Thursday, September 30, 2010

do you see me standing in line here?

To wrap up a visit with family over the September holidays in Paris, Prague and Zilina, Slovakia, we stopped in Greece for a few nights.  We're on Rhodes island at the moment, at the Sheraton.

Turns out all of Israel came here too.  Kids are running up and down the halls yelling, while families are leaving their room doors open and talking with their loudest voices....

At breakfast this morning I grab a glass and step up to the fountain to fill it with water.  A couple with a stroller are standing in front filling their water bottle, so I wait patiently.  As they step away, another guy steps right in front of my and puts his glass under the water spout.  To which I replied, "Seriously?  I was in line here first!"  After he finishes filling his glass he says, "oh, sorry,"  with an Israeli accent, then walks off. 

While he does not represent all Israeli's, nor do the loud families in the halls, or the parents who let their children keep on screaming in the dining room instead of taking them out and teaching them that certain behavior is unacceptable in public, it gets harder to reserve judgement when patterns emerge.  Of course, the Germans in Thailand had their own selfish behaviors - throwing their stuff on all the beach chairs at 8am, then leaving them for hours at a time unused and unavailable to others. 

I can't help but wonder though, that if it is so important to many Israeli's to present a different image on the international stage, why don't they start at the grassroots level by changing individual behavior, especially when they go abroad and/or interact with foreigners?  I realize that accomplishing this is a sociological challenge, but one option might be to include education of other cultural norms in the K-12 school system, to raise awareness of how behavior can be interpreted differently by different cultures.  I'm not saying that Israeli's need to change.  It may help, however, to understand the role that their own actions play in others perceptions. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Emotional Intelligence

From Wikipedia, "Emotional intelligence (EI) describes the ability, capacity, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived grand ability to identify, assess, manage and control the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

I am finding that functioning in Israel can take a fair amount of emotional intelligence, and emotional energy. 

A few days before we moved into our apartment, the owners called us and tried to change the terms of our agreement by offering to leave the TV for 3,000 shekels (about $800).  As this was the very first item we asked to be left during our initial meeting with the owners back in May, we were more than a bit peeved.  After reminding her that we were 100% certain that they had agreed to leave it along with the patio furniture, she let it go.  But needless to say, everything in Israel seems to be a negotiation on a good day, a battle on most others.

My first visit to the shuk hakarmel (the tel aviv market), resulted in my ability to catch one vendor trying to rip me off (he told a guy in hebrew 15 shekels for asparagus, then told me 20 in english).  When I told him to forget about it, and that I was irritated by his attempt to rip me off, he gave them to me for 12.  Who knows how many times I didn't catch someone trying to take advantage of me.  But my overall spend still seemed less than the grocery store for fruits and veggies, so here's hoping I did ok.
Mindless tasks in the U.S. take a high degree of attention and focus here.  Sometimes I get so tired of it I'd rather not go out and have to interact. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

apparently you CAN fight city hall

Tel Aviv residents are allowed a resident parking sticker, making street parking free in your zone, and about 10% of the price in other city zones.  Dan got his back in early July.  But when we requested mine, they rejected it because each car needed to be linked to a separate employee and paycheck. Most professionals in Israel are given a company car by their employer, and pay a small amount out of their monthly paycheck. This is what the city uses to validate their application and issue the sticker.  But both of our cars are under Ford Motor Company, under Dan.  The city said a resident/employee is only allowed one sticker (assumption being that without employment, you'd never have a car I guess, and a single employee would certainly never have two cars!).  However, we both pay city taxes, so we were prepared to fight.

After a month and a half of waiting in city hall lines, phone calls that no one answers, an appeal to the Tel Aviv municipal authority, a rejection, ratcheting our complaint up the food chain, and general all around noise-making - success! 

They delivered my Tel Aviv resident parking stickers yesterday morning at 8am, by messenger!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

wireless, wireless, where have you gone?

