I moved to Israel six years ago. How that happened:
I am Jewish (you probably guessed) and bought into the idea that it is our ancestral homeland.
After being taken on one of those free two weeks tours, I became captivated by the country and planned to move there. It took a few years of planning for that wish to come to fruition.
To be honest, I still believe in Jewish people's right to be here and that a Jewish country is the only natural environment for a Jew (particularly an observant one) to live in. I just happen not to like the one country that fits that criteria very much, or many of its citizens - and that also happens to be the country I live in!
I also believe that is Israel's responsibility to help realize a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian "problem". In my view, that is not reconcilable with endlessly occupying the land they live on and subjecting them to military law. But that aside...
The Israel I visited as a tourist and the Israel I live in as a citizen are like two completely countries. So much so that if I were a conspiracy theorist (I am not!), I would practically believe the whole thing was an illusion.
Manners (Or Lack Thereof)
For whatever reason, manners are virtually absent here
The stereotypes are 100% true.
Maybe I missed that earlier? I'm not sure, because some people with parents who were born here have told me that people have become ruder and more aggressive over the years. I tend to believe it.
You buy stuff in the market and shopkeepers just glare at you and slam your change on the counter without even bothering to say "thank you"
I feel like if someone tried that in NYC they might be asking for a fight!
Not a single person in my building knows how to close their door. My table jars every few minutes from the vibration of people slamming their doors.
People play music at all hours. And blare private conversations over their phone's loudspeakers because they can't be bothered bringing the handset to their ears. This varies a little by city (Tel Aviv is slightly more refined), but in general the culture is incredibly inconsiderate. Shouting is very commonplace (of course, it's just a "friendly argument"), honking on the roads is incessant, and people are too inpatient and inconsiderate to be able to form a queue. People will push grandmothers out of the way to get on a bus sooner. If it weren't sad, it would be funny. Social cohesion is sorely lacking
, IMO, as evidenced by the massive amount of splinter and minority parties that form before every election.
Everybody is in a tribe or, if not, an "enemy" (read: an Arab).
The sad and blunt truth is that it's a crude, racist society
that even has a problem with some of its own (see: treatment of Ethiopian Jews).
(BTW, this is something that gets discussed a lot among Jews that voluntarily move here. People come up with all manner of BS excuses to justify it. "It's directness." No, it's atrocious manners. "There are no words for basic courtesies in Hebrew". Yes, there are - open a dictionary! "It's Middle Eastern". Travel to Egypt and Jordan. People have manners there. Unfortunately, most people that have negative things to say about the country get silenced by the aggressive "nothing can be wrong here" brigade.)
Prices are insanely high
and, as far as I can tell, the situation is only getting worse.
Generally, those prices are for crappy products imported from China and heavily marked up. Or the local stuff sold by a company that is part of an oligopoly and would never survive in a free market environment. Customer service is almost non-existent - or at least, has the local twist which is "the customer is always wrong".
And of course - those wonderful overpriced products and services are sold to you by often rude ungrateful people. Working here also flat out sucks
The world has bought into the myth that Israel is a land of amazing startups where everybody is swimming in opportunity.
The reality is that more than 90% of the economy is employed in protectionist dysfunctional companies and Israel has one of the lowest per-capita productivity rates in the OECD
(feel free to check the numbers - it's late at night here and I'm trying not to lose the 'flow' of this). It's capitalism with all the benefits taken out. The socialist/kibbutznik backbone that formed the society is dead. Income inequality, as measured by the Geni coefficient, is among the highest in the world.
If you're not a Java developer or help run one of the ports (don't ask - monopoly!) you can expect to be paid a salary roughly a third lower than the West - while living in one of the most expensive countries in the world. A good chunk of immigrants here are employed in scam industries, including (but not limited to) binary, forex, and other international "scams." They attempted to regulate these, but due to corruption and cronyism, largely failed. Just as they attempted to pass a fair rental law which had about the same result.
To add insult to injury ****, Israelis are C-H-E-A-P***\
* in my opinion (given the pejorative Jewish-money stereotypes, I realize that this is something that would be problematic/difficult for a non-Jew to assert).
You see this in the workplace. You're expected to work like a slave while your miserly employer tries his best haggling skills to pay you as little as possible. Unsurprisingly, Israelis founded Fiverr and have proven very eager exponents of the offshoring model, where they can find people willing to work for even less than olim hadashim
(Jewish immigrants). Israelis love bargaining and will treat anything that involves money as a game whereby they attempt to keep as much of it as possible.
