When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Israel

Polite Like A Cactus: A Tale Of Manners In Modern Israel

One of the fruits of the Israeli pioneer spirit is scant attention to politeness and proper manners. A French reporter asks why a nation has so little time for formalities.

Israelis' character is the fruit of a rugged life in a kibbutz
Israelis' character is the fruit of a rugged life in a kibbutz
Laurent Zecchini

JERUSALEM – Foreigners tend to view the Israeli conception of politeness as, well….rustic.

It's been 30 years since the French pharmacist Joel Dreyfuss moved to the Holy City after his first 20 years in Strasbourg, in eastern France. He had quite a revealing experience when he was back last summer visiting the French Alsace region, and went out shopping. He found himself demanding something with an "I want…" like a true Israeli, and thus was denied his request by a local shopkeeper. He also got a good lecturing to: "Here Sir we say "hello", "please", "thank you" and "goodbye"". Joel Dreyfuss was stunned: "That's when I realized how rude I had become!"

It may begin with the language itself. Linguists will explain that while both English and Hebrew (unlike French and other Latin languages) have no current distinction between the formal and informal "you," English is technically missing the informal use of the word – and Hebrew has no formal "you."

This bears consequences: no social barriers, no signs of respect and no real popular notions of politeness and courtesy. In schools, teachers have given up: students don't say hello, they do not ask permission to speak, or to rise from their chair. In fact, they copy their elders: in shops, most Israelis shout and shove people aside to cut their place in line.

The newly arrived European and Ashkenazi Jewish women get used to it: no one will hold the door for them, no one will let them go first, and people on the street will give an ironic smile upon passing a courteous husband opening the car door for his wife.

Speaking of the car…rule number one is: there are no rules. The rest goes without saying: drive like a maniac, never use your blinker, pass on the right, cut people off.

"It is actually true," says an Israeli diplomat. "We have a really bad reputation when it comes to good manners and courtesy. Let's say that we prefer to keep our relationships with others straightforward and informal."

Formality as hypocrisy

This last sentence is a euphemism: an Israeli will show up unannounced at your place, walk right into the living room, ask for a tour, plop themselves down on your couch. Some might even ask how much the place is worth!

This rejection of the notion of formality, which Israeli's tend to see as some kind of hypocrisy, can trace its roots to the moral philosophy of the kibbutz: all kibbutzniks are equal, they share the unrewarding chores and no one is to be superior to anyone else.

There is a famous drawing that captures the founding mentality, poking fun at the German Jews who arrived in Israel in the 1930's with their good manners: the picture shows two German Jews plowing the earth and continually offering each other a spade with the following dialogue: " bitte schön ", " danke schön ", " bitte schön ", " danke schön "... ("please", "thanks', "please", "thanks'…).

Since these customs have long since spread into the army and the working world, they continue to deeply affect people's behaviors and beliefs. Being polite is petty bourgeois and has nothing to do with the country's pioneer spirit. Besides, Israel is a country "at war" and can't afford to waste time over such trivialities.

Still, it's always worth scratching the surface of so-called national characteristics. If they stay long enough, most foreigners will also find that Israeli people are friendly and easy-going; and fundamentally stand together, always ready to help each other out if needed. This helps explain why people born in Israel are called sabras. It is the name of the fruit that comes out of a cactus: well-known for being prickly on the outside but sweet inside.

Read the original article in French

Photo - ianloic

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

This essential morning drink for millions worldwide was once considered an addictive menace, earning itself a ban on pain of death in the Islamic world.

Colombia's star product: coffee beans.

Julián López de Mesa Samudio

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — October 1st is International Coffee Day. Recently it seems as if every day of the calendar year commemorates something — but for Colombia, coffee is indeed special.

For almost a century now we have largely tied our national destiny, culture and image abroad to this drink. Indeed it isn't just Colombia's star product, it became through the course of the 20th century the world's favorite beverage — and the most commonly used drug to boost work output.

Precisely for its stimulating qualities — and for being a mild drug — coffee was not always celebrated, and its history is peppered with the kinds of bans, restrictions and penalties imposed on the 'evil' drugs of today.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