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Cultural overview: Israel Cultural overview: Israel
by Joseph Gatt
2019-11-19 09:22:40
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Every individual is different in this country where people have ancestors who came from 150 different nations. Sweeping generalizations on Israeli culture.

Generalities

If you treat every business like serious business, and are good at getting to the facts and telling the truth, you won't have much trouble socializing and thriving in Israel.

That is if you're the kind who likes to joke around and distort facts, Israelis will tend to feel that they are wasting their time, and will be very blunt when they tell you “you're not a guy to deal with or do business with. Don't ever call me again.”

isr00000001_400In Israel, everyone's considered an equal. For example, former Prime Ministers don't get first class healthcare, and have to use the same hospitals as everyone else in old age, and have to pay hospital bills out of their pocket. Millionaires and billionaires don't get first class treatment for much of anything.

So if you think you're important, no one will think you're important in Israel. People will respect you regardless of your background, but won't give you special treatment just because you're a “doctor.” And just because you're a “doctor” doesn't mean everything you say is correct.

Final note: some say Israelis are “paranoid.” Let me explain what this is. If you use a “tone” many Israelis will believe you are challenging them, and will respond with the same “tone” or in some cases with rage. If Israelis think you're trying to get somewhere with the conversation, they will cut right through the conversation. And if your offer is too good to be true, Israelis will spend days, perhaps months, examining your offer to try to find the catch.

Language

Hebrew is the official language and most Israelis speak it, although you will find many Israelis who don't speak Hebrew, either Arab Israelis, or recent Jewish immigrants.

Accents and dialects are a little tricky. There are basically two accents, often referred to as the “Sephardic” accent and the “Ashkenazi” accent. Note that many of the older generation of Ashenazis use the “Sephardic” accent, while the new generation of Sephardic Israelis prefer the “Ashkenazi” accent. If you're a recent immigrant, I suggest you go with the Ashkenazi accent, which is dominant among the younger generation.

There are many other accents, most notably the “American accent” (which Golda Meir spoke with) or the South American accent or the French or Russian accent.

Most Israelis, especially the younger generation, speak good English. A lot of them have a “cute” Israeli accent, but whatever you do, don't try to imitate their accent or make fun of it. Remain serious at all times, and speak with your natural accent.

Note that Israelis naturally speak Hebrew with everyone, and you will have to make it very clear that you don't speak Hebrew at all. If you have rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew like I do, expect a lot of people to refuse to switch to English. Even Americans in Israel will prefer using Hebrew with you in most cases. In the long run, you will have to learn Hebrew, because the longer you stay in Israel, the more people will find it strange that you did not pick up the language.  

Stereotypes they have about foreigners

The good thing (or perhaps the sad thing) about Israel historically is that everyone who came was very much encouraged to blend in. Most were Jews, but some were not Jewish. In the 1950s, some Western European non-Jewish Communists liked to egalitarianism of Israeli kibbutzim and settled, and in the 1990s quite a few non-Jewish Russians settled.

That is people were discouraged from speaking the language of the country they came from and encouraged to speak Hebrew, were discouraged from eating food from the country they came from, discouraged from listening to music of the country they came from and so on.

So in Israel, you're encouraged to blend in. People will speak to you in Hebrew, will encourage you to watch local TV, will encourage you to listen to the local radio, will encourage you to adopt Israeli ways. So there are few or no stereotypes in Israel, because everyone expects everyone else to blend in.

Now of course there are communities where people didn't completely blend in and kept parts of their “native” culture. There's also a trend where, say, if you have Moroccan parents, the children will try to learn Arabic and French to “better understand their parents” and will also start listening to Moroccan music and cook Moroccan food. Or any other nation for that matter. But such movements are marginal. I predict that within 20 years a lot of new generation Israelis won't even be sure where their parents and grandparents came from originally. 

Greeting

“Shalom” is the formal greeting. Handshakes tend to be required for the first meeting, but not required at subsequent meetings. Some religious men can refuse to shake hands with women and vice-versa.

Note that “shalom” is considered something of a formal greeting, and most modern Israelis will use English greetings such as “hi” or “hello” or “what's up?” Avoid touching. A slap on the back can be misinterpreted, and even when posing for pictures, avoid putting arms around shoulders. At some formal events, European-style kisses on both cheeks can be a form of greeting, although Israelis are not very comfortable with that. If a man or a woman gives you a big hug that could be a sign they're looking for a relationship.

