Thursday, November 16, 2017

In college I studied about The Yanomami of the Amazon. Some cultural anthropologist had gone to live with them and written an ethnography about their culture and their ways. It sounds so complicated and exotic. Until I realized I can play cultural anthropologist and report here on the culture and observed ways of The Israeli's of "The Land".  And I can do it all before lunch. 

First of all, "The Land". Yes, Israeli's refer to Israel as The Land. Where are you from? I am from here, from The Land. 

You can learn a lot about the inhabitants of The Land by spending a few minutes on line in the local pharmacy. Whole shelves dedicated to lice treatment and dry scalp evoke images of Pharoah having a last laugh as he chases out Hebrews from the Nile Basin to a place where the water is so filled with limestone there isn't one Israeli who is not plagued with doubt as to whether their itchy head is a result of actual lice or of limestoney-water-induced-dry-scalp. 

Israel is a small country. We do a lot with small spaces. Our local pharmacy is a great example. Not more than 12 x 12 (feet, not meters), theoretically, you can come in and wait on line. Theoretically, you can even sit in a chair while you wait. But imagine that 12 x 12 foot space filled with 5 or 6 more bodies and tell me how it's really working out. Anyway, in the pharmacy, there are rules.

Even though it must be obvious you cannot light up in the adjoining medical clinic (there are no signs about smoking out there at all), it could be that there is a strong urge to smoke while waiting in the small pharmacy area. And so you are warned. Maybe you want to smoke while you talk on the phone. A forbidden combination.

In fact, no talking at all. I call this the "No Israeli's allowed" sign. They give a lot of explanation with it to really convince why you need to follow these rules.
In case you didn't notice it the first two times, remember not to smoke and talk on your phone while in the pharmacy.

In the Torah, The Land is described (by Gd, to  Avraham) as being from the West to the East to the North and to the South. So I guess it's in this spirit of inheriting The Land that the signs are placed on all four walls of the pharmacy. Because who knows which blessed direction your eyes may wander as you reach for that trusty smoke...
Now there are rules of privacy which, as a pseudo cultural anthropologist, I would guess are written because they run counter to the nature of the population they are targeting.
But maybe the writer of the rules also knows not to expect too much from his audience. The 4 x 3 (foot) space in which you stand is an officially defined orb of "personal space" the pharmacy is trying to impose on you. Anyone who has changed or withdrawn money in this country knows that personal space is not a natural part of the Israeli cultural norm. So even this small demand may be hard for some to follow...
Israelis really believe in this special honey that wards off colds in the winter. I have a friend in Brooklyn who often asks me to send her some of it. It translates to something like "little bit of strength". We welcome winter with greetings of "A healthy winter to you" and we load up on little bits of strength. But for kids, we (of course) turn that strength into a Jelly Candy vitamin. I had to cut this one out of our lives because, between the strawberry chewable B-12 (they SAY it helps ward off lice) and  the white chocolate probiotic chewable, my kids were getting a little TOO excited about vitamins.
Ever seen an Israeli family hiking? Every member down to the baby is wearing a hat and carrying a water bottle. Even in the winter. And so, even in the winter, we still live in the Middle East with all its inherent UV rays.  You won't find Banana Boat  here. You will find an abundance of overpriced 50 SPF sun block.
But don't be a fryer. A fryer is that mom who is called to pick up her kid from a bat mitzvah at 10pm and 6 other kids jump into her car asking for a lift home. Where are their parents? Home, NOT BEING FRYERS. Look carefully at the price and notice the lower, significantly cheaper price. THAT is the price a non-fryer should always pay for sunscreen. Even if it is not marked as the price. Paying 89.90 NIS for sunscreen makes you a fryer. Sorry I'm digressing. Native Israelis are not fryers.
My daughter keeps bugging me to do the Psych Pineapple Challenge where you toss a pineapple from person to person while giving some free publicity to the new Psych movie. I told her it would be way funnier to toss a can of pineapple since it's definitely bigger (and cheaper) than an Israeli pineapple.

Apparently she doesn't care about real humor as much as she does about being featured on some Psych movie promo. Go figure.

