Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Living in Israel But Were Afraid to Ask

by Erica Shaps

It's best not to think about how many people have touched these challahs.

In a few weeks, I will be coming to the end of seven months spent in Israel. When I first arrived, I thought I was pretty familiar with the cultural differences and knew what to expect. For the most part, I was correct. But there are moments that remind me of the small differences that go unnoticed but say a lot about this complicated society that I have grown to love. So, here is a list of ten observations, in no particular order that I have made while in Israel.

Here goes:

1. I don’t care how badly you are craving Bamba or pop rock chocolate–never, under any circumstances, go to a grocery store on a Friday before Shabbat. You know what a grocery store looks like leading up to Thanksgiving? Well, that’s what it’s like every week. So unless you feel like having your toes run over by shopping carts and waiting in line for 30 minutes while a woman argues with the cashier over the cost of coffee, wait until Sunday.

2. For some reason, no two English road-sign translations match, and they often are spelled quite awkwardly. Yes, Petach Tikva and Petach Tiqwa are, in fact, the same place. Don’t ask me why signs a couple kilometers a part don’t match or why the Israeli bureaucracy cannot distinguish between a k and a q or a v and a w.

3. There is a correct way to eat hummus. Forks should never be necessary.

4. There is only one legitimate way to wash the floor: Sponga (also known as a squeegee or magav). For some reason, either no one has been brilliant enough to bring the Swiffer to Israel, or the Swiffer cannot compete with the charmingly authentic and ridiculously inefficient sponga. How does this national cleaning supply work? First, pick up everything off the floor and move all the furniture. Then, dump a pail of soapy water all over the floor and use the sponga to push the water across the house into the always inconveniently located drain. For maximum cleaning, place a rag with a hole around the sponga. You will never understand it, but eventually acceptance is unavoidable.

5. Jewish foods have different names here. Hamentaschen are oznai Haman. Latkes are leviot. Apparently, I have been using Yiddish words instead of Hebrew words for Jewish things my whole life and often didn’t realize it!

6. Buying challah at the shuk (open market) is an unsanitary art form. Pick up a challah (no gloves required of course), squeeze it to judge its freshness, and even smell it if you would like. Repeat this process until you find the challah that is just right. The same process can be applied to basically all fresh produce at the shuk. It’s okay, a few germs are good for you.

7. If you want anything approximating a fair taxi price, be ready to argue, aggressively, with the driver. No, traffic should not make this trip 35 shekels more than it did yesterday.

8. In spite of the lack of Costco or Walmart, it appears to be impossible to buy toilet paper in less than 36 packs. If anyone has counter-information please let me know, because I could use a roll or two.

9. Mattresses are not actual mattresses–at least, not where I’ve lived. Instead, they are large, thick foam pads that I lovingly refer to as “yoga mats on steroids.”

10. On a Friday afternoon before Shabbat, the only things on television are cooking shows. So, after surviving a pre-Shabbat grocery store adventure, your TV will remind you that you should be cooking Shabbat dinner. Talk about Jewish guilt.

One response to “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Living in Israel But Were Afraid to Ask

  1. Your comment about the Sponga cracked me up! It has been almost 20 years since I did my stint at a Kibbutz. I had numerous jobs, but my primary one was cleaning our living quarters, social room & classrooms. The first time I was handed the Sponga & a bucket. I seriously was befuddled. Finally , the woman I worked for begrudingly showed me how to use it. It took awhile as I got pretty heavy on the water. In fact, I might have cried. I just didn’t get why they didn’t use mops & these stupid squeegies with a rag. I was reminded that “American mops spread dirt” perhaps she had a point. Especially since it seemed from my time there, then with family, and then my boyfriend’s family that everyone had the* same tiled floors. Still,it is a pain in the butt!

    *everyone also had the same electric tea pot, lawn chairs and other regular items.

    Two other things to add:

    1-Don’t manhandle the veggies or fruit unless you plan on buying, or don’t mind getting cursed out.
    2-There is no such thing at a line. For a good example, step into a bank branch.
    3. Everything shuts down during the afternoon, a siesta of sorts

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