Internet access has not exactly met my expectations here.  In a country that boasts one of the biggest high-tech industries around the world, I expected internet to be a given, like water and electricity.  While it IS widely available, it is NOT reliable.   The concrete building construction isn't helping, nor is the lack of thinking during building to ensure different floors in the same apartment can receive signals.  Between the lack of thoughtful wiring and lack of power outlets in useful places, accessing the web and setting up other electronics has been a challenge, to say the least. 

This is impacting our Vonage phone as well.  Over the course of several hours, internet will go from flying, to crawling, to crapping out completely, then picking up again.  So, bear with us, if you've tried to call or Skype from the States.  There's only so much time one can spend with unreliable technology before you're ready to throw it off your 6th floor balcony (or at least lock it up in a room and leave the problems for another day).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ford Global Week of Caring

Yesterday Dan and I joined Triwaks, his PR firm here in Israel, to participate in an afternoon of community service, as part of Ford Motor Company's Global Week of Caring where over 11,000 employees and associates around the globe volunteer during company time. 

Triwaks organized an afternoon for us at the Tel Aviv Safari (zoo), where we met with the lead veterinarian, Dr Igal Horowitz, and worked with his staff to clean some large walk-in bird cages and then hang branches for the birds to swing on while they recover from surgeries. 

The animal hospital there was opened in the last 10 years, planning to see about 200 animals per year.  It now sees over 2,000 annually!  The vet said that awareness and attention to wildlife in Israel has grown exponentially in the past 12 years or so. 

Oh, and that little creature I found on the sidewalk a few weeks back - that was a hedgehog.  They are quite common here. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"ha mora" (the teacher)

Had an interesting experience in hebrew class during our last week.  Our teacher (who is a wonderful teacher, by the way), asked our class why we came to Israel and what impressions of Israel exist in our home countries.  The general consensus was that the media in all our countries (US, Norway, Ukraine, Germany, UK, Canada) did not reflect Israel in a positive light.  Well, this really hit a nerve for her.  She came in to class the following day and spent the first half hour of class telling us how upset she was by what we had told her (can't imagine her previous classes provided different feedback).  She felt that it is not fair how the media in other countries portray Israel's political actions.  Well, who ever said the media has a monopoly on the truth?  No surprises here.  As my high school physics teacher used to tell us, "it's all relative."

What was interesting was how upsetting it was to her; how careful she feels Israel is to lead by moral example in this region, particularly from a humanitarian stand point.  She believes that Israel is grossly misunderstood.  Her identity is so closely tied to Israel that this was extremely personal for her.  I've seen this blurring of personal identity and country here much more than I have in the U.S., or in other countries.

I certainly have felt both pride and embarrassment at American news and actions, but I can't think of a time that it has interacted with my sense of self. 

It was suggested to me that a key difference is that as a smaller country, there is a stronger sense of defensiveness when feeling misunderstood than for citizens in a country that is a leading world power. 

I am curious - what impressions do you have of Israel and more importantly, why?  Where did your impressions come from?
If you're not sure, or want to learn more, I am extending an open invitation to come and decide for yourself what Israeli's are like.  We have a spare room now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

blew a fuse

You may or may not be aware that outside the U.S., they use different electrical settings.  This means that you can't just plug in U.S. electronics here.  Computers and cell phones are already designed for use around the world, so all you need is an adapter for the shape of the plug into the wall.  But for appliances (coffee makers, blenders, hand mixers, etc) you need to know the watts and volts, and buy an appropriate transformer.  Well, we thought we did.

Last week Dan plugged in his coffee maker, excited to have coffee at home for the first time.  He double checked the watts used by the coffee maker, and the maximum the transformer was able to handle.  The coffee maker was 500 watts and the transformer was for 1600 - plenty of wiggle room (which is recommended).  As he plugged it in, we heard a loud "pop" sound, and that was the end of that.

Today he wanted an ice coffee.  So out came my cuisinart blender/mixer.  He plugged it in and "pop"!  That was the end of my blender.  Only this time he blew all the power on the 6th floor (for once I'm happy that our 5th floor is wired separately from the 6th).  We're now waiting for the electric company to send a guy over, because flipping the breakers in the apartment did nothing for us, and the ones in the basement for the building are behind lock and key. 

