Thursday, July 17, 2008

Eight Unpleasant Israel Travel Surprises

1) Whither fresh, tasty challah? Although the coffee is very good here, the baked goods disappoint. You can get an OK croissant, but I’ve found most of the pastries, cookies, danishes, rolls, etc that I’ve tried (and as a hard-core carbs addict, I’ve tried many) to be pretty tasteless. Even the challah I’ve had tastes stale. If you can’t get good challah here in Israel, then maybe it’s time to give up trying.

2) Overly, uh, friendly older men at the beach. Is there a sign pinned to the back of my bathing suit that says “Easy American woman: Disregard wedding ring and nearby offspring”? For the first few weeks I was here at the beach, I attracted a surprising number of new senior friends. “Want to swim with me?” No. “Where is your hotel?” The Gaza Hilton. I’ll meet you there.

3) The Daytona Beach spring break I never had. With the advent of high tourist season on July 1, our otherwise innocuous beach resort community suddenly acquired the sound systems Madonna takes on tour. For at least two hours each afternoon and again starting at about 9 in the evening, the hotel across the street from us blasts deep-bass disco music at its outdoor pool for happy, dancing tourists. Many nights the poolside dance party competes with loud music from other nearby venues. Perhaps you’ve not really experienced Israel until you’ve watched a bunch of French tourists dance in their bathing suits to the Hebrew version of the “Hokey Pokey,” but that’s a risk I would have been willing to take.

4) Clean up after your dogs, people. Enough said.

5) Evil Knevil appears to be alive, well, and living in Tel Aviv. The drivers here are OK, but the motorcyclists seem to obtain special permits to be jerks. Weaving in and out of highway traffic, driving down the sidewalk -- nothing is off limits. Some bikers do that kind of stuff in the US too, but there I’d estimate that about one out of every ten motorcyclists lives by his/her own rules. Here it is in the inverse. And don’t even get me started on the Vespas…

6) Is the Mediterranean the world’s garbage disposal? I’ve read that the Mediterranean Sea has become filled with trash, and when an occasional wave of garbage washes up on the beach, I believe it. Yesterday I found myself literally swimming through trash: the plastic bags, bottles and paper wrappers outnumbered the jellyfish that like to nibble on my kids’ legs. The Mediterranean is so beautiful – it we can’t keep it clean, I have little hope for the rest of the planet.

7) Put on a happy face. What does it take to get an Israeli to smile? Maybe I just perceive a lack of smiliness because I am constantly trying to overcome my nonexistent Hebrew skills with niceness and smiles (although I suspect that my combination of poor language ability and vacant smiles is leading people who encounter me here to refer to me as “The Village Idiot.”) In any event, almost no one ever smiles back, at least not in the informal communications that constitute most of my interaction with Israelis. Finally, after I’d been here three weeks, the clerk at the bakery smiled at me after he figured out I was bluffing my way through my Hebrew. His smile was so welcome that I almost hugged him.

8) Just get in line. When I told a friend in the U.S. that I planned to come to Israel this summer, he immediately spouted off an unfamiliar Hebrew phrase. “What does that mean?” I asked. “I was here first,” he responded. “It’s the only thing you really need to know to survive Israel.” At the time I thought he was kidding. Not so. Many Israelis seem to have an outsized sense of self-entitlement that obscures basic courtesies, including any idea of how to queue.

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