Social Conventions and Manners – An Immigrant’s Perspective #2

A disclaimer: My post is about how things used to be, and is not necessarily accurate anymore. It depicts some people and behavior which is not shared by all.

———————————————————————————————————- In my youth, getting on the bus in Israel – even thinking about getting on the bus would fill me with anxiety. Not many people owned a car, so public transportation was used by almost everyone.

                                                 A poster encouraging people to stand in line in an orderly fashion.

So let me draw the scene for you:

You’re standing in line at the bus station except that there’s another line for soldiers and disabled people. I loved the fact that they had priority, and their line was pretty orderly. On the other hand, my line would change its form, shape and order within seconds, as follows…

A friend-of-a-friend would recognize someone standing in line and would start up a conversation: “Hey, aren’t you Shmulik, the friend of David who I met at the party two years ago?” This small exchange gained the newcomer a spot with Shmulik, even though there were 20 people standing in the line.

 And then you have the woman carrying baskets coming and immediately beginning to argue that she told someone to save her a place in line, and this person is not there anymore, but regardless – she was fifth in line, and she just walked out for a second.

 Or, the one who comes over quietly, not arguing with anyone. He stands beside you so closely that you know what he had for breakfast; and slowly but surely pushes himself into the bus ahead of all the other passengers.

 So it’s not surprising that with this kind of “disorder”, one would be confronted with people arguing, shouting, requesting the newcomers to take their place in line just like everyone else, but to no avail.

I would prepare myself as if for a battle as I walked to the bus station – to not give up my place, and to not let anyone get ahead of me; to hold my ground; and maybe even to take some ground if the opportunity arose.

Such was my mental state when I first saw the lines at Disneyland. No wonder I started to perspire, and not from the heat. I immediately thought of the people who would no-doubt argue, cut in front of me, and the foreboding struggle.

And, you can imagine my surprise when a line of 100 people moved smoothly and efficiently without one incident, and my sigh of relief.

But lest you think that I only criticize my “Landsman” and think I am better than they are, let me say for the sake of honesty and truthfulness that just the other day while searching for a place to park – I drove in the opposite direction of the arrows, so that I could grab a parking place!

This virus is contagious.

A couple of years ago, I went to an Israeli movie festival in Los Angeles. I went early to get a good seat, since I knew that this particular movie is going to draw a big crowd. Just behind me sat a nice Israeli lady and after a couple of minutes the following conversation ensued:

“No. These seats are already taken.”

“All of them?”


And so the seatless movie-goer started looking for another spot. However, this exchange, which repeated itself for at least ten minutes, lasted until the lights dimmed and the previews started. At this point a new exchange occurred:

“No, you can’t sit here. These seats are taken.”

“What do you mean ‘taken’, I’ve tried to find a seat for the last ten minutes, and there’s still no one sitting here!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m saving the seats for my friends.”

“Well, I’m sorry too, but your friends should come on time, the movie is about to start and you can’t save the seats!”

“Of course I can save the seats, there’s no law against it!”

At that point the frustrated ‘seat seeker’, called an usher and got the woman to release the seats despite her loud protestation.

So the above mentioned exchange is not so weird to me, since I’m used to it. The disturbing part for me was that I went to the movie with someone who didn’t speak Hebrew and was not from Israel. While he didn’t understand the words, he absolutely sensed the anger and aggressiveness, and I felt my body tense in response to his agitation. This was not your typical American movie outing with popcorn and quiet anticipation, Fortunately the movie was good enough to diminish the impact of this incident.

Yet, to counter this experience, let me tell you about the time I carried a couple of boxes to my office when a box slipped out of my hands and books were falling all over the entrance of the building. As I was bending to pick up the books, I noticed people going in an out of the building, and yet not one person stopped to help me. Just then a young guy, who looked like your average terrorist ran towards me and quickly helped me to put my books back in the box. I wanted to thank him profusely but his cell phone started ringing and when he responded he said in Hebrew : “Hi Moshe, I’ll be there in a minute, I had to help this one lady with her books.”

The only person who stopped to help me was an Israeli, and he didn’t even know that we come from the same country.

So we may not have refined manners, but our heart is in the right place.


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Manners, Social Conventions, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Social Conventions and Manners – An Immigrant’s Perspective #2

  1. Cai says:

    I used to fly with Southwest Airlines. I would get there hours before so I could be first in line because it made me anxious to wait for a long time in line and because I wanted a good seat. However, even though I was first in line the people would come and, instead of lining up behind me, come stand beside me. And so need the next person and the next until there were masses of people jammed into the front by the ineffective rope. At some point they put up three ropes with A B C on them. This did not change people’s behavior. It was mass mentality, everyone for themselves! One time I was there first and they changed the gate. People in the back of the line flocked to the other gate defeating my efforts to board the plane first. One person let me go in front of him stating I was first in line so I should get to also be in the front of the line at the new gate. He let me go infront of him. He understood the civility of how a line was supposed to work! Now, even though it is more expensive, I fly other airlines so I know I have my predestined seat which is all mine. They now have rules about who qualifies for an aisle seat and it costs more to board early. In addition, because they now charge for checked luggage people bring more carry-on luggage and if you can not board early there is no place for your luggage. Aauuuggghhh! So now when I fly I just prepare for a crappy day. It is hard to be Zen at an airport! Just so you know, if I saw someone drop books I would help them pick them up.

