Saturday, December 6, 2008

Some Days You Appear Smart.. Other Days You Don't

Last week, I was in Kiryat Ono (after spending 40 minutes getting there, I began to think of it as Kiryat Oh-no!). It was Friday morning, the traditional Shabbat "rush" (more like rush to the front of the line..) and I was standing in line, solidly, looking... or, maybe observing, the people around me. In Israel, "standing in line" doesn't exist. People try to rush, push, and "cut." In the U.S., this "cutting" would be unthinkable, and people would ask you to stop "cutting" and then you would become a social pariah because you "cut," something which we learned in 1st grade is one of the ultimate social crimes. Perhaps the cashier, or even the store manager, would come to chastise you. One of the things that annoys me, more than cockroaches or Israelis inability to stand in line, is what I'm going to term "line weaving." Israelis will set down a couple of items, and then leave. This, in the U.S., is almost unthinkable.. it's unimagined. Maybe if you have 200 groceries and forgot the pasta sauce, then you would go back--tell everyone in line what you were doing, and apologize profusely both before and after. When I have to go back and get something, I fully remove myself from the line--almost surgically so. If someone "line weaves" in the U.S., they inevitably come back with one or two items. In Israel, they come back with a small truck load of items, plop them down, then rush off into the din of the story. This raises my blood pressure, naturally, what if their turn comes and they're not in line--then what? Do you cut ahead of them? And really, what kind of person line weaves? Unspeakable!

Being a full-American--passport, grandparents as veterans, countless fourth-of-Julys with hot-dogs, fireworks, and potato salad, and all--I stood in line until my time. I noticed a man behind me saying, "Amerikiit, Amerikiit," and then putting it into a sentence--no biggie. When I left the store with my friend, she said, "Can you believe he was saying that you're stupid?" "What?" I asked her. "He was going on about how you were such a stupid American, standing in line and all." "How is that stupid?!? Since when is not cutting in line stupid in any country?!" I protested, with injured pride and all. 

My other "favorite thing" that they do here is come up behind you and say, "I'm after you," nod, and leave. The thing is, not just one person does this, but ten people. And how do you explain in Hebrew, "There are already ten invisible people behind me, can we really add an eleventh?!" I usually just furrow my brow and nod--as if I understand, and I'll consider it. What I'd really love to say is, "If you're after me, then actually be AFTER me." Alas. I recently found out that Chaim Herzog's wife wrote the first etiquette book in Hebrew, and I'm only hoping to learn it by heart, the way I once learned Emily Dickinson poems, so that I can spout off lines to them.. until then I'll keep grimacing. 

But, despite the fact that some crotchety old men who fought in the War of Independence actually think--and say--that I'm stupid, there are some people who you can fool more easily than others--my father being one of those people. A few days ago, I was in a fruit market, and I asked someone about tomatoes and cucumbers and where all the good oranges were, and my father was amazed--I sounded so good, so smart. It's such a relief that he's never studied, maybe even never heard, Hebrew! I could have been asking for an AK-47 and he would have had no idea--it's beautiful. He thought I sounded so smart and so good.... I only hope that I can keep on fooling him when he comes to visit. I speak Hebrew pronouncing all the syllables--one doesn't really do that--and slowly, "kind of like a bimbo," one of my friends told me. 

Later, I called it the "Arab fruit market," and my Dad asked me how I knew it was Arab. 
"Because," I told him a little condescendingly, "they were yelling at each other earlier and calling each other 'Ahmed' and 'Mahmoud,' and Jews just don't give their kids those names, Daddy."