Tag Archives: cultural diferences

Cultural Differences

19 Jan

As the semester winds down and I prepare to head back to the States for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural differences. Some I still notice, some I’ve grown so used to – I don’t even think about them. I was recently confronted with one of each. I thought I’d share with you a few of them. This definitely doesn’t cover all the cultural differences out there and these all stem from my own experiences. I’m sure I will have more to add as my time here goes on…and after my visit to the US.

  • Crowd control. As I’ve mentioned, there is no real concept of lines here. You just jump into the melee and work your way forward. It doesn’t matter if you are at the grocery store, waiting for a coffee or trying to board the bus. Politeness will get you left behind. You need to stand your ground, bust out your elbows as needed and go after what you want. If you see an opening – jump into it. Derby training has served me well here. This is something that I grew used to surprisingly quickly given how much it bugged me at first. I didn’t quite realize how used to it I was until yesterday. I was having lunch with some friends in the student cafeteria. I didn’t finish my lunch and wanted to take my leftovers home with me. The place we ate at had a tremendous mob of people waiting for food. Without thinking anything of it – I cut to the front, leaned over the next person and asked for a container for my food. It wasn’t until I was walking back to my table that I realized what I had just done. I would have been eaten alive for that trick at home!
  • Space. Once you’ve made friends with Israelis – get used to close talking and physical contact. I had a cold a while ago and missed a class. The next time I saw my Israeli classmates they came up to me, rubbed my back, patted my shoulder and asked how I was doing. Two of the older, motherly ones even checked for a fever. Anymore, I rarely bat an eyelash when someone is talking to me and places their hand on my arm or shoulder as we chat. I sat next to an older male classmate recently who would regularly lean over to whisper to me but would always hook his arm over the back of my chair and place his hand on my back as he did it. There was nothing to be implied from this motion other than wanting to tell me something. One of my friend’s here regularly has an old buddy from his military days come visit. They never fail to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and a big bear hug. Even as they stand to chat and tell stories of their military service – they frequently sling an arm over the other’s shoulder in brotherly companionship. No, they weren’t drunk – Israelis just aren’t shy about expressing themselves through touch.
  • Loud Conversations. When I first moved to New Zealand, my roommates were horrified by how loud I was in any given situation. I had never noticed how loud we as a culture are until this point. After that – I can always quickly find Americans in any given international crowd – just based on volume alone. Americans seem to be loud talkers by nature but they have nothing on Israelis. Israelis love a good debate. It may sound like a shouting match is happening and that people are genuinely pissed off but that is rarely the case. They just get louder the more passionate they are about their topic. I witnessed a political discussion the other day that sounded very heated. There were hand gestures flying, wrinkled brows and enough shouting that I worried the neighbors would complain. At the end of it, the two people involved had a laugh and split a bottle of wine. I doubt if I brought up politics with some of my more ardent friends at home that it would end so happily. More likely, we’d never speak again. Which is the exact reason I rarely discuss politics in the US.
  • Wine. I bet you are scratching your head at this one. Let me explain. I’ve learned through trial and error here that if you are in a group of people that you don’t know everyone – it’s best as a non-Jew to never touch the wine unless it’s the wine in your own glass. Some very conservative Jews believe that if a non-Jew touches kosher wine – it’s no longer kosher. When I’m at one particular friend’s house – though I know his roommates aren’t super conservative, they do try to stay kosher as much as possible. Out of respect for that – I won’t pour my own wine there. Luckily, my glass is rarely empty (yay for good hosts!) so I don’t have to worry too much. I still have to remind myself to pay attention to this rule when in mixed company.
  • Guns. Okay, I know from all the recent news – this is a very big issue in the States right now. Given that all Israelis are required to serve in the military – you see soldiers everywhere. Soldiers are required to carry their weapons at all times, even when off duty. Seeing people walking around with a machine gun is becoming very normal. I sat across from a young soldier on the train on Thursday who had his assault rifle pointed at the space between my toes the whole time. I found myself wondering at one point if it will be weird not seeing so many weapons when I’m home.