In terms of conditions - the minimum number of vacation days are 12 while the working week is 45 hours
. Again, for pretty miserable salaries. Public holidays, which are relatively few, do not roll over if they fall out on a weekend. In general, a cultural of professionalism is sorely lacking. My strongly held opinion is that the best have already left.
Also: a bunch of Israelis sponge off their families until well over their forties. The country is also awash with Jewish immigrants who mysteriously seem to survive despite never having held a job in their life. The explanation? Their familiar are sponsoring them.
Religious Coercion / Weekends
Because of the Jewish Sabbath (during which public transport does not run; shops start closing half-way through Friday), you never even really feel like you've had a proper weekend.
Property is the worst of all. Astronomically expensive. Taxes on new cars are almost 100%
so almost everybody drives beat-up second hand ones, if they have one at all (it's considered a luxury). And the standards of housing - from anybody comparing it to the West - is relatively abysmal. There's a great Facebook page with some photos of the worst rentals on the market. Even if you don't read Hebrew, just take a look at some of the photos
The first generations that came here have done a nice job at monopolizing large segments of the market and housing stock so are well taken care of.
For virtually anybody else, their future is renting
(from rude slumlords!) Hotel prices are also outrageous
, and there's the added insult of having to pay more for rooms if you're from the country
. People here literally fly to Europe because it's cheaper than staycationing in this ripoff!
Want to console yourself about that with a nice mango? Even fruit here has become expensive recently. The only thing that's cheaper here than the West is healthcare and public transport. It's a great country to be on the breadline in. To thrive financially? Not so much.
The public endlessly votes for a lying, corrupt prime minister
who has just let the parliament dissolve in his pathetic bid to avoid fraud charges.
The country is apparently rapidly descending into a religious dictatorship and nobody seems to care
- yet it still has the nerve to call itself "the only democracy in the Middle East."
The school system is failing and a segment of the population which doesn't work or paid taxes (the ultra-Orthodox) have somehow wound up in the position where they pull all the political strings.
People, for a reason I can never understand, generally seem to simply accept the status quo.
They are content with simply surviving and not being obliterated by Iran/Hamas/Hizbullah. As someone that didn't grow up in that security environment, this seems baffling to me. I feel like grabbing hold of one of Netanyahu's voters and asking him/her "That's truly all you aspire towards?"
The most that happens is some journalist (automatically branded a "leftist" by the right-wing majority) writes some article in the Opinion section of Ha'aretz. The last time people got out on the street to protest in significant numbers was years ago
(remember the cottage cheese protests?). In Greece, the riot police get called out to put down mass protests. Here, people are happy to simply survive (sort of).
Why does the average person here vote for Netanyahu?
You know, because things are so great here and some third-world tycoon has been to visit (this is advertised as "unprecedented diplomatic achievements.").
Oh, and the economy has "never been stronger" (even though the country also has an enormous poverty problem and many people are struggling to simply get by).
I have a bad habit of checking Google News every few hours.
Reading those articles just makes me angry.
But it's really nothing more than a reflection of how people are on the street. Rude. Aggressive. Argumentative. Demanding. Always in the fricking right. Also locals here literally never apologize for anything
(that would be considered too "weak" to fit in with the local culture).
There's also this weird fetish with strength and the military
here that I find disturbing. You see it in slang a lot (an "explosion" also means a good thing, like "that party was an explosion" is an idiom for "that party was a great time"). Being human (such as letting somebody cut ahead of you in line at the supermarket because they only have a couple of items) is branded as "weakness" and frowned upon
. As is having manners. To be honest, I believe that the culture here is best described as "sick".
Israel has made me feel like an old man, even though I'm far from that.
All I want, at this point, is a basic quality of life.
Things like a non-minuscule apartment in which to live. Decent professional opportunities that don't involve working for some (usually shady) startup simply trying to use my English to get some investor to pump money into them so they can offshore everything to the US. The possibility of a week's vacation in somewhere that isn't a dingy ripoff staffed by rude people! And to hear somebody say "thank you, have a nice day" when I buy an apple from them!
I travel abroad a couple of times a year and usually feel like I've stepped into another planet. It's like somebody is dispersing a fine mist of Valium from the air. Hard to put my finger on it but people just seem kind of sedate and relaxed!
People are less direct (I'll admit, I actually like the directness here!), but know basic manners, everything isn't overpriced, and people enjoy a real weekend! You can order stuff from Amazon and it actually arrives on time! Somehow, there's no shouting! People know how to actually form a line! You don't have to stand up for yourself simply to not be pushed over!
