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How To Acclimate To A New Culture: Getting Local with Israeli Locals

When you come to Israel, you are coming to a completely different culture than what most of you are used to. In fact, the first few days you are here, you may attribute your alternate reality to jet lag. You’d be wrong. In Israel, and most Arab countries as well, there is no such thing as personal space. The locals are walking in front of you, cutting you off. They’re taking what you think is your side of the sidewalk or chair in the restaurant or place in line. That’s just being Israeli. And when you do get over your jet lag, you’ll be able to “get local with the locals” and not get upset!

So let’s go through some of the key differences in a little more depth.

Why Are Israelis So Abrupt?

This is perhaps the most obvious, as we’ve mentioned already, because it happens the minute you walk out your door. Although Israelis are amongst the happiest and content people in the world, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report for 2021, they are also the most determined. So they come across as, well, abrupt. They typically hold down multiple jobs and when not racing between them, they are running to pick up children from school, which, in Israel, typically ends at 1:30.

So, while they are rushing, whether it’s walking, driving their cars, motorized bikes, or scooters, they’re determined to get to their next appointment, drop off, or pick up on time. They may bump into you, rush past you just a tad too close, or cut you off. They’ll be totally oblivious that their behavior seems abrupt and at times, even rude. And you’ll wonder what hit you.

Israelis Give Their Opinion When It’s Not Wanted

Before you can react, that same local who jostled, bumped, or pushed you, will more often than not give their opinion about something you’re doing as well. It will come as a surprise though because it will be something kind and seemingly out of character with what they just did to you.

The locals have no problem telling you to “zip up your coat, it’s too cold!”, or “take this fruit, you’ll like it better.”

Israelis care about you even if it seems that they have no time to bother. They especially love little children. A classic scene is a 5 year old, hand in hand with a 3 year old sibling, standing at the crosswalk waiting for cars to stop so they can cross. Israel must have invented the crosswalk because every car stops for every child and adult. There are no police checking to see if cars stop. They just do. On the flip side, though, if you do something the locals think is against the rules, like spitting out a piece of gum onto the street, or slipping into a car lane in front of them, they’ll make sure to come over to you and tell you about it, whether you want to hear it or not. That’s how much they care!

Israeli Products are Smaller Than In Other Countries

Everything in Israel is smaller than what you’re used to - the stores, the cars, the streets, the apartments. When you are preparing to leave on your trip to Israel, if you can picture that your bathroom in the US will be the size of your bedroom in Israel, you’ll pack appropriately.

Size makes a difference also when you are shopping. There is no leisurely walking up and down aisles of massive big box stores. You’ll either be leaning over and grabbing behind someone in the local makolet (corner store), or playing bumper carts in the more recent larger supermarkets. In either case, you’ll have to ask for what you want in Hebrew, another key difference about being in Israel…

Speaking Hebrew Like an Israeli

Ulpan is a uniquely Israeli experience. If you are contemplating a semester in Israel, you are going to be required to take an immersive Hebrew language course called Ulpan. Israelis want you to speak their language. You can try to speak English and many people will converse with you in their broken English. But they really want you to learn Hebrew and use it because they are proud of this language which has been spoken for thousands of years and unique in its revival as the modern day official language of the State of Israel.

Bargaining Like an Israeli

Perhaps the only time it’s good to use your English is at the Shuk, or any Judaica or souvenir shop, when you’re buying something. You really need to be able to bargain, which means you always have to reject the first price the proprietor gives you. It’s a hard skill to acquire, and takes lots of guts, but it will definitely pay off in the end. Using your English lulls the shopkeeper into thinking you’re a gullible foreigner. Stand firm and always offer at least half of what the quoted price is, and you’ll be a local for sure! But you’ll never be…

A Sabra, or Native Born Israeli

(unless, of course, you were born in Israel and your parents moved away and you are now just returning - yay for you!). Being a Sabra carries with it tremendous opportunity and responsibility. Israelis love their country and the term Sabra embodies that love and dedication to Country. Even though Israel is a small country, Israelis, and especially Sabras, are big on expanding their horizons through innovative approaches to almost anything. While they have big egos and believe they know how to do everything better than you (and aren’t afraid to tell you) Israelis also have proven, time and again, that from their tiny country they can make the world a better place.

Learn more about living like an Israeli by signing up for our blog.

Thrive Study Abroad offers an immersive Israeli and Jewish experience for college students seeking to study abroad in Israel. Located on both Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University campuses, Thrive programs provide students with a deeper connection to the land of Israel, Jewish culture, identity, and each other.

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