In Defense of Israeli “Rudeness”

My post, What Defines Israeli Parenting?, generated a lively discussion. Lack of manners among Israeli children came up again and again.

Please also read this response by Ruth: Anglo Immigrants: Arbiters of Social Rightness?.

Yesterday someone named named Trudy left the following comment:

We spent our sabbatical year in Israel in 07-08. It was a fabulous experience. I agree with most of the observations/comments above. For me, the most striking thing was the bad behaviour of the children AND the adults who had obviously been parented in a similar manner. Don’t get me wrong. My children also misbehave, but the difference is that, when they do, I notice, I care and I act. Many Israeli parents do not notice, care or act. They are raising another generation of rude, spoiled children. I had visited Israel 3 times before our sabbatical year and, of course, I noticed and experienced the rude behaviour of both adults and children. However, over the course of the year, this aspect of Israeli culture REALLY began to wear on me. It was embarrassing, as a Jew, to imagine what non-Jewish tourists thought of “us” as Jews. They are not just seeing rude Israelis, they are seeing rude Jews. Many of the Israelis that I spent time with while in Israel were also embarrassed by the behaviour of their fellow Israelis and their children. The difference, in almost every case, was that the people I spent time with – family and friends – had themselves lived in Canada or the US.

I should state again, because this reads as very negative. We loved our time in Israel and look forward to future vacations there. And to be sure, there are things that Israeli parents probably do a better job of than North American parents.

Mimi of Israeli Kitchen responded:

Trudy’s comments about Israeli behavior are unfortunately accurate. By American/Canadian lights, there is no culture of politeness here – no customer service – lots of confrontation.

On the other hand, it’s necessary not to care what outsiders might think if Israel is to survive in an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel world.

My Canadian sister almost dies of embarrassment when I respond to confrontation from people on the street. (I’ve lived here 33 years.)  She would much rather that I backed down, and answered softly to defuse the situation. She covers her face and shakes her head when I answer back.

My sis comes from a country with secure borders. A country whose citizens don’t experience the daily, hourly personal and national stress that we have. With a larger middle class used to more leisure and more material comfort, consideration and politeness come easier, maybe.

My life experience is different. I’ve sat in buses wondering if I’ll make it to my destination, or if my destiny will be to get blown up by a suicide bomber in the next few minutes. My children have attended funerals of kids their own ages, victims of terror. I look at my precious little grandchildren and pray that peace will come before they reach army age.

If there’s one thing rude Israeli culture has taught me, it’s that it takes assertiveness to survive.

So yes, Israelis are missing an essential element in that which lubricates social relations. It hurts us here and abroad. I’m perfectly willing to own that many of us need to be educated in manners, consideration, trust and trustworthiness.

But that hard, assertive core keeps us alive. No apologies for that.

Comments

  1. I think there must be a balance somewhere. We were complimented by the person helping us at Orange for our patience, but then because we didn’t bug her daily we missed (by 2-3 weeks) the arrival of my phone.

    While I don’t want to be stepped on and am learning quickly to look for a machine dispensing numbers wherever there is a line, there is still no reason that people cannot say please, thank you, excuse me while keeping their place in line or making a point in a discussion.

    Assertive doesn’t have to mean rude, but unfortunately it seems like here the combination of assertive + rude yields the fastest/best results.

  2. Oh, and it should go without saying that my children will continue to be taught basic manners and expect to display them where appropriate. If this marks them as not born here, that’s ok with me. My entire family is/will be in the United States and they have to know how to behave in an international fashion.

  3. Perhaps Trudy can be a little bit less ethnocentric? Different cultures have different norms of what is considered rude. We spent three years in the states when we had 4 children. My husband (a sabra) was shocked by many aspects of the behavior of both children and adults in the USA. I don’t think of either culture as better, they are just different.
    Trudy, you should read some ethnographies it might help your perspective.

  4. Ariela makes an interesting point.
    Maybe there are simply cultural differences and different expectations of behaviour.
    These children are expected to behave differently when they grow up.
    We want our children to stand up for their rights as adults.
    Israelis prize direct talking “dugri”, something which people born in Enlgand are not able to understand or do, but which is perfectly acceptable in Israel. You are supposed to be direct in Israeli culture.
    There are other characteristics that are considered positive here in adults, but might not be cultivated elsewhere.

    Let’s look at it differently, I have read about chinese and Japanese culture. There apparently people are even more round-about and never say what they mean. For them, Americans are very aggresive. Many European and Americans chose to take courses in Japanese or Asian culture before visiting.
    Some Israelis chose to take courses in American or European culture before going there. Simply an entirely different culture!

    And a story to illustrate culture differences, that I read in the book called Afapey Shahar by The Rav Chaim Sabato.

    The narrator tells that when they first came to live in Israel from Syria they lived near German Jews. They went to visit their neighbors and the German neighbors offered them cakes. The syrian Jews said “no thanks, we have just eaten”. so the cakes were returned to the kitchen. The guests were highly surprised since in their homeland, to be polite one always refused cake you were offered 3 times, till you were finally pressed by your host to eat it (the 4th time!).
    (I now understand why when ever I offer my MIL anything she never accepts, and I am offended, I see now that I am supposed to press her as part of a ritual I knew nothing about!!!)

