Sunday, October 10, 2010

15 Simple Facts and Observations in Israel

1. There are cats everywhere. Theories I've heard as to why range from the need to control viper snakes to dealing with rats and mice. Regardless of the reason, you see stray cats everywhere. They are mostly not too afraid of people and usually expect food from you. On Yom Kippur, they seemed especially vocal and pushy, probably because there were not as many scraps to be had. Israelis seem very friendly to the cats. One of our neighbors regularly feeds the cats that hang out by our building. The cats appear to favor a particular location, and I've become familiar with some specific cats that hang out in various spots around town. But most of the cats here also carry diseases, and we've instructed the kids to look but not touch them.
This poor cat is injured. He hangs out next to my car most of the time.
Here he is by the back door of our building.

This is my favorite cat by the office. I see him just about every day.

2. Cash is more common than in the US, and credit cards are eschewed in many places. But, don't try paying for something small with a big bill. They prefer small bills. The largest bill is 200 shekels, worth about $50, and most vendors complain if you pay for something small with such a large bill.

3. The food tends to be fresher here. People have smaller refrigerators that they refill more often. Most people seem to shop several times a week, buying less than we do in the States. Fruits are locally grown and only available in season. I have not ever seen canned vegetables or fruit served in a restaurant, on pizza or anywhere else, and even the corner tiny restaurant served homemade pasta when I ordered a bowl of penne. We've been to a couple of unbelievable restaurants here, and even the cheap corner falafel stand can be counted on for culinary satisfaction. Israel is way ahead of the States in the food department. Hands down winner. Bucking the trend and not nearly as good here are beef (not enough to graze on in the desert?), broccoli (so much for my favorite stir fry dish), and corn on the cob (we're spoiled by locally grown corn on the cob in Owings Mills). We have not found skim milk here and few reduced fat foods, although Israelis on average appear thinner than Americans.

4. You cannot buy a wireless router in Israel. I know. I tried. The WiFi router in our house is so weak, that I can't get the signal in the room around the corner. I'm having my cousin bring me an 802.11n router (time capsule, actually) when she visits.

5. It is not that easy for an adult to find a soccer team in Tel Aviv. You can go to the Yarkon park on Friday afternoons, but you may have trouble getting into a game. After 5 weeks of trying, I finally made it onto a team, and proceeded to injure my foot within 40 minutes. Now I'm on injured reserve.

6. It seems impossible to find a live poker game in Tel Aviv. I had a few close calls, but none of them panned out. Still trying ...

7. Watch your step! There is dog poop everywhere. I'm not kidding. If you are not vigilant you will step in it. Israelis love their dogs, but many do not pick up after them. Dog poop is an unfortunate trademark of sidewalks all over the place in Israel. I'll resist the temptation to include a relevant photograph.

8. Traffic lights operate slightly differently here. When the light is green, it flashes a few times before turning yellow. When the light is red, the yellow comes on along with the red before the light turns green. For those of you who do not speak the language, a simultaneous red and yellow traffic light means "floor it!" in Hebrew.
The yellow light turns on before the red turns to green.
9. It did not rain for the first 52 days we were in Israel. On the 53rd day, we had bad thunderstorms for half an hour, and then the sun came out.

10. Israelis give extremely high priority to elderly, to babies and to the infirm. Here's an example. At the post office, you take a number and typical wait about 20-30 minutes to be served, and you cannot avoid visiting the post office - that's how you pay bills, add credit to the cell phone SIM card and handle various other details. I've learned to bring reading material. The other day, there was a particularly long line ahead of me when an elderly woman with a walker came in. She had difficulty getting a number out of the dispenser because her hand was shaking. One of the women in line walked up to the window and said something to the postal worker who proceeded to drop the current customer, handle the older woman, and then return to the original customer. Nobody complained. This type of catering to weaker people is commonplace, and I've seen it numerous times. A parent with a small baby will almost always be moved to the front of any line, especially if the baby is screaming. On one occasion, I was tempted to ask our kids to try to misbehave a little louder because I was quite certain we would be advanced in line, but looking around at the other Israeli children, I did not think we could compete.

11. At the supermarket, the shopping carts are linked to each other with small metal chains. To extract a cart, you insert a 5 shekel coin into a slot on the cart thus releasing it, and that coin remains in the cart while you shop. To recover your coin, you must attach the cart back to the other carts. It's an ingenious system that ensures that people will put carts away and that Americans who are new to the system will realize they left the 5 shekels in the cart as soon as they get home.

12. There is recycling in Israel, but it takes a real effort. Scattered around town are these large metal cages with holes just big enough to stick in plastic bottles. Those who care to recycle have to collect their plastics and then carry them a block or two to these recycling cages to dispose of them. Apparently, much of the recycling operation in Israel is controlled by organized crime.

13. Keys are different here. On most standard house keys, the key is more of a female than keys in the US. The grooves are on the inside of the key, whereas a standard house key in the US is male and bares its grooves on the outside.
Our house key.
14. There has been no real estate downturn in Tel Aviv. Prices only go up.

15. Sunday is a regular workday here. The kids have school on Fridays, but everyone else is off; the university is closed, and there is no mail delivery. One of my colleagues at the university told me that Friday morning school is the best Israeli invention, as the parents get to hang out for brunch, there's no work, and you get a 4 hour break from the kids, who get home around noon that day.