Kfar Saba, Israel
Thursday, July 16th, 2009 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/israel-the-bad-so-far
ast time I visited Israel, back in November 2008, I had one unpleasant run-in upon arrival, and I resolved that it would be the only one, that I wouldn’t let the ways and manners here rankle me. Except this time we’re on day #2 of a 16-day visit and it’s already happened more than once.
On that previous visit, the incident occured on the train arriving from the airport. As I boarded, a swarthy man was telling a younger, nerdy-looking fellow that he can’t sit in a particular carriage. I went and sat in there myself; there was a woman in there already. I presumed idly that the fellow was a slightly deranged Israeli Jew of Middle Eastern descent who got off on picking on gentler members of the citizenry. A bizarre assumption to make perhaps, but believe me having lived here for over 20 years I’ve seen it and been on the receiving end of it more than once.
Then the fellow came and told me the same thing. There were a number of things that made me not believe him. First and foremost, his appearance and presentation. He was wearing no discernable uniform and did not speak with the officious politeness that comes with being on the job and in a position of authority over members of the public. There was no “Excuse me” or “I’m afraid you’ll have to sit somewhere else, sir,” just simply, “You can’t sit here.”
I said sure, OK, whatever, and didn’t move. A few minutes later he came back and was visibly angry. What’s wrong with me, he cried, etc. Something in his demeanor convinced me that I did indeed need to get up. He had a walkie talkie and his white shirt and dark green trousers were in fact a uniform, albeit a very casual one. Once out of that particular carriage I saw that there was indeed a sign saying it was reserved; I’d missed it before.
If the signage was a bit more effective, and the language and demeanor of the staff more professional, we would not have had this testy altercation.
So. The bad things this visit, what were they? Well, the first was parking at the Hashmonaim St car park in Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon. As we left, there were two lanes merging in front of the ticket booth. The car in front of us drove up to the booth. There was a car waiting in the other lane. Then another one drove up behind him. I let the first of them go ahead of me. Now it was clear I was next, both because it’s customary to alternate between lanes when this happens, and because we were there before this guy pulled up anyway. It was my turn but I didn’t want to inch forward right up the next car’s behind. I moved forward a bit, but probably a foot or two away from his rear, rather than a couple of inches. Then, when he’d gone through, the fellow behind him tried to stick to him so as to get in there ahead of us. I’d hoped this wouldn’t happen, though my Mum, who lives here, said I need to inch forward otherwise the other guy will take my place in line.
I drove here for years and I don’t remember having to constantly be so cut-throat on the roads. Sometimes unpleasant things happen, yes, but not enough to warrant getting into a struggle behind the wheel. So I drove as I would behave when walking, hanging back slightly I guess to give the car ahead some space. I guess I don’t like getting too close to the other guy anyway. Still, it was clear I was in line; we were hemmed in and there was nowhere else to go but forward. And this other guy indeed tried to jump the queue. I moved forward myself—only a few inches were required—so that I blocked his progress. And I was angry. What the hell are you doing? I gesticulated through the window, in English. The fellow, another dark-skinned Israeli—forgive my racism here, I’m telling it as it is—gave us a grotesque, wide, frozen smile behind his sunglasses. Look, look, I turned to my mother in the passenger seat. Look at the monkey. He was still doing it. She was getting upset. You’re as bad as they are, she was saying. But I was annoyed.
After a few seconds the guy ahead moved off and I could get the ticket. A young Russian fellow was manning the booth. What a relief—I always find it a pleasant mild surprise when the interaction is with a Russian immigrant rather than someone Israeli born-and-bred. There’s a touch of gentleness and manners there. I enjoy this irony because Israelis look down upon Russians as scuzzy goyim who speak funny. One emblematic moment for me living in Tel Aviv was ordering a vodka at the opening of a new bar and the pretty barman expressing his disgust that it was a Russian drink I wanted!
Worse came today. Yes, there was the usual bit at the kiosk. I pay the man by putting the money in his hand rather than on the surface, where you have to pry the coins off. It’s a sort of respectful, even slightly intimate thing to do, I tell myself. But as I held my hand up with the coins, he busied himself talking to his colleague so that I stood there with my hand in the air. That simply would not happen in Britain; you’re waiting to pay, hand in the air, the other person stops what they’re doing and takes your money. So I withdraw my hand and wait the 10 or so seconds it takes for him to complete his conversation. Then when he’s ready I give him the money. And of course, he puts the change down on the counter—though at least he didn’t toss it, as they used to when I was a lad here—so I have to pry the 10 agorot off it. Now the 10 agorot is worth about 2p, so I’m not bothered about it, but I don’t want to spurn and insult him by not bothering to collect the change. Nor do I want to give him a tip either. So I have to pry the single coin off the counter. Why can’t he give me the change the same easy way I gave him the money? The end result is that I’ll avoid his shop again if I can, and he got to insult whitey I guess.
But the worst to date was at the Hashalom train station. We were downstairs on the dark noisy polluted platform trying to figure out which train to take to Kfar Saba. There was a big poster of the timetable on the wall. The stations were on the far right column of the poster (even in English) and it was pretty dense, so in order to make out which train stopped at the station I ran my finger along the columns to our time. Someone swiped my finger aside. I assumed it was Irit, being impatient with my calculations. I couldn’t figure it out anyway so I gave up and thought I’d let her do it. Turns out it was some fellow in a uniform who was wanting to see something on the timetable! I was furious. Who does that, swats a stranger’s fingers away like they’re a fly? Where is the respect for one’s fellow member of humanity? I was saying to Irit, “What the fuck was that, did you see what that guy just did?” And like my Mum yesterday, she too told me to leave it alone. He was by now standing with his back to us, facing the tracks. I had a deep urge to kick him in his ass, literally, not too hard, just give him a fright and the humiliation. I didn’t do it, I didn’t do anything. But boy, it rankled for about ten minutes. Just swiping a stranger’s finger away. Who behaves like that unless they’re, I don’t know, sunglasses-wearing militiamen in a nasty African dictatorship?
But of course it’s not all bad at all. I love the landscape, the breezes, and some people have been just fine. The taxi driver from the station earlier to the Bikram Yoga studio was a nice and gentle sort. The guys at the Bikram studio, of course. Irit described the studio as an oasis in a city of scuzziness, but it’s not, there’s plenty of niceness and decency around.
Jerusalem Train to Beit Shemesh
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009; Judean Hills, Israel
I must say though, I’m kind of surprised at the general appearance of the Tel Aviv folks. Yes, it’s hot, but people look like they’re dressed like, I don’t know, it’s Be’er Sheva. And the people in Be’er Sheva, last time I was there, looked to me like they’re dressed for Gaza. I don’t think I saw a single person who looked strikingly good. Not just sexy, but presentable. And we were more or less in the center, or at least a center, of town, around the Cinematheque.
Then on the train the fellow behind us received a call. People speaking on the train happens all the time anywhere and it’s annoying, but then he put it on speakerphone! Now that I’ve never seen before. The person on the other end was the cable guy and he was demanding back payment for television channel services, whereas our fellow passenger claimed he never asked for them and doesn’t use them and only wants the internet anyway.
Woman Crosses Pedestrian Bridge
Thursday, July 30th, 2009; Tel Aviv, Israel
This basic exchange was repeated four or five times for the whole carriage to hear. If it was a television sketch I guess the rest of the passengers would start chiming in, telling the cable guy he was an asshole or whatever. And indeed I almost thought that might happen. But instead everyone suffered in silence. Or maybe it was a welcome distraction from their own upsets—after my outrage died down I kind of enjoyed listening to it actually, mulling over the rights and wrongs of the case.