Small talk

Avoid religion, politics or history, and that includes inflamed political rhetoric. Keep your hardcore Zionist beliefs (or pro-Palestinian beliefs) in the twitter and Facebook sphere, and you want to avoid discussing any politics or history.

Family means a lot to most Israelis, so they will ask you questions about your family. Israelis spend considerable amounts of time with family (including about a dozen holidays a year and the Sabbath dinner every Friday night) and most Jewish Israelis show their family unconditional love. So they might discussing their family and children at length and might expect you to discuss yours. Note that many Israelis show their spouses unconditional love, and jokes about mother-in-laws are irrelevant to Israelis as most get along fine with their in-laws. Rather than discuss personality or gossip about family members, most will discuss fond memories of the time they spend with them.

Israelis tend to be very outgoing and are always in for good travel recommendations. If there are sights or places you've visited you think are worth of visit, you can give them all the details on those.

Finally, anything useful or any useful tip is always welcome if you can discuss it with authority. Could be useful websites or smartphone apps, useful tinkering advice, useful financial advice, useful health advice, or anything that is useful and relevant.

Meals

Be it at home, at work or with friends, meals tend to be an elaborate affair. First off, Israel mixes 150 nationalities and culinary traditions, so few people will eat the same dish twice. Especially in big cities, you'll have Egyptian one day, Iraqi the next, Greek the next, then go with Ethiopian. Kind of like dining out in New York City.

Trends are also important, and currently there's a big Asian food trend, so if you're visiting Israel, you'll probably be having Japanese or Thai food at some point.

Either way, showing appreciation for the meal is very important, or enjoying the meal is considered as important as the meal itself.

Final important note about meals in Israel: Israelis have a strange concept of property. At restaurants, they may visit the kitchen and give the chef instructions on how to cook their meal (especially in small restaurants). At home, if you invite them for a meal, they may join into the kitchen and give you tips and advice, or straight out instructions on how they want their meal to be served. This is a normal part of Israeli life. I don't do that personally with meals because I'm a terrible cook and know little about food, but I do always give my Israeli hosts instructions on how to make my coffee for example. Take an Italian espresso machine, pour cold mineral water from the fridge, fill the filter with a pyramid-shaped dose of coffee, close the cap, once the coffee comes out let it sit for about 15 minutes, the coffee will be tepid and I will drink it cold. And no one judges me for that.

Final note: drinking wine over dinner is not that common. Some families have that ritual, but most will avoid alcohol with meals, except perhaps on the Sabbath and on holidays.

At home

Israelis are famous for their hospitality and are known to open their door to terrorists, and some terrorists have been fed by families until the police came looking for them. Either way, many Israelis have guns somewhere, and could shoot a terrorist if they had to.

Showing up uninvited is not uncommon, especially among close friends. Actually, in some circles it's considered rude to call your close friend before you show up.

You'll notice that there are no rules for being at people's homes. There are no set times for when you have to stay or leave, and if you have to spend the night there you will be welcome to do so. Note that people will act casually, and some behaviors can shock some people. For example, if I have a paper to write, I wouldn't mind your presence, but I'll focus on the paper, and maybe suggest you watch TV or something, or just plain ignore you. Either way, expect conversations to be interrupted by frequent phone calls and texting. Also expect other people to show up, without you being informed.

Everyday life (hospitals, banks, the post office, pharmacies)

Israel has universal healthcare and hospitals have the reputation of being among the best in the world. Doctors tend to be dedicated to their job and will tend to do everything they can to save patients and to take care of patients. As in most countries, dental care is kind of expensive, and often not covered by universal healthcare. So keep an emergency fund if you need work done with your teeth, because that can cost you a lot of money.

The banking system has a good reputation as well, although getting loans can be complicated. Several financial services exist, but few Israelis like to play with their money. Many Israelis will work several years and live with their parents, save as much as they can before they buy an apartment or house. Once the mortgage starts kicking in, many, many Israelis live paycheck to paycheck.

Postal services are very good, and despite all the technology, many Israelis still resort to snail mail, specifically because privacy is still somewhat guaranteed with snail mail. Pharmacies will tend to have all the medication you need. Note that doctors and pharmacists are not always the friendly type, and if you have psychosomatic illnesses they will tend to tell you to “man up and deal with it.”