    They were then offered coffee, and were very disappointed, since in their country offering coffee is a sign that you are supposed to get up and go, and they did not understand why their visit was so rudely cut short!

    This is a simple story of how different cultural norms can be perceived as rudeness.

    Maybe Israel really has different cultural norms in some areas. Israel is to the US as the US is to some Asian countries. Let’s look at it that way.

  5. “Maybe Israel really has different cultural norms in some areas. Israel is to the US as the US is to some Asian countries. Let’s look at it that way.”
    Yes, we are the rudest on the continuum. LOL.

  6. In response to Ariela:

    Perhaps I am a bit ethnocentric, I’m not sure. But let’s look at the effects of this aspect of Israeli culture. When tourists return from Israel with a bad taste in their mouth, will they return as often? At all? Will they tell their friends that they simply must go to Israel? Will those of us that are Jewish reach as deeply into our pockets when asked for money for Israel?

    When you are asked for a contribution for Israel, and the first thing that pops into your mind is seeing an old man shoved aside by EVERYONE trying to board a bus. Or the many drivers that see by your rental car that you are a tourist and then gladly run you off the road, how does that affect your thought process? Every year North American Jews give millions of dollars to Israel, and yet it is difficult to see that Israelis appreciate it at all.

    I think that it also makes it more difficult to defend Israel.

    Don’t get me wrong. I still and will continue to donate money to Israeli causes, through the UJA, JNF and other avenues. I still and will continue to defend Israel as best as I can with the knowledge I have. My husband, as a professor on a campus with a very active anti-Israel movement, does so even more. But I am sure that there are others that maybe don’t donate as much or as often as they used to and maybe don’t speak up for Israel as strongly as they used to in part because of the interactions they have had with Israelis.

    For sure, Israel has it’s own culture, but let’s be honest. It’s evolving. It’s only a handful generations old. We can’t just throw up our hands as if this is something set in stone and sit back and watch the children get ruder and more spoiled generation after generation.

  7. Dear Trudy,
    Add partonizing to ethnocentric.
    We have to be who we are and not jump to a pricetag of tourism and donations from American Jews. Don’t donate and don’t come visit, although I suspect that the reason people do so is much deeper and stronger than an old man getting pushed on a bus.
    You should know Trudy, that most Europeans consider Americans rude, loud and uncouth. Again, for ethnocentric reasons.
    One of the things I like about being in a different country is – well – that it is different. Different norms and different customs.

  8. Trudy, do you honestly think Jewish American children aren’t getting ruder and more spoiled with each generation? Have you visited your local mall lately? Have you been to an American bar mitzvah or wedding lately? The entrenched American entitlement/materialistic culture doesn’t even come close to Israeli rudeness.

    And please don’t hold the threat of slackening donations over our heads. Israel sailed through the economic downturn with nary a scratch because we know how to manage our banking and healthcare systems, unlike greedy, selfish America. Not to mention our off the charts startup culture which also leaves America in the dust. Seriously, we really don’t need your money, so feel free to donate it elsewhere.

  9. Karen,

    Thank you for bringing up Rav Sabato’s story. It’s one of my favorites (along with everything else he has written).

    I think it is high time Israelis stop using the state of war as an excuse for their rudeness. Whatever its anthropological roots, rudeness is not exactly a great character trait. On the contrary, chazal stress the importance of proper interpersonal relations in innumerable places. I am also not sure that it’s a cultural thing. Nobody appreciates being on the receiving end of rude behavior (even in Israel).

    By the way, I don’t think American customer service is that much better (especially when it comes to public and government institutions). In the 15 years that I’ve been in Israel, it has improved tremendously.

  10. First of all, I am Canadian, so maybe I don’t know just how bad it is in the US. And why does it have to become a personal attack? Now I’m patronizing? I just get through saying that we are staunch supporters of Israel and the next two posts essentially tell me to take a flying leap because I don’t love every single aspect of Israeli society? I’d hate to see how you’d respond to someone who doesn’t love Israel as our family does.

  11. Trudy,
    Seriously, if you don’t know how patronizing and unctuous you sound, reread your response. And I think the materialism is pretty much a North American thing, although I think Canadians fare better in European eyes.

    We are very ready to own up to our faults. We are not ready to be threatened with a cutoff of donations because we don’t behave the way you like.

    Leah

    War isn’t an excuse for rudeness. It’s an explanation for how directness sometimes morphs into rudeness.Directness is an Israeli trait, for better and for worse. I don’t think we’ve ever had a case of Kitty Genovese here, so I’d much rather take a bit of rudeness than what passes for politeness in North America.

