Everyday life, Stories, Topics

Churlish kindness


One of our friends here in Israel once told me a story from one of his visits to Norway. He and his wife were grocery shopping, and he went a little ahead. Like he usually does, he turned around and shouted a question to his wife through the corridor. Everyone around him froze and turned their heads towards him in shock. Apparently, this was not Israel.

I have often come to think about how different the Israeli and Norwegian culture and mentality is. Here are some of my experiences.

Open, hospitable and caring

I am out on my daily walk in Amirim when I meet Hodd. I have always been one of those who look down in the ground or the other way when walking past strangers. But one year in Israel has affected me, – now I lift my head, make contact and share a short greeting. Hodd stops and asks me straight away where I’m from. I guess Sela’s blond hair and blue eyes give it away that I’m not Jewish. During our short chat, I manage to share the story of how and why we moved to Israel, how I’m doing in Amirim and what religion I believe in, my view at the military, and that I’m not vegetarian (like everybody else in Amirim). He asks me if I want his phone number, and invites us for dinner.

This is one example of the kind of people we have met that either invites us home, tells us to contact them if we need anything or tells us to stop by for a coffee soon.

Once I found a scorpion inside the apartment, and Ariel managed to arrange one of the neighbors to come and help me with it. (Yes, I’m afraid of scorpions, and Ariel was at work). After taking care of the scorpion, my neighbor asks me; “Do you have any friends?”. I laughed and replied, “Of course I have!”. He continued; “Well, if you need help with anything, just call me. I also have 3 sisters who would love to watch Sela if you need it, they are also very nice if you need someone to talk to”.

And this is something I absolutely love about the Israeli culture. They take care of each other.

Straight forward and LAAAUUD

I was at the local supermarket one day. I had waited in line for 10 minutes when it’s my turn at the cashier. A woman comes through the entrance, over to the cashier and directly ask the sweet old man, why he charged her 10 shekels too much. While they loudly argue about the organic avocados she had bought, another guy comes up behind me, telling them to hurry up and let him pay for his sandwich. He jumps up in front of me, without as much as a sorry, or excuse me. Now, the lady with the avocados starts discussing with the man with the sandwich. The cashier stands up and shouts across the corridor to a coworker to come to deal with the avocado situation.
I found the whole thing so overwhelming that I just stood there and watched these people talking on top of their lungs, fascinated that one could have so much courage and boldness. In the end, everything apparently was “Sababa” (Hebrew for “no problem” or “great”), and everyone continued their doings as if nothing had happened.

Ariel often tells me about loud and energy consuming discussions in his office. If you witness it as a foreigner, you might think that they are about to kill each other. But in the end, as always, they’re all friends and can enjoy a cup of coffee together.

Israelis are not afraid to ask questions. When I am in conversations with other mothers in Amirim, or my friends, I often notice that their questions are short and direct, and after giving your answer, they very often reply: “why?”.

They don’t decorate their sentences or use energy to make their words sound nice, they simply ask to have an answer. For us Scandinavians it feels really rude, and it has been a steep learning curve for me since we moved. Learning how to talk and answer, without taking myself too seriously, or being brave enough to not answer a question if I don’t feel like it. In some ways, I think it is a really good thing to learn.

Proud and interfere in each other’s businesses

Some parts of the sidewalk in Amirim are quite narrow, which sometimes forces you to walk directly on the road, (when walking with a stroller). I was out walking Sela, and I had to walk on the road. My phone suddenly starts ringing, and I pick up. At the same time, a man drives by, stops the car and opens the window and starts talking to me. At first, I don’t realize he is talking to me, because I’m on the phone, and you usually don’t interrupt people who are talking on the phone. But he is clearly upset about something, and I ask him to speak to me in English. He continues; “Why are you walking on the road while talking on the phone? It is very irresponsible of you, with a baby and all. You should be more careful!”. I thank him for the advice, hang up and get back on the sidewalk.

Israelis feel very free in this particular area. If they think they have a better way of doing things or an opinion about something, they will not hesitate to let you know. The mentality is; “You know best until someone knows better”.

Once we were in Ikea. Sela had spilled some juice all over his pants. I took them off, letting him wear only socks and a woolen body. On our way over to the cafeteria, a woman stops and ask me; “Isn’t your baby cold? You should put some more clothes on him”. I kindly reply: “Thank you, but he is fine”. The woman continues; “He will be sick if you don’t dress him in warmer clothes”. I smiled at Ariel, and kept walking, not bothering to explain to her that his other pair of pants was at the bottom of my nursing bag and that we were going to change him over at the cafeteria, where we were headed.

We have endless examples of situations like this, and we have become quite used to it. In the beginning, I took many things very personally. I’m sure that the lady in Ikea didn’t mean to make me feel like a bad mother, but for a moment, I did. If it would happen again today, I would be in complete rest about the situation.

Be strong and fight for your rights

We have learned a lot from the people around us, and we are still learning. There are so much color and life in the Israeli people, good values and less good values. We choose to focus on the good ones and try to accept the rest.

As a quiet and shy person, it has been amazing to learn how to become more outward and direct. It has not been easy to accept that in Israel, you have to fight for your rights. But it has been especially good for me, making me realize that I should not take things or freedom for granted.


Birgitte Eisenberg


  1. Verba
    March 4, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    I am so enjoying reading about your life in Israel! It’s so interesting learning about the customs of a different land. I wonder if knowing exactly how someone feels about something may ultimately be less stressful? After becoming used to this direct approach, of course! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

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