Shopping

First thing you'll notice is that everything is so expensive. Everything from fruits and vegetables to meat to clothes to shoes to cosmetics to electronics to everything else. So you have to shop smart.

That is in most countries you can kind of improvise your way into shopping, go shopping without really deciding what it is that you are going to purchase. A lot of Israelis do things differently.

Tips to shop in Israel. What most people do is first roam supermarkets and stores, and limit themselves to window shopping. They'll get an idea what the different prices are. They will then go home and try to think about what ingredients they need and what items they need, perhaps consult with a friend or partner on what would be needed. They then make a list of the things they need and estimate the cost. They then limit themselves to buying strictly what they need. Also, while drafting the list, they will keep a budget in mind, and will re-draft the list if the budget goes over-board.

Asking favors

First off, in Israel you'll notice that your neighbor could knock on your door and ask you if you have a specific spice, a specific herb, or will come asking you for strange things like “do you have tomatoes” or “can I borrow 20 shekels” kind of favors. Many people will be happy to help out if they can, and such requests for favors are normal.

People in the streets will be happy to help with information, and you'll notice for example at the airport a lot of people will ask you to borrow your phone if you have one. In sum, people tend not to hesitate to ask if they need something, no matter how big the favor is.

Now if you're the kind of person who thinks you can automatically ask favors, beware. If you constantly go to your neighbors asking for stuff, they will start “charging” you for the stuff you ask them. If your friends are constantly paying for the taxi, they will make it clear to you that it's your turn to pay for the taxi. In sum, don't try to abuse their hospitality.

Bragging

Everyone has that “friend” in Israel. The guy who “lives in a movie” or “chai be seret” in Hebrew. The guy, could also be a girl, who comes up with all kinds of anecdotes that come straight out of a movie production. People tend to politely listen, or in some cases leave when they are annoyed.

Let me elaborate on these guys. Their stories involve “winning big at a casino” or “getting into huge fights and beating everyone up” or “saving people from a terrorist attack” or can involve some kind of gossip. The more you listen to their stories, the more stories they will come up with. Some can involve selling a business for millions, others can involve being in the press and so on.

But for the average person, Israelis tend to be modest but appreciate when you notice their good work, or dedicate work, or any favor they perform. That is they won't brag about being nice or working hard, but they will appreciated being thanked, and will appreciate it even more if you give them lengthy compliments.

Note that, especially in the United States, some American Jews can be very nationalistic when it comes to Israel. Israelis love their country, but do not run memes, post excessively on social media about nationalism, or discuss nationalism or love for the nation. Social media in Israel tends to be for family and friends, not for politics. And conversation tends to involve family and friends, not politics.

Dating

Let's say you're a girl. You're sitting with a friend at a café or restaurant. Or at the beach, or at a park. Some guy (or guys) will grab a seat at your table (or spot) completely uninvited. They will usually ask you if you are Jewish, and if you have a boyfriend. In some cases the fact that you have a boyfriend won't push them back from trying to date you. If you have time, they will engage in a long conversation before suggesting you “hang out.” That's one way you can meet boys.

Let's say you're a guy. You're sitting at café, restaurant, beach, park or elsewhere, alone or with a friend. A girl, or a group of girls will grab a seat completely uninvited. The girl will be a little shy, a little awkward, and will expect you to stabilize the atmosphere. The girl will either directly suggest that you hang out, or wait for you to suggest that.

Beware that some guys like to sit at a café alone right by their place, and if girls come looking for them they will directly suggest you take the rest of the meeting up in their apartment.

Friends can serve as matchmakers in some case, and always look around if they can find a good match for their friend. Let's say you're the guy who likes to play tennis and hiking, if your friends meet a girl who likes to play tennis and hike, and that you have similar personalities, your friends will immediately mention you to that girl, and strongly urge the girl to give it a try by going on a date with you.

I could go on and on but will save the topic for later. Either way, two more things. First, if you're a “cute couple” people will usually leave you alone and admire you. But if you have “personality differences” your family and friends could strongly oppose the relationship. There are instances where couples cut ties with family and friends, because family and friends tend to be very straightforward when it comes to suggesting you two parts because your personalities don't match. Economic status, religious status or political views are not considered very important, and it is believed to be up to the couple to find a common ground on those.