  12. In defense of Trudy, I didn’t read her comments as patronizing or unctuous. In all fairness, I don’t think she’s commenting on Israeli rudeness because she donates money and therefore feels she has a right to tell us here in Israel what to do, but rather because she cares about Israel. And she cares how Israel looks to the nations. And perhaps it hurts her to see an older gentleman pushed out of the way getting on the bus. I would feel bad seeing that too. Although, I bet that once he managed to get on, that people would get up to give him a seat. At any rate, I certainly don’t think that we in Israel need to feel too self-satisfied about our economy (no guarantee our economy won’t get more affected), our health care system (which is excellent), our banking system (which has had lots of big problems) or our high-tech industry (which has also been affected by worldwide economic problems and who knows could get worse).

    I think customer service here in Israel has improved a lot in the 18 years I’ve been here. And from talking to my mother, I get the impression that customer service has gotten a lot worse in the U.S.

    It helps to know *how* to access the “nice” customer service. Years ago I was talking with Israeli friends who had spent a year in the U.S. They remarked on how much better the customer service is in stores in Israel than in America. I couldn’t understand how she could possibly think that — until I saw her shopping one day for a shower curtain. She got much better service than I ever had from the same people in the same store. The difference was in her approach. She asked for help as though the owner was doing her a big favor by assisting her. And he was very forthcoming. It must be a cultural thing. Once I learned how to do it, I adopted the method, and it worked for me too. But I imagine that if she had tried that in the U.S. it wouldn’t have worked. Different culture.

  13. I don’t think Mimi’s response as an acceptable reason to behave rudely. Albeit, what she is describing doesn’t sound like the sort of rude behavior most North Americans complain of when interacting with Israelis. There is a difference between being more confrontational and cutting in line, for example. Being more or less confrontational is not necessarily a matter of good manners or bad manners. Cutting in line is always rude, unless there is a life-and-death reason to jump ahead.

    But to get back to the point of the broader conversation, what is the point of acting civily if you only have to do it when it is easy? Shouldn’t Israelis try even harder to maintain a high level of politeness so that they seperate their behavior from the animalistic behavior of those who would gladly wipe Israel off the map? That kind of seperation is what always attracted me to all of our rituals and observances. There is what animals do, and then there is what G-d has commanded us to do to seperate ourselves from animals, to make us holy. It’s not acceptable to say, on the one hand, we are G-d’s chose people, we have an inalienable right to the land of Israel, and on the other, to act like uncouth barbarians. If we are a holy nation then we should act like it. No matter where we live or what the circumstances are. Period.

  14. “Every year North American Jews give millions of dollars to Israel, and yet it is difficult to see that Israelis appreciate it at all.”

    I know this is going to open up a huge flame war, but Israelis (in general) don’t appreciate private foreign donations or the foreign aid sent by the West. They feel entitled to that money. Or they curse it because then it means that they have to care what The West or Western Jews thinks about this or that issue. I have had this coversation at least a dozen times with Israeli-born Jews and every single one of them thinks that Israel shouldn’t have to act appreciative for the money and doesn’t think that Israeli acceptance of the money should obligate Israel to consider Western interests at all.

    So flame away. I’m sure I’m ethnocentric, patronizing, and unctuous. If someone wants to accuse me of being overly confrontational I’ll make aliyah. 😉

  15. Fern, I think the point is that if Americans or Canadians don’t feel their donations are appreciated and don’t feel Israel is worth giving to, than don’t give. It’s that simple. No one is forcing her to donate or even to love Israel. She spent a year here and has absolutely no understanding of how our culture works and clearly has no interest in even beginning to understand how it works. She clearly supports this fantasy Israel that North Americans love to conjure up in their heads, complete with happy tanned natives working the orange groves in kova tembels and singing folk songs, and she’s upset that the real Israel doesn’t live up to the fantasy. She should have stuck to a 10 day UJA mission trip and convinced her husband to spend his sabbatical elsewhere. I’m sure the French are much more polite.

    No one is denying that Israelis are rude and confrontational. Should Israelis be more polite? I guess so, but I can’t see an entire national character changing any time soon. I wish Americans would stop acting fake friendly and making fake greetings at the entrance to every store, but I can’t see that changing any time soon either. There are pros and cons to any national character- you take the good with the bad.

    It’s unfortunate that Trudy only focuses on the bad.

  16. It’s interesting – Israelis tend to be a bit more abrupt, but I don’t find it rude anymore. I find American “manners” to often be just a show. I mean, I’ve seen people say “thank you” when someone hands them a piece of trash to put in the garbage can… Is that actually manners or just stupid habit?

    I take my son to Haifa once a month to a special clinic for eye treatment. The taxi drivers at the train station there know me and they tease each other over who gets to take me and they tell me how big my son’s getting and they help me unfold the stroller and get him in and out of the cab. Maybe they aren’t classically polite, but they’re real and they’re friendly and they’re NICE! I’ll take that over “Have a nice day ma’am” anytime!

