Welcome to Israel. Where ice cold water with a freshly sliced lemon doesn’t appear magically before you, where dress codes rarely apply, and where strangers don’t hesitate to tell you how they really feel. Some may take pride in the laidback nature of Israeli way of life; others may argue that the directness and lack of customer service is a little too abrupt. Either way, there’s no doubt about it, Israel is definitely a fascinating and unique place.
Here’s just a little taste of Israeli culture:
I walked down Dizengoff with my parents and a couple of my friends and stopped in to explore a classic little Middle Eastern restaurant that has delicious warm pita and the best meatballs in Tel Aviv. We sat ourselves at a large table on the sidewalk to watch the action out on the street and waited for the waitress to bring us some menus. The waitress approached, bent down to wipe off our table, and well, unintentionally gave us a free show.
Our waitress, who was really sweet and friendly, was dressed in a tiny, tight dress that, with one wrong move, would easily give us a little more than we had ordered. If we had been in America, she may have been dressed for a shift at Hooters or the like. This is no exaggeration. Each time she bent over all six of us actually worried something might pop out. The little dress was also as short as it was wide and really, it just wasn't kosher.
Although we attempted (and miserably failed) to divert our waitress from needing to bend over for the remainder of the night, she was really nice and continued the friendly banter, even telling me to come back more often for free Hebrew lessons. A few days later, I walked by and saw our wonderful waitress dressed down in sweat pants and a hoodie, zipped up all the way. Drastic change in attire, but unprofessional nonetheless.
Unlike anywhere else, Israeli’s boast a relaxed attitude toward authority and a striking level of informality.
While my grandparents were visiting, we went to a beautiful restaurant in Tel Aviv on the beach. It was, without a doubt, the best meal I have had yet in Tel Aviv. We enjoyed several appetizers, ate our individual main courses, split a dessert, and shared a wonderful bottle of wine. Every bite was equally amazing.
But, unlike in America where outstanding customer service encourages large tips, in Israel restaurants it is customary to tip somewhere between 10-15%. Large tips aren’t as expected and neither is overly friendly customer service. Add this knowledge to the stereotype that Israeli’s are aggressive and tend to speak their mind.
Grandma: So, tell me something. Are there a lot of rich Israelis?
Waiter: Sure, but not as many as the percentage in America. Did you decide on a meal yet?
Grandma: No, not yet. Have you ever been to America?
Waiter: No, but I’d like to go. So, what would you like to eat tonight?
Grandma: Well come on over!
Waiter: I’d really like to go to a Super Bowl.
Grandma: Well maybe I can help make that happen.
Waiter: OK, have you decided on your meal yet?
Grandma: Not yet, who do you want to see play at the Super Bowl?
Waiter: Anyone. JUST PICK SOMETHING ALREADY!
Only in Israel would a waiter respond to his customers in such a direct manner with such little hesitation. He wasn’t being rude, he just really wanted us to place our orders and move on to his next table. Had this happened in America, a manager might have come to our table with a worried-look and an eager apology. We laughed it off and continued pestering our waiter while devouring our delicious dinner.
Israel is, without a doubt, one of the most unique, culturally diverse places in the world. These are just two of the many encounters I've experienced while living in Tel Aviv. You probably have your own comical stories to share. Feel free to share them in the comment section!