Finally, the stereotypical Jewish girlfriend is one that calls several times a day, and who panics when her boyfriend does not pick up the phone. Some Jewish boyfriends are also like that. So be prepared to always let them know where you are, what you are doing, who you are meeting, and when you're getting home. So expect to get a lot of attention from your Israeli partner.

Marriage

First things first, most Israelis don't discuss engagement and marriage on social media, and invitations tend to be sent in person. Many, perhaps most, don't upload pictures of their wedding on social media. Most don't discuss their marriage on social media in any form.

Wedding invitations are sent, handed in person to close friends. That is close friends will be invited for dinner or lunch and handed to invitation cards. Some can invite a couple hundred people, others will invite a thousand or two.

First things fist, if invited to a wedding, you will have to give a cash gift. 180 shekels if it's that guy in the office you hardly ever talk to, or perhaps 360 shekels if you want to hint at the guy that you want to be his good friend, or about 1,000 shekels if it's a close friend or family member, perhaps more.

Ceremony starts around lunch time or early in the afternoon, bride and groom come greeting everyone, then an Orthodox Rabbi presides over the ceremony under a tent (called a chuppah) then family and friends rush to hug the bride and groom and congratulate them (friends and family also hug each other, some cry). Then the DJ blasts loud music and you binge on food, alcohol and you can dance and go crazy.

Either way this is the format and your Israeli partner will tend to be inflexible with the format. In sum, don't try to be creative.

How they treat children

Children are friends and are equals. That is, Israelis treat children like you would treat any friend, and children expect to be treated as equals. That is children tend to participate at conversations with adults, can even give their opinion on the topic, and will rarely be told to stay out of the conversation. If children tell you about school life, you're expected to listen as politely as if an adult were telling you about his work life.

Children are also expected to help in the kitchen and with chores, and are expected to do the dishes and in some cases watch over their younger siblings. Tantrums are very rare. Tantrums are usually a sign that children are not getting the attention that they need, but Israeli children tend to get all the attention they need.
 
Pets and animals

Many are dog-lovers, some love cats. Many families own a pet dog or cat, or several cats or dog. Tel Aviv has among the highest proportion of pet ownership in the world.

5% Israelis are vegan, the highest proportion of vegans in the world. Most vegans choose to become vegan for convenience reasons rather than for animal rights' reasons, as keeping Kosher involves a six-hour interval between the consumption of dairy and the consumption of meat.

The animals' rights movement is slowly picking up, especially among the younger generation. This one animal rights' group in Israel had 200,000 members, which is considerable for a population of 8 million.

Driving

A few rules. When Israelis signal they are turning right, they could be turning left. When there's a red light, some Israelis like to honk, as stopping the car leads to an automatic honking reflex in some people. When there are two lanes, some like to cut through lanes hoping they can move faster. And when people need to get something at the store, they park completely randomly, in some cases leave their car sitting at the road.

Road rage is not common, but exists. If you're slow, the car behind you could lose it, and crash his car into yours. If you challenge someone, you could have that person follow you around and threaten to crash their car into yours, repeatedly tailgating and honking loud at you. If you stop your car to confront those people, they could throw their cup of coffee/glasses/smartphone/watch/name an object at you. In such cases you want to stay calm and say something like “it's OK, everything is in order, no one got hurt. Let's make peace and call it at day” or something along those lines and hope to irritation wears off a bit.

Religion

You have Muslims and Christian and Druze and Baha'i who make up about 20% of Israel's population. Jews make up 80% of the population.

Jews can be divided roughly into:
-the Orthodox Jews who belong to many different congregations that have many different interpretations of the law, so Orthodox Jew is a generic term for a Jew who observes Jewish practice according to strict law. Orthodox Jews have their schools, and while some can live in secluded areas, others can mix with the general population. Note that not all Orthodox Jews have beards and payos and wear hats or cover their heads. Some shave their beards, others dress modernly, some even go around in shorts and t-shirts, but you'll notice their skull cap (or kippa).

-The Conservative Jews: they are flexible with a lot of rules, but tend to go to Synagogue, tend to keep Kosher, tend to marry other Jews, tend to keep the Sabbath, tend to celebrate all the holidays according to custom. But they go to secular schools, don't necessarily study the scriptures, pray at random times, and have a somewhat relaxed attitude to religion.

