Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why do I have to go to the post office to pay my gym membership?, and other interesting things about Israel, by September blogger of the month Benzion Samueli

     Why do I have to go to the post office to pay my gym membership?
     Why is there a traffic light here?
     Why are they only open for 3 hours on Mondays... and they take a 30 minute lunch?
     Why does the English menu have higher prices than the Hebrew one?
     How does it make any sense to say, “I make for you special deal... buy one for the price of two, get one free!” ?
     What kind of a name is “Supersol Deal Extra?” Or is it “Supersol Extra Deal?” And why do they sometimes spell it Shufersol?
     If I wanted a taxi I’d wave one down... why do all drivers ask if I want a ride?

Lesson #1: the answer to every question is: because this is Israel. Although when I tried to use that response when my Hebrew teacher asked why I’m learning Hebrew, she said, “But we’re in Be’er Sheva... nobody speaks Hebrew here.”

To understand what it’s like to study at BGU, you need to understand Israel a little bit. So that’s what this post is about. To sum everything up, I overheard someone say, “Lalala, this is Israel. It’s like a summer camp - most of the normal rules don’t really apply, you’ll get sick and you lose your voice.”

You pretty much don’t get privacy here. There’s a scale outside the hospital dining hall that everyone steps on in front of the cashier and anyone else who’s around. (At first we thought it was a requirement to make sure you don’t stuff your pockets with food, but later learned that it’s an option to help you to keep track of your weight.) The internet guy asked one of my classmates how much he paid for rent; the plumber asked my friend how much she makes and how much she pays for her children’s pre-school; a professor mentioned that Payroll leaves all the paychecks sitting on a table, and then realized that everyone gets paid the same. But somehow I haven’t mastered this culture yet, because when someone asked me if I’m married and how I met my wife and then I returned those questions, she got all flustered. My friend, trying to show off his Hebrew, asked her out on a date with a few different idioms, until she said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Lesson #2: It will be a long time before I can get away with “being Israeli.” Last week, in response to hearing someone say חס וחלילה (God forbid), I said חמסה חמסה חמסה (which has a meaning opposite of “Evil Eye;” this is a phrase I picked up from my Hebrew teacher that she always responds to God forbid). In any case, a passerby came over and reproached me for saying חמסה. He explained that I didn’t understand the strength of the word. My Hebrew teacher explained that Israelis don’t like it when Americans encroach on their culture.

But the greatest moments are the Hebrew slip-ups. Here are some of my favorites, some of mine and some of others:
     יש לך חבר בישראל? A barista asked a customer if she had a boyfriend in Israel. Misinterpreting the word as meaning “Do you have any friends,” she answered, “יש לי שלושה חברים פה” (I have 3 boyfriends here.”)
     השדים כועבים לך? A medical student tried to ask a older, superstitious religious person if her breasts were causing her any pain, but in a slight mispronunciation, asked if any demons were hurting her.
     אתה רוצה לצאת איתי? Attempting to ask someone if he wanted to leave school together, I accidentally asked him out.
     בוא נזרום! While saying “Just go with the flow” sounds cool in English, in Hebrew it means something almost like, “Go be a prostitute.” (Lesson #3: Don’t say anything your friends told you to say. You’ll inevitably end up in a Big Fat Greek Wedding situation.)
     יש לך השעה? Many English expressions just don’t make any sense in Hebrew. I asked someone if “he had the time,” but as time isn’t something one can literally possess, he answered, “מה זאת אומרת?” (lit What does this say? fig What do you mean?).

Americans have some shared notions about what each foreign language sounds like, and the kind of noises and accents you need to make to imitate them. Ever wonder what other people think of English? When I was walking down the street with my wife one night, a little girl overheard us speaking and came running over and said, “Na na na, speaking English speaking English, na na na.” - September blogger of the month Benzion Samueli