Settling in, Israeli Trickery

Finally! All of our boxes are unpacked. It’s still messy in our apartment, but it looks so much better than before. It’s incredibly nice to have a kitchen again. Even in Jerusalem our kitchen was 1/3 the size it is now.

I learned one of my first lessons in Israeli trickery: last week when we got our appliances installed, I somehow bought things that we really didn’t need. Like the stupid roller cart that the technicians claimed would help use the dryer or the fancy surge protector for the fridge. I look back and I wonder, what was I thinking? I’m not so much pissed off about the money. I’m more pissed off that I was made into a fool.

It’s not the type of feeling you want when you are trying to keep revv yourself up and bloat yourself up with confidence so you can overcome the day-to-day anxiety. Yeah, these Israelis will either drive you away or toughen up your skin. As for me, I will not be defeated by some of my dysfunctional distant relatives. So there!

It was a sure lesson in making sure to ASK a REAL ISRAELI or at least a seasoned oleh if such and such a situation constitutes reality or typical chicanery. For those of you who’ve made aliyah or who are considering making aliyah, let this be a lesson to you too–or hopefully you are not so clueless as I was. In Israel you CANNOT RUN ON AUTO PILOT. You have to keep alert AT ALL TIMES. If you have any doubt about whether someone is ripping you off, ASK SOMEONE who would know.

Here are a few more examples of annoying customer service experiences that were sent to me from an oleh:

Aaah. Well after getting over that, I decided to focus on the rest of the unpacking. It was one of the few things that kept me sane. You know that all new olim go through days asking themselves ‘why in the hell did I move here? what was I THINKING? I sacrificed a higher salary for THIS?’ The truth is when the ferverent flame of ideology fades, you have to face the day-to-day chores and responsibilities, a culture that is both familiar and foreign at the same time, unfriendly political dynamics–both within and without the country–and (for many of us middle class folks) a less comfy lifestyle than you were used to in the U.S.

Every chore takes a lot more effort when you accomplish it in another language. You have to be ON  and alert all the time, which is exhausting. The customer service has improved, but you won’t be getting the same service you might have expected back in the U.S. Sometimes the apparent lack of logic in processes and procedures is utterly frustrating and the fact that people don’t give a crap and try to push and shove to the front of the line is even more so.

At the same time people here show unending appreciation that you moved here and can change from sour to friendly when they find out you made aliyah. Someone will randomly start up a conversation with you at a bus stop. The olim who have been here longer make great efforts to help you out with any advice because they’ve been there too. There is a closeness and warmth that is lacking in what I ended up feeling was a tepid, monotonous society in the U.S. Or at least that was what Washington D.C. was starting to feel like.

Moreover I had plenty of crappy customer service experiences such as Fedex Kinkos in D.C and American bureaucracy is probably as aggravating to foreigners–particularly our lovely immigration system. On the other hand, in Israel we got our phone and internet hooked up within a few days. (I was told that it used to take five years to hook up a phone line in Israel.)

If you learn to pay attention, hustle to the front of the line, raise your voice (not necessarily yell) to get someone’s attention and get your due, ask the right questions, seek advice without shame, all the while remaining polite and appreciative as well as compassionate toward yourself, you can actually get pretty far and keep your sanity. And yes, speaking the language helps too


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