-The reform movement: there has been a woman rabbi in the Orthodox movement, but it was the first and last time the Orthodox movement had a female rabbi. The reform movement believes in female rabbis, and tends to authorize the use of electricity during the Sabbath, and tends to authorize the consumption of non-Kosher food, depending on which congregations. Some congregations are somewhat radically liberal, while others more conservative.

Anecdote: I took Jewish studies classes from an Orthodox professor and from a Reform professor. In many ways, the Orthodox professor was somewhat more relaxed about Jewish law than the Reform professor. The Orthodox professor once said something like and I'm paraphrasing: “if the Torah has no rabbis in it and no synagogues in it and calls for burnt offerings and sin offerings to be offered to the temple, and that there is no temple, what's the point of even believing in it?” That was a rhetorical question that shows that in many ways, Orthodox Jews can be open-minded about a lot of stuff.

-The secular and Atheist movement: some keep Kosher and some don't, some celebrate holidays and some don't, some celebrate holidays on certain years and skip them on other years, most don't keep the Sabbath, some are spiritual in many ways. Most circumcise their male children, and most have religious weddings, if they marry a Jew that is.

Smoking, alcohol and recreational (legal and illegal) drugs

My mother put up a cartoon that read “you smoke and drink beer, you must be a millionaire!” But that kind of sums up the situation in Israel. Many people smoke cigarettes, both men and women. You can smoke on most coffee shop verandas and you'll find a lot of smokers, but chain smoking can be expensive.

A beer at a pub can cost anywhere from 4 dollars to 7 dollars, although someone always knows a pub in some shady neighborhood where they sell beer for two bucks. Binge drinking is not the norm, most will go out for a cocktail or two or a beer or two and will limit themselves to that.

Marijuana laws are a bit strange. I find many smoking marijuana at cafés, the police does not seem to bother with that. But you could technically get arrested for smoking marijuana, although the law technically decriminalizes marijuana use. Other drugs exist, but if caught, you could be in trouble.

Death and funerals

Like in the Muslim tradition, the corpse is purified with water and buried shortly after. Unlike Muslim tradition where there are no eulogies, Jewish funerals include several eulogies.

A 7-day period is then held for mourning service, usually at the deceased person's home or parents' home. The family gathers for 7 days, and receives visitors, serves visitors a cup of coffee or drinks, and visitors can stay for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the nature of the relationship.

After the 7-day mourning period, the deceased family and close friends usually inspect the deceased's personal belongings, and try to see if they can find anything that can serve a legacy. Some find poems hidden, others find diaries, others find calendars, some even find traces of mistresses, some find good deeds, others find strange deeds. Either way such objects are collected, carefully kept, and taken out on memorial days. Pictures also tend to be gathered, and albums formed. Memories are shared extensively during memorial days, including those found hidden somewhere.

Social gatherings (conferences, cocktail parties etc.)

Israel is one of the rare countries (I believe the only country) where you'll find one or two journalists covering almost every conference or public event. So if you're giving a talk in Israel, better be a decent one. And if you're attending an event, expect perhaps to find a picture of you in the press.

Israelis have a bit of a strange way to mingle. Let me give you a few tips. First tip is to show up early, that way you can find early birds and mingle with them. As the event progresses, and the venue gets crowded, people tend to stick to their group of friends, and if you're new to the event, and have no friend attending, things could get pretty lonely. Second tip would be to show up to all the events, or as many events as possible. In Israel, you only become a “friend” once you've met people enough times. Final tip is try to remember the people who attended the event. If you add them on Facebook, make sure your Facebook page does not make you look like a weirdo. Final, final tip: never ask people why they're here or what brings them here. People tend to be not as open about their agenda as people in North America.

K12 education system

There are religious schools, secular schools and Arab schools. Religious schools tend to focus on the study of religious scriptures, and have been criticized for not teaching math, science or foreign languages. Secular schools teach the basic subjects, and so do Arab schools. Religion is taught at secular schools and Islamic studies are part of the Arab Muslim schools curriculum.

The school system would be too long to explain in detail, but basically works like in most countries. Note that there are significantly more field trips in Israeli secular schools, and arts and crafts and music tend to be taught seriously. In Middle and High school many Jewish students start preparing for military service, and many, many join Scouts or Camps during vacation and during the summer. Some Camps have a religious bent, others are more secular. Sports are an important part of camps, but no war games are simulated.

