Imperial Standard (think King of England).
Americans are still in love with inches and feet. Everyone else is on Metric. Last month I ran out of paper. Had to go and buy what they sell here: European A4. The dimensions are different. The paper is narrower at the hips (8.2) and it has longer legs (11.7). You don’t realize how weird it looks until you hold one. Makes a manuscript read like the Magna Carta.
Sensationalism takes center stage. Headlines take up 1/3 of the newspaper page followed by a giant photograph image to back up the obvious headline, followed by eye-popping font. In the past, the main newspapers were more restrained, respectable. Now they have to compete with the free, flashy newspapers handed at grocery stores, gas stations, bus terminals. “BLOODSHED IN CAIRO.” ”INFANT DIES IN SEALED CAR” ”HOUSING PRICES AT RECORD LEVEL” It’s Noise wherever you turn.
Restaurants: Tel Aviv is a long way off. But even here in Galilee, restaurant food quality is a pleasant surprise. The decor is airy, bright. Tables and chairs are of high quality (Made in Italy), the silverware is top-notch even at modestly priced restaurants, and the service is impeccable. The food arrives fresh, in large quantities and in large varieties. The prices? Breakfast: eggs, great salads, cheeses, tuna, dips. freshly baked bread, great cup of coffee, fruit juice — $12. Falafel on the go — $4. Shawarma — $6 Hummus — $7. Sit down luncheon: $16. Dinner: $20. Consider that Israelis make less than 1/2 of Americans and eating out takes a big bite…
Gas Prices and Cars: After two years in Israel and it’s still a shocker at $8 per gallon.
This explains why most cars on the road resemble washing machines on wheels. They’re small, noisy, unattractive. And expensive. A simple Toyota Corolla will cost you $36,000. The Koreans and Japanese, lifting a page from the Chinese operating manual, manufacture the most basic cars and with the least frills. Floor mats are a joke. windshield wipers struggle. Car seats send you to the chiropractor. Yet these sluggish car engines sip gasoline with a straw. Five people pile into a tiny Hyundai (with their camping gear). Taking your legs along for the ride – optional. We chose to “export” our American-made Toyota Camry to Israel. That was a mistake. I sweat every time I fill up the tank. I break into hives every time I have to navigate this “limo” in Tel Aviv’s alleys. Parking? Forgetaboutit
Israelis: In my youth, living in Israel, in a Tel-Aviv bedroom community, I believed there were mostly two kinds of Israelis: 1. Those that came from many lands (my parents included), and 2. Those that were “true” Israelis, the native-born Sabras. Decades later I find Israel to be more complex. They include the Tel Aviv hipsters, the High-Tech wizards and darlings of Wall Street, the tycoons who control much of Israel’s money, the after-the-army-service-I’m-going-to-India-Thialand-Bolivia-Peru and-I’m-going-to-smoke-pot-till-I-drop crowd, the Ultra-Orthodox, the knitted-kippa, the Sephardi Jews, the Ashkenazi, the Israeli-Arabs in the big cities, in the villages, the farmers, the ex-kibbutzniks who cherish old kibbutz life and those who detest it, the million-plus Russian immigrants who added spice to an already overly spiced country, the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who’d come from the former Soviet Bloc, and from war-torn Africa. It’s eight million Israelis wedged between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and they all want to swim, eat, pray, love, vacation – while Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank around us go up in smoke.
So I decided to conduct an unscientific survey of my family. ”After 2 years in Israel, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you say you adjusted?
Maya, age 14: 6
Romy, age 14: 6
Max, our American dog: 10+
Pass the Kibbles, please.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com