February 29, 2012

Guest blog: a new Israeli's perspective on Israelis...

I've mentioned once or twice my dear friend Libbie Snyder Sagiv, and I want to introduce her now as Gingit's first-ever guest blogger!! 

For those of you who don't know our history, it's worth mentioning here that Libbie and I met in Boston, where she was born and raised. She made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) a couple of years ago, and is my go-to adviser when I have questions about how to be a real person here. Her Hebrew is excellent, she married an Israeli, and is herself an Israeli now...but that doesn't mean she doesn't still notice (and get frustrated by) some of the quirkier aspects of Israeli life. I want you guys to hear her unique (and hilarious) perspective.


Most immigrants to Israel complain about the usual Irksome Israeli behavior – Israelis’ rudeness, impatience, their inability to wait in line, their constant efforts to rip you off, the completely illogical bureaucracy, the list goes on and on.

But in my experience, there are two aspects of Israeli behavior that absolutely drive me nuts, and yet I never hear anyone talk about them. So I just have to get it out of my system, and see if anyone out there agrees with me.

Elevators. Now, elevators seem like a fairly straightforward concept. You use them in buildings to go up and down to different floors. It’s a concept that I always took for granted that everyone just understood. But living here in Israel, I’ve come to discover – to my horror – that many Israelis have absolutely no comprehension of or respect for the function of elevators.

The only way an elevator can be useful and do its intended job is if people ride it for the purpose that they need. That means, if you need to go up, you should only get in an elevator that is going up, and vice versa. So what happens in Israel? When Israelis need an elevator, they either don’t care or don’t pay attention to which direction the elevator is traveling – they simply get in. Always. 

So what happens is, elevators are constantly packed, no one can get to the floor they need, and there is sheer chaos every time the doors open. The people at the underground and high floors get stuck there for excessive amounts of time.

I think there is a lot of national psychological baggage underpinning this behavioral trend. It’s as if Israelis think, if they don’t act aggressively and get into the elevator while they have their opportunity, they’ll miss out on that chance for the foreseeable time to come, because they know that the other Israelis will act similarly selfishly. It’s a vicious cycle (pun intended).

This is an experience I go through every time I want to work out, because my gym is only accessible via the elevator in the Givatayim mall. Which has an underground parking garage.

This brings me to my second point of contention – the girls at Holmes Place. (Holmes Place is my gym.) I don’t know if the most appropriate comparison to accurately depict the girls would be roosters, monkeys or hyenas, but I can tell you that anyone who has witnessed the opening of the studio doors to a weeknight Zumba class can testify that I’m not exaggerating.  

A quarter of an hour before a class is due to start – whether it’s kickboxing, Zumba, or Step – the girls start hovering in their Spandex-clad circles, all eyes flickering about, as they passively-aggressively mark their little areas outside the studio doors. I try to make a point of looking nonchalant, like I’m not concerned about what’s about to happen when the clock hits the hour and the doors open. The poor people inside from the previous class, who are just sitting up from their relaxed Savasana poses, barely avoid a full-out stampede as the lights go on and the waiting girls charge in to claim their desired spot. (If that means stepping on people who are trying to get up, they do it – I’ve seen it.)

This is about when I stop feeling like I’m in a gym and start feeling like somehow I wound up at the zoo. The sounds these girls make as they squawk and run about, I swear to Gd, would make a henhouse sound like a museum. 

The rooster-girls don’t even pause to put their bags along the periphery of the room – they drop their belongings right in the middle of the room. Then their friends take turns guarding their territory while they THEN bring their stuff to the sidelines. If you leave your spot unattended, you can guarantee it won’t be there 5 seconds later no matter how many girls saw you standing there beforehand. 

And if you need a drink of water during class – ha, forget it. I one time made that mistake, and when I came back to continue my workout, I found myself pushed all the way to the back of the room. (And no one wants to be at the back of the room – that’s where any remaining concept of personal space goes out the window.)

I’ve also been in classes where halfway through the instructor pauses and tells everyone to get a mat and come back, and it simply leads to chaos. It’s not like the instructor is going to start until everyone has a mat, but Israelis don’t think that way; they run, push and grab to get a mat, with no semblance of a line. It takes everything in me to stay calm and not scream, “You’re all going to get a fucking mat! Chill! This is not a battlefield, it’s fucking Zumba!” (excuse my French).

Alas, this is the reality of the world I live in, and as my darling husband loves to say, “These muscles aren’t just for looking good, they’re for survival.” So, up the elevator and to kickboxing I continue to go. Last night I actually rode the elevator down to the parking garage, squeezed between a baby carriage and my kickboxing instructor, and when I finally got to the class the first thing I did was drop my jacket and purse in the middle of the studio floor. Hey, I want to have a good workout too.

The real horror of horrors about living in Israeli society? I’m becoming just like them.

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