  17. Thanks MOI for this post 🙂

    Having lived in Israel for almost 2 decades, I have seen a tremendous improvement in customer service, from the private sector to government offices. I was in misrad hapnim a few weeks ago, and was greeted with a big smile from the clerk, “Good morning, How can I help you?” she asked. Yes, this actually happened in the ministry of the interior. I contrast this with some exceptionally rude behaviour at the US embassy in Tel Aviv (not the consular officers, but from the staff).

    Trudy’s comment are such stereotypical generalizations that its offensive.

    Americans view Israel as a Jewish Disneyland, where every Israeli is a characterized Mickey Mouse, and expect the Disney treatment from all the “actors” everywhere. Lets go on the Kotel ride, the Tel Aviv beach ride, the Masada ride, (for adventurous tourists, the Hevron ride in a bulletproof bus).

    Israelis live here, work here, and raise their families here, under much more difficult situations than in the United States. While American teenagers wonder about studying in Israel or college, their Israeli counterparts need to worry about much more serious things — like spending the next 3 years in the IDF.

    My wife’s uncle visits from the US all the time — and what does he does? He goes into a pizza store in Jerusalem, buys a dozen pizzas, and then drops off pizza by IDF soldiers while driving around. Do you think the soldiers aren’t appreciative? They give HUGE smiles…and thank him like he’s the mashiach.

    Have you ever looked up the number of gemach’s in Israel? Jerusalem alone has hundreds of them — free loan societies, than loan everything from money to medical equipment to wedding gowns to mother’s breast milk.

    I don’t see such chessed abounding elsewhere to such an extent.

    Israel has much to be proud of — and its manners are improving daily.

    Trying smiling at people and being friendly to them, instead of viewing them as Disneyland characters, and they might even surprise you.

  18. Hear hear Jameel.
    When I made Aliyah in 1991 it was right befor pessach. I got dozens of invitations to the Seder from perfect strangers. In fact, a telephone operator invited me to her Seder.
    One of my students just made Aliyah (adult) and she was walkign around on shabbat looking for where she was invited to dinner. A stranger helped her and when they couldn’t find the address, invited her for lunch.
    Where do you find that kind of chessed?
    Again, American (Canadians are American)mores and customs seems very odd to Israelis. My husband was horrified the first time we visited our baby’s day-care center in the US. A teacher was taking a class to play and the kids were running. The teacher made the children go back to the classroom to walk and said “we use our walking feet and not our running feet here.” This may seem normal to Americans, but to Israelis it seems facist. My husband wanted to take the baby out of the day care center.

  19. Ariela, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (even though I’m Israeli ;)) for correctly spelling “Hear, Hear” (instead of the “here, here” that I often see) 😀

  20. I speak English, but have been here many years.
    When you talk about “Israelis” you are talking about my husband, children, nieces, nephews etc.

    I cannot but find Trudy’s comments as offensive even though I read them more than once.

    Other commentators living here around 2 decades and more seemed to share my view.

    It would be interesting to see how long an immigrant lives here for them to feel such comments (about rude Israelis) are pointed at them and to feel that Israelis are US and not them (and therefore take comments personally).

  21. Abbi: Why would anyone write “here, here” — its about auditory HEARING (Hear, Hear, listen to what someone is saying…)

    Is the spelling that badly abused?

  22. Keren: Whenever relatives of mine visit from the US and generalize or criticize Israel/Israelis, I get rather offended, as if they are personally criticizing *me*.

    Ariela: Your story about “we use our walking feet” totally made me cringe — yet another reason I’m glad to be here.

    It reminded me of the classic song “Flowers are Red” by Harry Chapin.

  23. I’ve been reading the comments with interest. I do want to clear myself of a false position: I am not in favor of rudeness anywhere, nor do I justify it. I’ve brought up my own kids to say please and thank you, and hopefully in the ways of consideration as well. It’s when others are rude, or – enlarging the scale, when enemies threaten – that the ability to hold your own in confrontation becomes a tool you must keep fine-honed. Because you’ll need it to preserve your self-esteem. Or your life.

    There are lots of reasons for what a North American perceives as rude behavior. One can be the cultural differences discussed above. For example, Israelis will freely ask you how much rent you pay or how much salary you earn. I never got used to that – it still makes me cringe. I choose not to answer. But I don’t get offended; it’s not meant to be rude, it’s just the Israeli “we’re all family here” attitude.

    Personally I agree that customer service has improved over the last decade. I attribute it to the younger Israelis who have replaced the older, grouchier pekidim (clerks, receptionists, office people). In my hearing at least,it’s visitors from outside Israel who complain.

    I’m glad that others brought up the support and kindness evident in Israeli society every day. Organized help, spontaneous help – people expect to help. Yesterday, while I was waiting for a bus, a young man brought his blind grandmother to the stop. “Anyone here taking the 99 bus?” he asked. “Could you help my grandmother get on? I can’t go with her.” Three people immediately volunteered, and all three helped the blind woman get on, holding her bags for her, walking her through the payment, finding her a seat on the bus, making sure the driver would advise her when to get off. This is normal here. Thank G-d.

    It’s sweet and sour, daily life here.

