As I write this blog post, I am sitting in a small village in the north of Israel at a friend’s mother’s home. This is the first weekend that I have spent away from Jerusalem since I arrived in this complex country. It has been a refreshing change of pace to be away from the city I currently call home for a couple days. While my experience so far has been enriching, there are definitely some customs and ways of living that I have picked up on and am slowly starting to adopt.
Starting with the first day of Hebrew class, which feels much longer than only a month ago, I’ve noticed interesting differences with the driving culture here. In America, if you want to cross the street you wait for all the cars to go by and then do so when there is an opening. Here in Israel, at least by our dorms, I have noticed that cars will slow down abruptly and stop for you if it looks like you are waiting to cross the street. Now this isn’t a major discovery that I have found, but it is these little things that I have begun picking up on.
A second cultural difference I have found is the use of phones here in Israel. Not unlike America, many people have them and many have smart phones; however, rather than texting someone when you have a question or for a quick conversation, everyone here talks on the phone. I see way more people having phone conversations walking down the street, riding the bus or train than I do back home. In fact, many employees of stores or business will talk on the phone while they work. Back home, this would certainly not be an acceptable but practice, but here it is simply the norm.
Another aspect of this country that constantly catches my attention is something I actually already knew about from the one previous trip I had taken here the winter of my freshman year, and that is the cats. Similar to the U.S., people here have cats as house-pets. In fact, my friend’s house where I am currently staying does. But, when you walk into his backyard you do not just see his family’s cat, but also four others that came from who knows where. And, if you walk out onto the street, you will see two more cats. Walk five minutes down the road and there are another three. Many people equate the cats here to squirrels back home. But I have never taken a different path to my dorm to avoid a squirrel. In the student village, an apartment complex where many international students including myself reside, there are at least ten cats that live there. Every single day I walk past them rummaging through the garbage, licking themselves clean, or simply giving me the evil eye (I personally believe all cats are just plotting a way to take over the world, but that is for another post). For the people who have lived here for a long time, and even for some of my classmates, the cats are simply an everyday nuisance they barely recognize. But for me, I still become startled at night when a cat comes running out of the bush chasing after another screaming.
The final major difference that I will discuss in this post is my experience going to see a movie in theaters last night with my friend in the northern city of Haifa. This city, the third largest, has one main, gigantic movie theater located in the mall. Containing 23 screens, this theater had many features that are not present back in Indiana. First of all, every kind of movie has two ticket options: the normal (priced relatively the same as back home) and a VIP option (about double the price as the normal). Now I am not entirely sure what the VIP package includes, but I do know I saw a separate concessions stand and I think even separate theaters to view the films.
In addition to the typical “normal” viewing and “3D” viewing, they also had a “4D” option, which my friend informed me meant that the chairs moved in response to the movie. I did not have the opportunity to experience this at the time, but it is now high up on the list as something I wish to do. Another difference is that instead of simply having general admission seating, when you purchase your ticket you actually choose a row and are assigned seats to sit in in that row (something my friends from LA have told me happens there, but this was the first time I had ever seen it). The last major difference here is that instead of leaving out the same door that you walk in at the end of the movie, there is a separate exit that leads to a hallway a floor beneath the theaters. This is a smart measure that Israeli theaters have taken to ensure that patrons cannot simply slip into another movie (a practice I know to be quite common back home).
Israel is an extremely unique country. It combines incredibly ancient landmarks and places with modern design. In many ways the culture is similar to that of America-almost everyone speaks at least some English, American music can be heard everywhere, and they are quite familiar with American pop culture. However, as I have discussed so far, there are some noticeable differences in the way the society functions. Overall, experiencing this is truly beginning to open up my mind to different ideas. This month for me can be summed up well in one word: change. As promised in my previous post, I will finish each blog with teaching a new Hebrew word. This week’s is שינוי, “change.