    • rachel bar says:

      Interesting to see how we all have different experiences in the same situation. I fly Southwest all the time, and yes they don’t have assigned seats but I find that almost all the time people stand in their assigned lines A, B or C and it moves quite smoothly. Southwest has priority seating now to the discerning customer – only $15 extra, the last time I checked.
      And they don’t charge for checked baggage!

  2. ShimonZ says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Rachel. This is the second time I’ve read about the process you went through, changing countries… and it really does help me understand. I can identify with your sense of frustration in such situations. I think it’s changed a little, over the years… but you can still run into that sort of situation, even now. I am happy for you, that you were able to enjoy civilization.

    • rachel bar says:

      I’m almost regretting writing this post as it seems like going on the bus is pretty traumatic, and there’s nothing else being commented on (I get email responses to my blog as well).
      Seems like no one took the time to comment on the fact that the one person from a group of mostly Americans who helped me without knowing that I’m Israeli was from Israel! I felt that inasmuch as manners could stand some improvement there’s a quality in Israelis that’s unique. Obviously I didn’t make it clear enough in my writing.

      • ShimonZ says:

        I don’t know how well your readers know the Israeli personality. For me, that incident was in no way remarkable. Many years ago, a friend of mine from America, was visiting Israel, and we went together to visit a typewriter repairman in Tel Aviv. When my friend told him that he was thinking of moving to Israel but couldn’t make up his mind… and that he was wondering about the way people relate to each other in Israel, the repairman said to him… Ah, the Israelis… they don’t let you live… but they don’t let you die either…

      • rachel bar says:

        I love this story. How true, and also brought a smile to my face.
        My dad must have thought the same about my mother. She was from Poland.

  3. Nancy ( currently in Tasmania) says:

    I was in Israel (early 70’s) for only about 7 months and that was when I was in my 20’s and yes riding buses was/is one of my most indulable memories. I remember people would stand outside @ the bus stop ( Ramat Gan or Tel Aviv) and when the bus came everyone was clamoring to board / exit then the bus just started to leave the stop and the door would close without regard as to whether all the bodies were in or not !! I actually saw a person caught in the doorway me it was also a tramatic experience to get on or off a bus there.

    • rachel bar says:

      This must have been traumatic Nancy to get you out of your hiding in Tasmania:). I have to admit though that in the last couple of visits to Israel the bus situation improved a lot and it’s not as bad as it used to be.
      Come with me for a visit!

  4. Maurice Labi says:

    Growing up in Israel in a Tel Aviv suburb, my mother was a housewife, rarely ventured into the big city, walked and shopped in the neighborhood, never boarded a bus, relied on my father to drive her places. One day, she had to take the dreaded bus to a clinic in Tel Aviv. She stood at the bus stop and took her place in line. The bus arrived. A woman pushed my mother with a sharp elbow, shouted: “I know her. She’s here everyday. She ALWAYS cuts in line!”

    • rachel bar says:

      There should be some research about a country’s character based on its habit of forming a line. Is standing in line uniformally only good, or does it convey some herd quality that does not serve well the country that fights for its existence and needs to improvise. And when one looks at more “civilized” countries where people do stand in line, is it only positive?

  5. Martin Balaban says:

    I had the experience of boarding a bus in Jerusalem more than once; No such thing a a line, everybody shoving with their elbows. Once on the bus, I experienced 40 passengers shouting on cell phones. I found it all very humorous.

  6. rachel bar says:

    Glad you found it humorous Martin. The cell phone situation is much more bothersome to me than the lines. I was in a funeral lately and in the middle of the eulogy by the grave site someone’s phone was ringing and instead of silencing it, a woman responded in a normal voice saying that she is in a funeral and will call back later. Another time I was in a play in Israel and in the middle of the play there were at least two people who started talking on their cell phone. I wanted to tel them to stop talking but then I would be adding to the noise…

  7. Kate says:

    This gives me more understanding of the Israeli personality… a bit too late for me ,I fear.
    Ironically I have an Israeli friend who’s had a lot of operations for skin cancer,melanoma etc
    and she was telling me how people here no longer know how to queue.She got pushed and she felt fragile.She blames people from Eastern Europe!!

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for commenting Kate. As stated in my response to Maurice, standing in line may be an indicator of good and bad, and maybe of certain calm and order in a country. At the same time, it may also indicate passivity? I’m not sure, but it’s nicer when everyone waits their turn.

  8. aFrankAngle says:

    People sadden me, yet the young man made me smile.

    • rachel bar says:

      The young man reminded me why many Israelis come across as tough outside and sweet inside.

      A friend commented to me that not helping and walking by is common in big cities and quite uncommon in small towns. I believe that she’s right.

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