In their final year in High School Israeli students have to take the Bagrut, which is similar to the French Baccalaureat. The Bagrut is a pass/fail test. Around 65% passed in 2019, when the success rate was around 55% a decade ago.

Either way, most Israeli students will put their studies on hold after the Bagrut (not that many students prepare for the Bagrut seriously) and either join a military preparation academy or go straight to military service. During military service, you get 6 months of training (which is kind of like school) where you get all kinds of lessons and tests, and that's when they will figure out what branch of the army to send you to. The brainy ones are sent to work in offices, the more physical ones will join the battlefield.

Final note: your military unit says a lot about your job prospects, and your Bagrut score or university not so much. If you attend an elite military unit, in some cases, you can land a great job without having to go through college.

University education system

In most countries, people try to pass their university life in “one-shot.” That is they pick a college, and try to graduate from that college, in 3 or 4 years if possible.

Israelis tend not to have that level of commitment to college life. That is some students will try medical school, quickly drop out if requirements are too heavy, then transfer to engineering or Hebrew studies or whatever. Many graduate from college around age 30, some do without a college degree.

Age is not a factor when choosing to enroll in college, nor is it a factor in college life. You could have 19-year olds studying and sharing notes with 50-year olds, and you have government ministers who are enrolled in masters' or Ph.D. programs.

Final note: universities have a large degree of autonomy and the government tends not to meddle with universities. This means that, for example, at some universities, you can apply to a Ph.D. program and get in without a BA, an MA, in some cases without a complete high school education. Some universities take professional experience factors into consideration, while others take motivation factors into account.

Final final note: professors tend to be highly respected, in many cases are allowed to cut in line at cafeterias, are allowed to cut in line at local stores, and get the priority for any event. Also note that exam dates are negotiable, but grades tend to be non-negotiable.

How their elites behave

Some say the United States is one giant middle-class, and for many, many years Israel was one giant working-class. Until around 2010, you really needed to leave Israel to make good money. If you stayed in Israel, you tended to be stuck with working-class wages and a working-class lifestyle.

Everyone knows Golda Meir had a tiny apartment, Menachem Begin had a two-bedroom apartment and his only “luxury” item was a color TV with satellite television (and he only watched the BBC) and David Ben Gurion spent his final years at a tiny bedroom on a Kibbutz. Those were the days my friends.

Today there's something of an upper middle-class or upper class emerging. There's a term for these nouveau riche who are overwhelmed by their new status, and in Hebrew they are called “'arsim.” The term is hard to define but here are some of their features:

-The buy a 5 shekel cup of coffee with a 200 shekel note. Then buy a 20 shekel sandwich with another 200 shekel note.

-They blast loud rap music in their car and yield their car hysterically.

-They use all kinds of awkward English words and phrases and mix that with Hebrew.

-They tell girls “how you doin'” and ask girls “can I have your number” in English (rumor has it Israeli girls love American boys. Not quite true, although some wouldn't mind the opportunity to move to the US).

-They tell waiters and waitresses “you just cut your tip in half” and other rude remarks.

You get the idea. 

Entertainment

Big cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have all kinds of shows and Israelis are very inventive when it comes to entertainment. Remember that Israel is an assortment of Jews who came from 150 different countries. So you'll have Moroccan music and Iraqi music and Eastern European classical music and music that blends all those. You'll have Arab-style Theater and European-style Theater and theater that blends many different styles.

Popular music genres in Israel are rock and sentimental ballads, you won't find a lot of rap or r'n'b bands. There are a few jazz and blues bands, along with bands that perform oriental music, but pop music tends to be either rock ballads or sentimental ballads. Protest music is not very popular.

Israeli cinema is interesting in many ways, and for many years has tried to break taboos that exist in Israeli society, including the failed assimilation of some Jews who came over the years, ethnic rivalries between Jews, and a Jewish mafia that exists in some places, among other taboo themes. Passionate romantic comedies or kick ass action movies are rare, most Israeli movies focus on dialogue and social interaction.

Israelis are sports enthusiasts, and the local basketball teams have had some success, including winning the European Cup several times. Soccer is also a favored sport, but although Israel qualified to the 1970 World Cup by default (Arab teams boycotted Israel so Israel automatically qualified) and Israel came very close to qualifying in 1990 (only losing a very tight game against Colombia 1-0 after two legs) Israel has come nowhere near qualification to European or World Cups every since it joined the European qualifiers in the 1990s. Israelis are still passionate about their soccer team, and this time around, I hope Israel qualifies for Euro 2020.

