Monday, August 6, 2007

Suana Police (On Being Israeli)

Yesterday, I stood in line at the bank, quietly and patiently while at least one person cut in line, and several others started yelling at the tellers. When my turn arrived, the teller literally hugged me and thanked me for being so kind and patient, and that he wished he could do something for me, on account of my exceptional behaviour. Other than the embarrassment factor, I was relieved and proud to know that my New England upbringing continues to serve me well.

Flush from the victory of American civility, I revealed my other side, my Israeli side, today. Sitting in the sauna after my swim, I gave a group of 13 year old boys a lecture about how the sauna is not a clubhouse, that the sign clearly says that you must be over 16 to participate in the sweat lodge, and that their parents would be ashamed of them. I did this no less than three times until they actually left and closed the door behind them, and marveled at how I have truly passed into the ritual of being a stodgy grown-up.

My diatribe was not motivated solely by my concern for these boys' blood pressure, nor would I deny that I need to relax in the sauna, and I had personal gain reasons for kicking them out. In Israel, it is an accepted social norm to listen in on other people's conversations and chime in uninvited; to give strangers "constructive criticism" about their mode of dress and any other topic in which we are all, obviously, expert.

I never imagined that I would cross that line, and start disciplining other people's children, though it reveals that in the ten years I have lived here, I not only dream in Hebrew, but also think like an Israeli much more than the American, my place of birth. I fully expect to go to a supermarket and bag my own groceries, and to have my bag checked when I enter any building; and I fully expect that I will be that older woman on the bus who tells the young mother with the crying child that she has gotten it wrong, her child is hungry and not tired, and she ought to do something about it right now.

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