Oh the joys of relo....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

shana'a tova!

Last night we celebrated the Jewish New Year with dinner at Uncle Igor's house in Nes Ziona, about a 40 minute drive from our place in Tel Aviv, going southeast.  Everyone had a half day of work yesterday (like Friday's, when they're getting ready for shabbat), and today is a holiday. Rosh HaShana'a (which literally means "head of the year" in hebrew) lasts 48 hours, so with the way the holiday falls this year, it ends when shabbat begins, which means another day and a half of closed stores and empty roads afterwards. 

I went to the Shuk HaKarmel (the big street market in Tel Aviv) yesterday and came home with a backpack full of fruits and veggies for 140 shekels ($37).  Then we took a cooler with us on our way to Igor's so we could stop at the Tiv Tom near his house and buy some meat and dairy.  We try to go out there because the city only has smaller, more expensive grocery stores.  Tiv Tom is a big chain here, opened by russian immigrants.  It is not kosher, so you can buy shrimp and pork there, and they stay open a few hours later.  It is on the higher end, so it looks a lot like a large Whole Foods.  Hope this food will last, because everything is shut down now until Sunday.

There were about 20 people at Igor's.  Aunt Nechama cooked a traditional meal.  It starts with a series of appetizers that are the same every year, as each item represents something.  A prayer is read before each item is passed.  (Although there was discussion that Nechama's brother, who was trying to get through the readings over the chatter at the table, wasn't even reading the correct blessings).  The most well known of the foods passed around is the combination of apples and honey.  This is a wish for a "sweet" new year.  They also pass some foods that are savory (or sour) like zuccini to which you are also supposed to add honey to make the new year sweet.  There were also pomegranite seeds and fresh dates (not dried).  Then came a first course of more traditional foods - fish cakes (gefiltefish), liver pate, boiled eggs, roasted veggies and garlic (yum!), potato salad, and lettuce and tomato salad.  Soup came next, and this of course was matza ball soup.  When you didn't think you could fit any more food in, out came the mains - beef stew, chicken over potatoes, and several rice dishes.  It's a good thing they took an hour break before bringing out the honey cake and ice cream cake!

As you have just read, it sounds a lot like an American Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Get the family together, eat until you pass out, then eat leftovers for a week. 

The one difference I noticed was that while family travels to be together (the road traffic is WORSE than the day before Thanksgiving in the U.S.), people don't stay over.  We left at 11:30pm, and got caught in the traffic jam of a lifetime on the highway.  Except instead of sitting in it like we would have in the U.S., we joined dozens of other vehicles that pulled into the breakdown lane and then backed up about half a mile to the last turn off.  Can you IMAGINE?!?!? 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

We're in!

We move in last Sunday with the help of 5 Russion guys from Ocean Moving.  They arrived around 11am; couldn't get the truck on our street, so started the process by carting everything from about 100 meters (yards?) up the street and around the corner. 

Remember, it was still August - the sun was beating down on them, tshirts soaked in the first 5 minutes.  Once in the building, they had to bring everything up to the 6th or 5th floors in 2 tiny elevators (they fit about 4 people, 6 uncomfortably) without A/C.

Dan took the ground floor location to direct them to the correct floor and check off each box as it went in from our list of 250 items.  I took the apartment level position, directed the movers to specific rooms, and spent the first 4 hours ripping protective packing off items with the box cutter.  There was a mountain of paper wrapping in the entry (this pic only shows about half of it).  You never know how respectful movers are going to be with your property, but these guys were great about taking down the paper as I unwrapped it, moving things from one floor to another without complaining, and keeping a pleasant attitude (except for one guy, but there's always one bad apple). 

Mid afternoon a lift arrived in the back parking lot.  They loaded our king mattress on it and mechanically elevated it to the 5th floor balcony where they took it in through the sliding glass doors.  They also brought up one set of shelves this way.  But that's it.  Two items!  All the rest came by cart, elevator, and heavy lifting.

They got it all in before 4pm, then spent an additional hour re-building our beds, dining room table, coffee table, and desks.