New reader Ruth Alfasi wrote to me to object to the discussion of whether Israelis are rude.
Connecting Israelis with rudeness is, if not rude itself, and if not lacking derech eretz (good manners) , certainly culturally insensitive. We are here now, and as Jews we ought to give others the benefit of the doubt. And if by their social norms they aren’t rude, then they aren’t. They can actually have their own cultural norms. “Rude” is a social more, not a fact.
That we Americans come and impose our ideals of social behavior on others is pretty egocentric. I think what really happens to us Americans is that we just can’t quite acknowledge that we are no longer the arbiters of social rightness. In the US, an immigrant does something “rude” (plays music too loud at night, for example) and we feel compelled and even justified in essentially assisting them to acculturate to how things are done “here.” We’re HELPING them, by politely reminding them of the “rules” before threatening to call the police on them:). Gosh, that way they’ll be accepted better. Here, nobody seems to appreciate our efforts to better everyone according to our rule book.
I really like Ruth’s point about how Anglo immigrants in Israel feel indignant about “bad” behavior.
On the other hand, Israelis are not monolithic. I’ve experienced “rude” customer service, but I’ve also met salespeople who went out of their way to help me find what I needed. I’m sure we’ve all met “rude” Anglos as well. Sometimes we are too quick to stereotype someone as “typically Israeli.”
Maya at How to Be Israeli has this take on salespeople:
In America, the customer is always right– and the customer is therefore entitled to demand service RIGHT NOW, monopolize a sales person’s time and then walk away, ask to speak to the manager if anything is wrong with service, etc. In Israel, on the other hand, the sales person sees himself as an authority– and is therefore entitled to take his sweet time in coming to serve you, give you advice you didn’t ask for, and refuse to sell you a more expensive product if he’s convinced a cheap one will do. The flip side of this, though, is that sales people usually feel invested in helping you find the right product, and they often have good advice to offer. Americans who come in expecting sales people to be subservient come across as arrogant and demanding… sounds familiar?
I may be living here a lot longer than Maya, but her perspective on shopping changed my life.
We should strive to understand the cultural norms of a country we have chosen to live in. But we shouldn’t deny our Anglo culture, and it’s fine to want change. We immigrants are Israeli too, and we do influence the local culture. As Israelis spend more time abroad they realize that it is more pleasant to wait in a line to get on the bus than to crowd around the door. Plenty of Israelis, not only Anglos, come from countries where people wait patiently on line to get on a bus.
Also, while some elements of culture are subjective, like rudeness, other aren’t. Violence and discrimination, for example, shouldn’t be tolerated, regardless of whether they are common in a particular culture. We Anglos shouldn’t apologize for pushing for that kind of change.
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