    The stress I cited in my original answer to Trudy still looms largest in my mind. Survival anxiety is always present, even if latent. Actually I’m typing this from the reinforced room in my apartment, the designated safe place in case of missile attack. Each apartment in each building has such a room, or should have. I don’t go into panic mode when I walk into it. In fact, it’s my office. But I haven’t put shelves up because things on shelves would fall off and possibly hurt someone if my family and I were sitting out a missile attack in here. The building might shake, you know.

    Thinking about such things is just a fact of life. But it’s not normal.

    Israelis live with abnormal levels of anxiety and stress: according to The Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, 9% of the Israeli population suffers from PTSD; 3 times as much as in Western countries. http://www.traumaweb.org And here we’re talking about terror and war, not covering the usual anxiety over taxes and our friend/enemy, the bank overdraft.

    So – does any of that justify the famous Israeli rudeness?
    No. I’d like to see toughness and the ability to stand our ground combined with more politeness, more everyday consideration – better diplomacy and better hasbarah. I believe that can change. But meantime I will reiterate: you have to be tough to be Israeli and survive. No apologies for that.

  24. Dear Abbi: Couldn’t resist, sorry. It’s a shame that we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot here. I think your conclusions might be a bit hasty after only reading a few paragraphs that I’ve written. Of course there are lots of great things about Israel and Israelis and I might be inclined to share them in a post on a different topic. But to say that I have “absolutely no understanding of how our culture works and clearly has no interest in even beginning to understand how it works” seems like a bit of stretch considering that we haven’t even met.

    And to Jameel re: “Trudy’s comment are such stereotypical generalizations that its offensive.” My comments are based on what I experienced while living in Israel. Of course they don’t apply to every single citizen of Israel, nor did I imply that they did. I was just recounting what I experienced.

  25. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.
    Add me to the list of readers who felt patronized by Trudy’s comment. Other readers had mentioned lack of manners among Israeli children, and while I didn’t like to hear it I wasn’t offended in the same way.

    Trudy, you came to this blog as a visitor who has never commented previously. If we had had a previous interaction with you the reaction might have been different. Coming in as a stranger and preaching the virtues of politeness, you told us that we are rude, our children are rude, and we are bad parents. Then you tried to mitigate it with an insincere comment “there are things that Israeli parents probably do a better job of than North American parents” but you couldn’t think of any.

    I agree with Fern that there is a lot to be desired in this country in terms of consideration toward others, and as Mimi clarified, a difference between assertiveness and inconsideration.

    As for pushing, I once read that in Middle Eastern culture is no concept of personal space. Americans, on the other hand, maintain a physical distance between themselves and strangers. Same thing with intrusive questions, etc. Cultural differences do affect how we view interactions. But I don’t condone shoving an old man on the bus.

    Trudy, how do you know that you were run off the road because you were presumed to be a tourist? I don’t know that we Israelis discriminate in our bad driving habits.

  26. Trudy, I guess the difference between you and me is that, while I was groped quite a few times during the 8 years I rode the NY subway, I would never in a million years say something like “Wow, New Yorkers are perverted misogynists who can’t keep their hands to themselves”, which, according to your logic, I’d have every right to say, given that it’s a true statement based on my experiences. And actually, you didn’t recount your experiences. If you had recounted a story about the obnoxious taxi driver who tried to overcharge you or a makolet owner who you saw daily and never said hello I think we all could have sympathized. Instead, you made sweeping generalizations about Israelis and how rude they are and how this is bad for our image. That’s where the problem arose.

    You are certainly entitled to any opinion you formed based on your experiences. It’s the attitude you bring when expressing your opinion. Your attitude here was “Why do those Israelis have to act so rudely and tarnish the image of Jews everywhere?” It’s not the attitude of a concerned sibling. It’s the attitude of frowning teacher. Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of that.

    I’m basing my conclusions solely on your statements. That’s the way blog comments work. You say something, I respond. I don’t think it’s required to have to meet you and hear about your entire childhood in order to respond to a comment of yours.

  27. Trudy: How can I read this statement from you and not assume you’re generalizing?

    When you are asked for a contribution for Israel, and the first thing that pops into your mind is seeing an old man shoved aside by EVERYONE trying to board a bus. Or the many drivers that see by your rental car that you are a tourist and then gladly run you off the road, how does that affect your thought process?

    The “EVERYONE” in capital letters, is your own.

  28. But Jameel, my husband actually witnessed this happening. Not one person would stop and let that old man on the bus. My husband was dumbfounded.

    What I said way up a the top of these comments was that: “Many” Israeli parents do not notice, care or act. “They” are raising another generation of rude, spoiled children. Of course it’s not “all” Israeli parents and it would be ridiculous of me to say so.

  29. I don’t have children and so cannot comment on that aspect, but what I can contribute is that the US State Dept. has declared Israel is not a tolerant society (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1126286.html)

    Hmpf! I beg to differ however.