I used to call this, "Hint you might be living in a third world country"

Until today. Something about the contrast between the Italian tile and the laser quality print of the sign made me think a little deeper. Like Freud deep. Like how you are pretty much shaped (or totally messed up) in the first 8 years of life. So if we take that to a national level, anyone who suffered through what passed as plumbing in the early development of the state cannot, in good conscience, NOT GIVE THIS ADVICE. Now I will tell you that you can pinpoint the age of an Israeli and the approximate year their home was built based on what they do with their toilet tissue but we can just leave off here. And you could make a coffee table book with photographs of these signs from all over The Land. West, East, North, South. They are EVERYWHERE.

This one happens to be hanging in the bathroom in Rami Levy but now that I've pointed it out to you, you'll notice it every single time and think of me.

When I first moved here, it struck me as odd that men were doing grocery shopping, doctor visits, and school drop-off with some real regularity. I simply don't come from that. For whatever it's worth, those things were generally the domain of the mom. Fast forward 8 years and I don't even give it a thought any more. Except that today I did. Two older men (like 10 years older than me - not THAT old) were catching up in the produce aisle. Something about it let me hear them chatting without tuning in to what they were saying and had me thinking, "Wow, isn't this so cute? And so Israeli - the men swapping menu ideas and shopping for produce..." when suddenly one of them turned to me and I had to quickly adjust my tuner to process his Hebrew. He was pointing to the cucumbers and talking about a teaspoon. It took me half a minute but then I repeated what I thought he said back to him. Confirmed. If you put a teaspoon into your bag of cucumbers, they will last for 3 weeks in the fridge without spoiling.  The cuteness just bore fruit.

I said you could learn a lot about a people and its culture before lunch here in Israel so let me tell you what I did after Rami Levy...

I picked up 4 random strangers waiting at a bus stop for a bus or a ride - whatever comes first - to Jerusalem. This is the phenomenon of tremping. And there is a whole tremping etiquette which boils down to what was expected of children in the 1950s - trempists are to be seen and not heard. They CAN be smelled (teenage boys either smell like an excessive amount of Axe Spray or like an excessive amount of time without a shower - with NO middle ground), which is probably its own topic but this is why we have windows in the car. So I enjoyed my music with the quiet company of strangers all the way to Jerusalem and then dropped them off here and there along the way. While all kinds of people tremp, today's crew happened to be men in their late 20s-early 30s. Of course tremping etiquette kept me from asking them what they are doing out and about in the middle of the day but again, such things are really quite normal in a country with an "up to 6 day work" week where people get their own random "free day" in the middle of the week. So there's tremping.

And my destination? The furniture store. Who called me yesterday screaming that my broken chair had not only been fixed, it had been SITTING IN THE STORE SINCE LAST WEEK. And in case it wasn't clear to me, THE STORE IS NOT A WAREHOUSE.

In front of the furniture store is a parking spot for loading and unloading only. There is a special sign. I pull into the spot, put on my hazards, and walk toward the store just as a delivery truck pulls up behind my car and starts beeping. I give him the Israeli "just a minute" hand gesture

I once watched an interview with Natalie Portman and they asked her what's her favorite curse in Hebrew. She giggled and then said it and then sort of translated it. I was stunned! It was also my late father in law's favorite curse! What a coincidence! Except that it turns out, there just aren't a lot of choices. I'm not a linguist* but I'd say there are all of about two possible curses available in actual Hebrew. Now the first one is okay. You say it to a man. And you are calling him the son of a biblical inn-keeper. The second one, well, it's about your mamma. So this guy, he responds to my hand gesture with a REALLY LOUD "koos EHHHH mech". I don't think he thought he would see me again. I definitely don't think he thought I would come out of the furniture store one minute later with a chair on my back and walk straight up to his window never relinquishing eye contact and ask him, What was that you wanted to tell me regarding my mother? He mumbled an apology while I extolled the virtues of patience (Savalanooooot, Habibi. Savlanoooot) and made my way back to the car. He backed up his truck to give me space to open my trunk. My new friend, the impatient truck driver, who is just like Natalie Portman and my father in law, of blessed memory. Just to the extent that they are all Israeli.