I'm planning my escape (among other things), but I have to hold this in every day until I get out. I don't feel comfortable telling this to my friends (I rebrand it as "I'm finding it difficult here" without going into details) and I can't exactly broadcast my feelings to the average person on the street.
The truth is that I'm not as miserable as I sound.
I've been doing some self-work recently just to cope with living here. Stress and all that.
My mindset has taken a shift to the positive. And I'm really grateful by how much it has helped.
But it doesn't make living here any less distasteful and actually made me much more inclined to write this here (why wouldn't I tell the world like it is - at least as I see it?).
BTW, I'm a real Reddit user but, because I'm paranoid about privacy, I set up a new account just to write this post.
So thank you, Reddit, for giving me the chance to put this into writing!
If you're also living, or have lived here, feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.
And if you haven't and are considering doing so, please take everything you have read and heard about the country with a pinch (actually, make that the entire carton-full) of salt!
Some Links / Further Reading:
I am a painter, one of those wannabe kind working on convenience store to fund art school fee and other bills. Not a grand beginning for the story, I know, but that’s life.. submitted by
Graduating from school was easy, granted the school standard isn’t that great, climbing up from being nameless artist is not. A slump after slump and I found myself stuck with the same routine of working late night behind counter waiting for the next customer. Filling the downtime with dreams of all kinds of landscape I could have painted during the day. Sadly most of it didn’t came out as good as I imagined in reality, a little bit off color here and there, fuck up with the perspective and other stuff.
So here I am; Staring at another empty canvas a few minutes before going to work, bills loitered on my feet; I don’t even bother to open them. All my attention are focused on the canvas, my supposed masterpiece to pay for all the failed ones.
Money from my parents’ death insurance have all but dried up now, I only had this empty canvas and a few others as the only way to bail out from being homeless. My family home occupied quite a large plot of land, and taxes…
There’s advice from my friend to rent some room to counteract the bills, but the thought of someone else walking inside our house, using my parents bedroom and shits on their toilet is no go for me. My social anxiety really hits at it worst.
Discarding all negative thoughts from my head. I closed my eyes; Clenching it tightly even. Brain worked hard to fill the empty dark space with a majestic landscape. Yet, what I saw is the most lackluster imagination ever.
My workplace, just a normal convenience store with nagging manager behind the counter. His face grimmed as if telling me to swap with him so he can smoke cigarette in the back alley. The only reason I was able to stand his tyranny is because of the higher than average payroll, and as if this jackass knew about it, he would work us twice as hard to take advantage of it.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s the reason why no one applied the job vacancy for another clerk. There’s only three of us working regularly apart from him. Me, James, the day-specialist, and Tom, our one way drive for all customer support. Things are okay between the three of us, our mutual dislike for the manager may be a small grease on our relationship.
James are studying for his night class law school. Already garnering enough money to last until graduation and job hunting. I once asked him why he didn’t just put the pedal on the gas and look for a more comfortable workplace; to which he answer “The moment some miserable sap took that vacancy offer you will not see me near this place again; To be honest, the only reason I’m staying is because of you and Tom. I’m still leaving after graduating though.”
Tom is one of those people seem to be bred for the purpose of customer support. Outgoing, cheerful, not blowing up when the customer asked stupid questions. On his day off he would be climbing mountains or snorkeling some mythical saltwater filled with fishes and coral I have never seen before.
His souvenir for me is always a dozen of landscape photos, which is a gold pile for me. I always found it to be pretty funny, a landscape painter who is afraid of going outside because he can't paint while someone is watching, or worried that someone might be; So he only could sit inside his room, staring at his friend’s photos before magically transferring it into the canvas.
Oh, how the wolf would howl at the moon. Desiring it despite incapable of reaching it.
There’s often times I began to question my life choices, but I no longer have any money to start learning other trades. So here I am, sitting on plastic chair with eyes closed in front of empty canvas hating my boss and contemplating my life.
Nope, this isn’t going to work. Not today at least.
I put the canvas cover back, covering my failure of creating some art worthy of a penny once again. Barely stood up before my hand phone vibrate on my desk. A message from James asking me if I’m available to replace him right now, a few hours before schedule. Apparently he just remembered an important assignment due tomorrow, and that Stalin-reborn-and-worse doesn’t allow him to work on it during downtime.
Sure, why not, I’m not doing anything productive anyway. Might as well get some extra cash.