  30. I’ve seen a hundred examples of the opposite kind of behavior from what Trudy described. I have a theory that explains most Israeli behavior – I call it the “snot-nosed little brother” theory. Israelis kind of treat everyone as if they’re their snot-nosed little brother. Sometimes they push you out of the way, sometimes they’re rude to you. They ask intrusive questions, they tell you how to raise your kids, the whole nine yards, but if you fall down, believe me, someone will help you get up, help you dust yourself off, make sure you’re okay.

    A while back, I took my baby daughter by bus to Tel Aviv and accidentally left my wallet on the bus. I was in hysterics worried about how to get home. A man asked me if I needed help, and I burst into tears. He asked me what happened, and I explained, and he asked me how much money I needed to get home. Before he could open his wallet, another man had already given me the money to get home, and a third man had gone to get me some water.

    The next morning, I got a call from the bus company that they had found my wallet. Everything was in the wallet, including my cash.

    There are people like that in the US, but you’d be hard-pressed to find help like that in the middle of NYC.

    • TC, I was in NYC last summer. My son nearly left a tote bag on the train/bus several times. Each time, someone pointed it out to us and one person even ran after us. And when we were discussing the best way to get somewhere, people approached and offered suggestions. In Manhattan.

  31. I haven’t jumped into the frey, because it tires me. Of course there are rude Israelis. And there are rude New Yorkers. And rude Argentinians. And rude orangutans. There are rude people everywhere. And there are nice people, like me, a former New Yorker and a current Israeli, who sometimes can be rude. And rude people who are sometimes nice.

    I have met some really nasty native-born Israelis. And I don’t buy the excuse that it’s because we are a nation under stress and our kids have to fight wars and it’s really hot here (okay maybe the heat IS a good excuse). Those nasty people would be nasty if they grew up in Paradise.

    You get my drift, here.

    Now let’s move on. Mom’s only got three comments on her kid’s multiplication skills and is about to put up another post any minute now…

  32. sylvia_rachel says

    So much of the definition of “polite” and “appropriate” is cultural. I live in Toronto, which residents of other parts of Canada consider a big, fast-paced, impersonal city where people don’t talk to each other, don’t make eye contact, are rude to tourists, etc. All of which is true, if you compare Toronto to Calgary, the city where I grew up, where you are expected to make conversation with the check-out clerk at the supermarket, the guy who brings your groceries out to your car for you [they don’t have that in Toronto at all], the teller at the bank who has perhaps known you since you were a baby in a Snugli, random strangers on the bus or LRT, and other parents at the park or the pool or the library. There are fewer people there, they don’t walk so fast, they make eye contact, they say “Hi” as they pass you on the sidewalk even if they never saw you before. But then if you come to Toronto from New York, as a friend of mine periodically does (she lived here for a few years but is now back in NYC), Toronto seems small and peaceful and relaxed and quiet, and Torontonians seem personable and polite and considerate. [Disclaimer: I have not been to NYC, and my friend has never been to Calgary, so our data set is necessarily incomplete.]

    Similarly parenting. Where I live it is not considered normal to spank or smack children, and even parents who do so would think twice or three times about doing it in a public place; I am told by friends in various parts of the US that where they live, it’s absolutely normal to see parents spank their children in public. Where I live children often call their daycare teachers (not their school teachers) and their parents’ adult friends by their first names, and rarely say “sir” or “ma’am”; in other places, I am told, that would be considered unbelievably rude and disrespectful. When I was 15, a responsible going-into-high-school student with her own house key who regularly looked after a younger sibling, did laundry, cleaned the house and prepared family meals, I went on a choir trip to Australia and was startled to find that my host families, to a person, treated me (and their similarly aged offspring) like a child. In Sydney I came “home” from a barbecue at another chorister’s host-family’s house (by myself, by Sydney public transit) at 10 pm, I found myself locked out of the house; I settled down to sleep on the stoop, not sure what else to do and not wanting to disturb my hosts by leaning on the bell, and perhaps twenty minutes later the door was opened by my host mother, who proceeded to give me a blistering lecture for staying out so late [note that she hadn’t said anything when I left about what time I should be home; I should have asked, of course]. When I admitted, under questioning, that, no, my own mother would not have been in the least concerned about my coming home at 10 pm — or midnight, for that matter — as long as she knew where I was and when to expect me, the host mother was appalled. How could a parent be so irresponsible?

    I am not qualified to comment on Israeli anything, really, since I have not been to Israel since 1982. I just wanted to offer some examples of how easy it is to misunderstand the behaviour of people in other countries 🙂

  33. When thinking this issue over,I’m reminded of a time when my late Dad came back from visiting my sister in Canada.

    “I’m so glad to be back here among my own,” he said.”I really hate it when I’m out on a walk and some stranger jogs up to me and puffs, ‘Have a nice day!’ as he goes past. I don’t want to hear ‘Have a nice day’ from total strangers. Just let me be my natural bad self.”

