This post is a combination of experiences that one could chalk up as “culture shock”.
Birthday parties in Ma’alot are simple. There are no pirate themes. No gift bags. No bounce-houses. No kiddy train-rides around the block. The invitations come hand-written on yellow “post-it” notes, or on printed on juvenile paper-stock that looks like it came from China. The invitations are given out at school a day or so before the party (so you do not forget).
The most recent birthday party was extravagant and took place on a Friday afternoon at the horse stables. All the boys got a trot around the track – the birthday boy went around 3 times! All of the other parties have consisted of random 8-year-old play (games in the house or soccer in the courtyard) and a snack or pizza with cake. Some boys bring presents – other don’t.
Business lunches are equally spectacular. There are no cocktails. No fancy dinners. There is no clever conversion. Most of the “business lunches” are spontaneous and enjoyable. The coffee is heated up, the hookah is prepped, food is served and the experience begins.
Our first business lunch was months ago on a trip with our friend Eli to see the “Melech (King) Shayish (Marble) HaTzafon (of the North)” (aka Na’eif) for Eli’s construction projects. What was served? Super-strong Turkish coffee with “hell” (Hebrew for Cardamon) in it. My wife and daughter barely slept that night and were still wired the next day.
Na’eif is a simple man and seems like a real nice guy. Some time later I found him, hair totally disheveled, standing barefoot in the bakery when I was picking up some food for Shabbat. We exchanged greetings and then when I got to the counter he insisted, “Ani mishalaym, ani mishalaym” (I will pay, I will pay.) – needless to say, I didn’t let him pay, but thanked him for his kindness.
Dr. Ploney’s name has been changed to protect the innocent. Dr. Ploney is, indeed a doctor, although you would never, never know. Why? He is Israeli.
While visiting him on a recent Shabbat, Dr. Ploney arose from his seat and dutifully announced, so as not to appear rude, “Yaish li pee-pee.” or “I have to go pee.” Another time I was in his house he emerged from his bedroom with his skivvies on and put on his pants in front of me.
Honestly, I think these events are typical of Israeli society where there isn’t the Puritanical social conditioning – but for me it counts as “culture shock”.