The day was uneventful. Average number of customer, average number of unclear scolding, average number of extra hours to pay for not-so-average bills.
Tom, being an amazing person that he is. Offered a night out at local bar nearby after we closed the store. Being a poor sob that I am, rarely went out to night entertainment and currently near bankruptcy, almost instantly refuse his good intentions. The keyword is ‘almost’ , as he finished his sentence with two first drinks on his tab. Free alcohol during rough times is as good as water for fishes, and I am a big, thirsty fish right now.
The bar itself is nothing stellar, no young underage kids doing drugs or puking in the corner. Although I have to give A+ for their beverages collection.
So here I am, trying not to abuse Tom’s kindness, ordered a simple drink before he does it for me; No mixes, no fancy name, just your normal convenience store middle-class alcohol I recognized on their shelf.
The bartender gives me a stern look, as if asking what I’m doing there.
“Easy there John, he is with me. Be kind to him.” said Tom from behind me.
The so-called John just grunted and went to grab some glasses for both of us while pointing to a table in the middle of the room.
“What’s the deal with him?” I asked Tom after we sit on our destined table.
“I forgot to tell you, John only serve to old-timer and their friends. Visit a few times and perhaps he will acknowledge you as customer; if not?, better don’t try to come here without me. John is a bit eccentric, but nothing could beat his drinks.”
Now, that’s one weird business practice.
I want to ask more about it, but Tom was already busy answering greetings from fellow customer. So I had to satisfy my curiosity with a good look around the bar. Wondering how good his drinks is to be able to maintain steady flow of customer with low rate of first-timers.
A good bump on the table made me turn my head with the acceleration of Ferrari. John’s face is right in front of me once again with previous stern look, making me wonder if that’s his normal expression. His eyes are locked at me, silently ordered me to stay still on my chair and be nice.
“Thanks John, you are quick as always!” Tom already finished his greetings and nonchalantly tapping John’s shoulder without a care of showdown between us.
“Umm.. I haven’t ordered yet.” My brittle voice slowly raise a question in response of three unknown liquor John brought. Trying my best to avoid the rage of the bartender in front of me.
“Those two are your initiation drink. John will measure your worth and bravery for a fair price of half the usual, which of course, went into my tab. A great deal is it not?” Tom smirked on me, as if he just shared a surefire way to get rich quick on Forex.
I normally would jump at any deal for half the price, being as broke as homeless right now; But still,I am not that desperate enough to just accept suspicious drink for someone who is staring dagger on me, at least if he’s not twice as big as I am and the drink is payed by someone to console me.
The first drink torches my throat, and I can't remember the second one, as well as the rest of the night.
Tom’s laugh and John’s face is all I could remember before everything went fuzzy. although John’s smiling face is somewhat disturbing enough for me to doubt its accuracy. Made me seriously reconsider the value of gap moe.
I woke up the morning after with serious hangover and lack of water in my system; After bumping into all edges on my house furniture, I finally reach the fridge and get a nice cool bottled water to reinvigorate it.
Not too soon after finishing the whole bottle, I heard my phone ringtone from somewhere inside the house. I followed the sound into my bedroom, where the phone just laid itself on the bed.
The screen showed the current call is from Tom, as well as plethora of missed call and message. 13:04 is current time, damn that was one serious hangover.
I raised the phone to my ear and accept the call. Almost missing the ear-hole due to how dizzy I am still.
“Yo Tom, what’s up?”
“Your goddamn ass is up. Where the hell have you been!? “
“Well, maybe I have a hangover? Because last night someone took me to a bar and serve me some weird stuff.”
“Don’t you read my message man!? Barry is dead, they found him laid on top of the counter with store’s money scattered on top of him! The police is looking for you right now because you didn't answer their call!”
“Barry? Barry who?”
“Barry our shitty manager you slowpoke! Our boss is dead and you better call the police station right-”
I couldn’t hear what else Tom had to say, as the phone dropped to the floor as soon as I opened the canvas on the side of my bed.
Someone had moved it here from my study room, and only managed to pull cover over half of it, revealing obvious sign of a painting hidden beneath it.
A monstrous and horrifying painting, the exact same layout as I imagined it before going out to work yesterday, albeit with one addition.
A body, laid atop the counter, with blood dripping from it onto the floor. His eyes look directly to me from inside the painting with the same grim; death grim.
My knees gave out and fell to the floor. My eyes directly in front of a scratch of red paint on bottom corner of the painting. A signature.
My name is Shia.
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