  34. BH

    Been living in Eretz Yisroel 20 years. It’s still a culture shock for me to be raising children with different accents, etc. and they do tell me I don’t know how to cook, etc. because I am “an Americai.” My husband, who slices a pumpkin in large slices and just eats it boiled, says he can’t even eat the food anymore when the kids dump large quantities of harif spices into the soups, etc. However, all said, I wanted to share with you that I say to my children from time to time, “Be Yisroel — not Israeli.”

  35. i understand the angst about throwing around stereotypes, but i don’t understand why it always ok for positive attributes but never for negative attributes.
    ABBI:

    “Seriously, we really don’t need your money”

    really? aipac must have missed that memo.

    MII:

    “I don’t know that we Israelis discriminate in our bad driving habits.”

    i really don’t think israelis are bad drivers. but within the context of the relativist contiuum mentioned above, perhaps this is because i’m from new york.

    • LoZ,
      When I set up the question I was certainly expecting to hear negative stereotypes. I explained why I found the phrasing of that comment offensive, but I see your point.

  36. Please, there is a HUGE difference between rudeness and assertiveness.

    My parents grew up in circumstances that made what Mimi describes look good, believe it or not. One of the things they taught us is that the harder life is the more important and necessary manners, (and consideration) are. In fact, my father OBM, used to describe to us how, when he was taken from an orphanage right after WW2, and adopted by a relative of a relative, the first thing this man did was to teach him about manners. This was in Stalinist Russia, where life was quite dangerous, and food was so scarce that going to bed hungry was the norm. But, “Don’t stuff your mouth”, “use your fork, not your hands”, “say please and thank you” were a regular part of the conversation. When my father reached adulthood, he wound up serving in the Israeli Army, married my mother and wound up in the US – where his fist couple of decades included some very, very lean times – as well as pretty hard time in a city (NYC) that was already beginning to gain a reputation for being “ungovernable”.

    Through all this, it never occurred to him (or my mother who had survived a similar trajectory before she met and married him), that allowing us to boorish and unmannerly would make us stronger or more resilient. My father especially, didn’t give a hoot about what “outsiders” thought of us, beyond pure pragmatics. But being a mentsh is not about impressing others.

    A society that has lost sight of the need for derech eretz is a society in deep trouble.

  37. Trudy,
    “there are things that Israeli parents probably do a better job of than North American parents”
    In Israel e raise out children to look forward to giving three years of their time to Am yisrael. Israeli teens – boys and girls alike, are excited and motivated to serve in the army or do national service. Many teens volunteer in their youth groups and other places.
    Trudy, are your children planning on giving time to volunteering with anybody? Are they motivated to do so?
    I think we do a FANTASTIC job in Israel raising our children.

    Abby, here here – one of the few things i can actually spell 🙂

  38. I’m finding the comments from the Israelis here very interesting. The idea that just because certain behavior is different does not make it bad or rude should be obvious, but it generally is not.

    But Israelis can be every bit as ethnocentric as Americans – or Canadians or Europeans. The idea that people only find certain behaviors rude or offensive because they don’t conform to “Disnelyand fantasies” is not only is beyond patronizing and offensive. It’s not just in Disneyland that elbowing people to get to the front of the line, slapping the heads of people whose comments you don’t like, shoving people regardless of age, or blasting music on a bus so loudly that people 9-10 seats away can’t carry on a conversation, is considered rude. I’ve seen every single one of these things – and the bona fide “natives”, who surely don’t think of Israel as a “Disneyland fantasy”, by and large agreed.

    Which leads to what I think is an important point. The real problem with the original claim is that it was too broad, and generalized too much. But, those responses that accepted her description and tried to defend the it are equally indefensible. Some things really are just a matter of cultural norms, and I think it rude to criticize them, or to generalize based on that. But, some things really ARE rude – are real breaches of Derech Eretz- and to defend them by claiming that they are part of the culture, life in Israel is hard or Israel is not some fantasy-land are a real contribution to the problem.

  39. Sylvia Rochel, you make a very good point, and your story is quite funny. I do think, however, that your “host mother” WAS in fact quite rude. Not because she treated you like a child. 1. She criticized your parents to you, which is a no-no regardless of culture ESPECIALLY to a “child”. 2. Even had you been from the same community, there are enough differences between families that for her to react so harshly to your failure to act up to her unstated expectation was already an issue. Knowing that you are from a different community made it all the more incumbent on her to explain “how we do things here”.

    By the way, your story also shows that even in a country / community where there is a certain culture, there is a wide level of variation in how people handle things. After all the other host parents obviously did NOT share your host mother’s attitude about appropriate schedules and transportation, or you would not have been allowed to leave so late, and someone would have insisted that your chaperon make arrangements for your transportation back to your host family.

  40. I have never been to Israel so cannot comment on the rudeness or lack of it there. I have, however, observed the behaviour of Israeli tourists in India, in Goa and Himachal Pradesh, and it is often atrocious. I am not trying to be anti-Semitic, ethnocentric or racist. This is simply what I have observed and it has been very painful to observe this behaviour.