Technology

To understand technology in Israel, you need to understand two things. First, Israel has more Free Trade Agreements with other nations than any nation in the world. Second, life in Israel is so bloody expensive. So ever since this e-commerce thing developed, Israelis naturally adopted all forms of e-commerce, be it online flea markets based in Israel, or online hard-discount stores based outside Israel. Favored shopping items include clothing and electronics.

Many Israelis started trading online, where they basically get the cheapest flight to Cyprus, buy clothes or electronics in bulk, as many as their luggage can allow, and sell it online in Israel at hard-discount prices (compared to local prices). So this is what triggered the start-up ecosystem, where you suddenly had several businesses that sprang up online, providing services at hard-discount rates, including translation services, data entry services, and cyber-security services. Then came artificial intelligence and other stuff. Many of these businesses got their IT training at the army (which is better than any training you could get, including the MIT or Caltech because you learn as much theory as you get to practice) so now you have the start-up nation.

Intellectual conversation

Religion, history or politics are not favored conversation topics, nor is science or literature. Let's say that Israelis, even the most educated, would rather discuss their plans for the weekend than discuss the last book they read.

Many can be disappointed at how vague and imprecise Israelis can be when discussing intellectual topics. I remember asking a group of Israelis if they knew the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic accents and no one knew the exact difference.

Now Israelis with an intellectual bent exist, but let's just say you're better off discussing your weekend plans or your travels around Europe or Asia than discussing Tolstoy or Kissinger or Aristotle or the Talmud or what not. Note that even Haredi Jews can sometimes have sketchy knowledge when it comes to the Tanakh and the Talmud.

How to deal with money

A lot of Israelis are excellent negotiators because they come to negotiations prepared. That is they do their homework, accumulate knowledge on the product they are about to sell, or on the product they are about to buy. And they can use this excess of knowledge to their advantage, including by inventing features that don't even exist. But they will baffle you with knowledge, so much so that you will be stuck in the kind of position where you will “look too dumb to counter their offer.” So some leave frustrated and refuse the deal because they feel they “lost face” by “looking dumb” while others love the clarity of the presentation and take the deal without asking too much of a discount.

That is unlike many countries where it's polite to show friendship by offering discounts, in Israel, there's no such thing. Merchants just happen to know their merchandise, and if you want a discount, you can always buy the cheap item at the full price.

Now at some markets they can expect haggling, but if you're like Israelis, you want to do your homework. That is a lot of Israelis go window shopping first, make a list of what they want, then they go get it. As they window shop, they notice the different prices, meaning they often know the differences between prices.

Another factor that plays to Israeli advantage is mandatory military service. At the military service, almost everyone plays something of a leadership role at some point. In most countries, the majority of people have never experienced a leadership role of any kind. In Israel, most Israelis were leaders of something at some point, with all the responsibility and bossing around it involves. So Israelis will often be shameless when pushing around during negotiations. Keep that in mind.

The legal system

The legal system can be a little irritating because of the procedures involved. If you have a dispute, or were the victim of some kind of scam, there are procedures in the Israeli legal system where the defense can keep pushing for trials to be delayed. In some cases trials are delayed so frequently that you're better off dropping the case.

This delay tactic is a shrewd tactic. By delaying trials, the defense knows that the plaintiff will owe his lawyer legal fees, and the legal fees keep piling up until the plaintiff drops all charges.

In sum, before you sign any big contract in Israel, including real estate deals, you want to consult with a good lawyer to double, triple, quadruple check if the deal is Kosher. And just because you're buying something from a “friend” doesn't mean your “friend” won't try to cheat you in some cases.

Farewells and before you leave the country

Israelis tend to value individual friendships over belonging to groups. That is they will hang out with a lot of groups, but will only really open up to one or two individuals. Most women only have one or two real friends, and most men have no real friends at all.

So farewell parties will involve perhaps going out for a drink and discussing future plans. In many cases there will be no farewell party if you're about to leave your company or your country. People will wish you good luck on your last day, maybe they'll stay in touch, but a lot of times they won't even try to keep in touch. So don't expect emotional farewells.


     
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