*UPDATE: yeah, that curse (like all the others anyone ever uses) is in Arabic as well. I SAID I WASN'T A LINGUIST! Anyway, don't take it from me, take it from Natalie! 

Monday, February 20, 2017

swirling thoughts #236 - the thoughts are swirling in multiple languages

So I've been busy. Studying to become an English teacher. Which is good because, compared to my Hebrew, my English is GREAT. The crazy thing is half my teachers are British so I'm also learning a second language as they casually lay these rare linguistic bombs on me as if they are totally normal. Like "streaming cold". Even the dictionary acknowledges it as "British":
British attributive (of a cold) accompanied by copious running of the nose and eyes.
‘she's got a streaming cold’
Meanwhile, I'm standing firm with my grammar teacher that a New Yorker never has to use the present perfect tense, ever. Even if we've just seen the Queen we will say, I just saw the Queen. Whereas the Brits really need to keep to proper form and announce, "I've just seen the Queen."
But I digress.

So in order to become an English teacher in Israel, one has to not only accept the yoke of the Queen's English, one must be able to operate smoothly in Hebrew. After all, there are parents meetings, Ministry of Education-bureaucratic-fun-stuff, and of course, the teachers' lounge! And towards this higher calling, actually a life goal of mine, which I will always and forever refer to from here on in as "operating smoothly in Hebrew", I spent the last week studying like crazy for a Hebrew Proficiency Exam.*

Somewhere in the middle of all this I had occasion to visit the hardware store.  As I looked up and saw SKAY SPRAY it occurred to me that 1. SKAY is not a word in English (irrespective of the gross things Urban Dictionary has to say) 2. The translation of SKAY into the exact same thing in Hebrew made me know the inevitable truth - Israelis think SKAY SPRAY means something in English. I took the SKAY SPRAY to the counter and asked what it is. They read the label and said it is some kind of spray for the inside of the car.

And there it hit me. I saw those meaningless words in English and never even thought to read the rest of the label in Hebrew. ME! Who strives to operate smoothly in Hebrew! I went back to the shelf and then I started noticing the pictures on the products that didn't have any English at all. But like really noticing the pictures and trying to figure out what the products were based on the pictures alone. Because if there is no English on the product, it's like I'm missing one of my senses and so my ability to hyper-focus on the graphic is intensified. Who even needs to read Hebrew when you can discern graphics with this kind of precision?

This is something I'm pretty sure is called "3D perfect vision granules for viewing nature"

 This is "Digging to the Earth's Core Gel"

 This needed no figuring out because, Duh! It's Dizidor!

 This is "Fragrant Fireplace Aroma Air Freshener for Stubborn Gym Smells"

 This, of course, is "Make America Great" Spray

 I love this! It's "No More Lonely Plants!"

This is for when the plants have had enough

This is "Parrot Spray"

 This is "Rat in a Box"

Or as we say in English, "Ratrim Blox"

 Google Translate, Dictionary.Com and even Urban Dictionary are not really helping with the relevant meaning in Hebrew or English of SKAY SPRAY
And now that I'm thinking about it, I'll bet those guys behind the counter only guessed at it based on the steering wheel in the graphic.

 This one's my favorite and where has it been all my life?
"Snail Polish"

 And just in time for Purim, "Spray on Muscles"

When I took this picture in the pharmacy and explained to the pharmacist about my post, he looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. (note to self, must post about "everything unknown to Jews is referred to as Chinese" another time). Evidently, when one really does master "operating smoothly in Hebrew" these graphics fade to the background and the Hebrew jumps out and explains the use of the product (in this case, it is for back pain and not to combat bad breath).  Until I reach that moment of rapture, I will enjoy my ignorant giggles.

*I took three practice exams, learned about 200 new words, finally learned the difference between "to sacrifice" and "to visit the Caribbean" (it's just one letter off), I studied Curious George in Hebrew like it was a Holy Text - my kids dared not lose my page, I read all the school emails in their original Hebrew form, I read all my Israeli Groupon offers in their original Hebrew form - aside from my fun at the Hardware Store, I embraced the challenge of becoming one who operates smoothly in Hebrew. So I can teach the Queen's English to Israeli students, כמו שצריך