  41. 1) Canada is not America. Different regions in America have different cultural behavior. Same is true for cultures within Canada. I find it disingenuous that someone can find Trudy’s comments to be patronizing, offensive or stereotypical while continuing to cast their arguments to her as being about Americans or even worse saying that Canada is essentially the “same” as America. It isn’t.

    2) I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the “fryer” cultural aspect. There is a distinct culture in Israel that is about not being a fryer, and this leads to behavior that many would consider rude. If you let someone cut ahead of you at the bus stop or put their wagon in line the minute they get to the makolet (and then proceed to do their shopping while holding their place), then YOU are the fryer. It is not THEM being rude.

  42. sylvia_rachel says

    @Kayza Zajac — oh, I agree, my “host mother” had issues. It should never be considered OK to bad-mouth a child’s parents in front of the child. Also, I had already stayed with many host families (on that trip and others) by that time, and my family had hosted many kids, and all my experiences up to that point had reinforced that you cut a visitor or exchange student some extra slack. However, it was also emphasized always that as a guest, you should be as polite and considerate as you can; I do think that I should have asked if there was a time by which I should come “home”, or at least stated a time when I planned to be back (I’m afraid I can’t remember whether I did that or not — it was 20 years ago…). And I forgot to mention before that she was not Australian — she and her husband were from Yorkshire in the UK, although they had lived in Oz for many years and raised their children there. I don’t know what factor(s) made her react the way she did. Apart from that incident she was very nice to me, as were all my host families on that trip: but they all treated me, and their own kids, in a way I would have considered more appropriate to a younger child.

    The other thing to remember is that there are kind people and awful people in every country, in every city … probably in every family ;). Generalizing is fun, and it has its uses, but it’s never going to be 100% applicable to every case…

  43. OK, I cannot possibly read all the comments so I might be repeating myself! I have a hard time adjusting to some Israeli manners as well. Some things are outright rude. But I do wish we could have some of that assertive manner when we need to defend ourselves from worldwide pressure to surrender our positions.

  44. MiI: I don’t think you’d have as easy a time finding someone who would open their wallet and give you CASH in NYC, though.

  45. “I wish Americans would stop acting fake friendly and making fake greetings at the entrance to every store, but I can’t see that changing any time soon either.”

    Fake politeness is a hell of a lot better than real rudeness.

  46. And for the record, I find East Coast American culture to be on the rude side too. In my experience, Bostonians would run over their grandmother to get ahead on the highway, and New Yorkers seem to have no filter, if they think something it comes out of their mouth. And my own West Coast culture is completely devoid of modesty in any sense of the word. It is perfectly normal here to dress pre-teen girls in shorts that barely cover their tush (and I don’t even want to talk about what adults wear), share too much private information, and brag inappropriately about one’s children.

    Anyway, I think every group has picked up on some bad habits that need attention. It’s not just Israelis.

  47. Trilcat: Hmm, guilty as charged. Someone did once ask me for $20 in NYC and promised he would pay it back (!) and of course I believed him. So I opened my wallet and gave it to him.

    Surprisingly, I didn’t ever see that money come back…

  48. Fern

    I’d rather take rudeness from someone who has risked their own life and/or the lives of their family members to defend me (so really, they do care about me deep down) and then fake greetings from someone who really deep down couldn’t care less about me.

    Context is everything. The original commenter was not willing to see the rudeness in the larger context of Israeli society. If you live here long enough, you understand it and learn to work around it and even manage to change it for some.

  49. Abbi–I don’t think the larger context of Israeli society justifies some of the rude behavior Israelis partake in, which is the point I tried to make in my first comment on this post. It’s just a cop out for bad behavior. The scenario you set up is a red herring. First, the only two choices are not fake politeness or rudeness from an Israeli that has served in the military. And second, the rudeness that pervades Israeli society is not limited to people who have seen combat, or even served in the military at all.

    I would hope that Israelis resist letting the evil people who would gladly murder them dictate how Israelis act. They should go to an extra effort to act civilized in the midst of the chaos that swirls around Israel as an act of defiance. As the ultimate “screw you” to those countries who want to destroy Israel.

    In contrast to what Trudy reported about her fears of what tourists must think, the most common thing I hear from people who didn’t know very much about Israel before visiting is pure amazement that Israelis carry on such normal lives. In my opinion, the more Israelis live normal lives, with behavior that is “normal” (and by that I don’t mean America-clones) and not shaped by their existential circumstances, the more they will be able to positively impact visitors and win over new friends and allies. Not to mention that Israelis will enjoy life more when they receive good customer service, interact with polite children, are treated respectfully on the bus, etc, etc.

  50. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to explain their perspective.
    ra–Thank you for visiting. I’m embarrassed about the behavior of my compatriots in your country.
    Offwinger–thanks for your visit. Yes, that is definitely a factor.
    Israelis will never be as “well-mannered” as North Americans. There are different cultural norms and expectations in each place.
    I hope we can all understand each other a little better, even if we don’t always like what we see.

%d bloggers like this: