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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Knowing when to call

As an immigrant, I will likely never be a match for the incredible self assurance that the typical Israeli can bring to bear... and I certainly will never be able to emulate it.  There is just something of the expert poker player in this behavior that I lack.  Simply put, I don't know how to bluff.

If you are ever lost in this country, most Israelis will confidently give you directions... even if they aren't entirely sure they know how to get you to the destination you've mentioned.  And you'll have no way of knowing  the difference until you find yourself hopelessly lost in the wilds of South Tel Aviv... while looking for Ramat Gan.

I haven't figured out if this kind of senseless bluffing is due to embarrassment at not knowing the real directions, or if these Israelis think they can actually change the location and direction of streets by sheer force of will. 

Whatever the case, anyone who has ever heard an Israeli confidently declare "Go straight until the end and then ask... it's right there.  Trust me" will immediately regret not having bought a GPS unit.

The other day I walked in on a couple of co-workers talking about the vacation which one of them had taken the previous summer.  When they saw me enter, the post-vacationer turned to me and said, "Oh good, here's someone who can appreciate this... you've been to the Rockies, right?"

I assured him that I had crossed the Rockies several times... and then began telling them about past trips to Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.  He looked at me like I was out of my mind and said, "No... the Rocky Mountains!".

I assured him that I had indeed been talking about the Rocky Mountains.  But he just dismissed me with a wave of his hand and said... "you've obviously never been to the Rocky Mountains, because if you had, you'd know they are in Canada!".  And with that the two went back to their stories as if I had never entered the room.  As crazy as it may sound, I actually walked timidly back to my office and ended up sitting at my desk wondering how I could have made such an embarrassing mistake about North American geography. 

Then it hit me that once again I had been the victim of the Israeli equivalent of the Jedi Mind Trick; using force of will to convince someone of something, whether it is true or not.  I'd been bluffed... and bluffed badly.  And the worst part: I had folded like a high school kid at a fraternity poker game.

I did a quick Google search to re-familiarize myself with the map, and then went back to where the two men were still going on about whether it was better to rent a Mobile home or simply drive a rental car from hotel to hotel. 

When they finally stopped for a breath, I fixed the erstwhile traveler with a baleful glare and said, "Did you know that there are both U.S. and Canadian Rockies... and that together they stretch almost 5000 miles from the top of British Columbia to the Rio Grande River in New Mexico?!"

I then waited for the inevitable apology.

But instead of sheepishly admitting that he didn't know these things, my Israeli colleague replied, "It might be... but everyone knows that the real Rockies... the BIG ones... are in Canada!" 

Luckily, my reading had prepared me for this gambit and I countered with, "Nooooo, actually the highest peak in the entire Rocky Mountain range is Mount Elbert in Colorado".  And again I waited for this Sabra bluffer to fold. 

But instead of doing so, he simply offered that infuriating dismissive wave again - this time along with a smile and a sideways glance at his partner to convey the message that he was clearly dealing with a mental defective - and then shut me down with the following parting shot (for which no retort was possible):

"Maybe, but with all the traffic and people in the U.S. wearing them down, the U.S. Rocky mountains are much smaller and unattractive.  So like I said, the real Rockies are the Canadian ones."

I left the room defeated.  There is just no arguing with some people... and oy-va-voy to anyone who is silly enough to call an Israeli's bluff.

Posted by David Bogner on March 10, 2010 | Permalink


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Next time just look at him, chuckle and shake your head. You'll spike the ball into his court. :)

Posted by: Karl Newman | Mar 10, 2010 3:48:26 PM

Karl Newman... You are starting from the assumption that this sort of Israeli cares how he/she appears to other people. Have you ever seen Israeli tourists abroad??? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2010 3:55:55 PM

I always wanted to make a Photoshop spoof of an Israeli compass, with all four points reading Yashar. Of course, if you're in one of the circular towns in Yerushalayim (e.g., Bayit Vegan or Har Nof), going in any direction actually does work to get you to your destination...

Posted by: efrex | Mar 10, 2010 4:02:33 PM


Posted by: Ari | Mar 10, 2010 4:16:58 PM

I actually have very little sense of humor when it comes to this. Drives me crazy. If someone is giving you driving directions and DOESN'T know street names, "take a left at the fourth kikar" BETTER MEAN THE FOURTH KIKAR!!!

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Mar 10, 2010 4:17:50 PM

Dave - you wasted too much time on people who love to be in ignorance. Leave them there... or in Canada, where the Americans will be spared their completely rude behavior.

Posted by: val | Mar 10, 2010 4:20:55 PM

The unwillingness to admit a mistake in front of strangers seems to be deeply ingrained in Israeli culture, especially for men. A situation where the typical American would say something like "Ah, my bad", the Israeli will grumble and end the conversation or make a pitying smile which makes you feel like a weirdo for pointing out his error.

But it's still much better than facing an endless string of disingenuous apologies that many Americans seem to think is a sign of good manners when confronted with their own mistakes.

Posted by: alex | Mar 10, 2010 4:22:03 PM

Oh, but you know you've been in Israel too long when you start giving directions to others like that, yashar yashar yamina

Posted by: Avi | Mar 10, 2010 4:30:42 PM

I once had an infuriating encounter with an "helpful" Israeli when I got lost in the wilds of Somewhere Near Tel Aviv. At a red traffic light, I asked the driver in the car next to me where I was, thinking that if I knew where I am, I can figure how to get home.

The driver informed me with great fanfare, "Giveret, At be'eretz Yisrael!" ("Madam, you're in the land of Israel") and drove off. I was fuming and laughing at the same tiem.

Posted by: annie | Mar 10, 2010 6:02:33 PM

Annie, I love that!

Posted by: SaraK | Mar 10, 2010 7:48:15 PM

The chuckle and head-shake works for me. Then I look into their eyes with sadness.

Sometimes I skip the chuckle and stare in their eyes as I shake my head sadly.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 11, 2010 12:23:40 AM

Clearly Israelis are a tribe of Dutchmen.
Or maybe it's the other way around.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Mar 11, 2010 12:42:22 AM


Yep. Seen 'em at home too. There's one particular Israeli tour guide who doesn't like me because I took issue with behavior like that. I was paying the guy! *rolls eyes*


Posted by: Karl Newman | Mar 11, 2010 3:29:13 AM

"the Israeli equivalent of the Jedi Mind Trick; using force of will to convince someone of something, whether it is true or not."
Trep, were you also married to my Israeli ex-husband?!

Posted by: Raizy | Mar 11, 2010 4:39:30 AM

"It might be... but everyone knows that the real Rockies... the BIG ones... are in Canada!"

Honestly. It sounds like you are cribbing material from here: http://oldjewstellingjokes.com/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Mar 11, 2010 7:13:49 AM

I always liked Yogi Berra`s directions(just as good in Hebrew):When you come to a fork in the road,take it!

Posted by: Ed | Mar 11, 2010 8:57:13 AM

Raizy's comment is just as good as your post!

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Mar 11, 2010 9:10:56 AM

If you are driving and an Israeli starts yelling at you about something you did, you can be pretty sure s/he's in the wrong.

Posted by: Ilana | Mar 11, 2010 10:04:44 AM

In one of my trips in Texas i was asking directions and was told JUST DOWN the Road I took it literally and had walk few miles.
Raizy I am married ( still) to an Italian and he does the same!! so what does it say? That all men are the same lol

Posted by: iva | Mar 11, 2010 12:17:20 PM

I play basketball with a bunch of Israelies. Try calling a foul and you have an international incident. I have learned to give them a blank stare and pretend that I haven't heard them.

Surprisingly it works 50% of the time.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 12, 2010 4:19:52 AM

Before I got my car, people would always stop me at bus stops and ask for directions. Being new, I had no idea where most places where, so I would say I didn't know. Now I know why they continued to ask, and repeat the name of their destination - they obviously were expecting me to just make up something and throw in a few "yashars" :)

Posted by: Alissa | Mar 12, 2010 2:48:21 PM

The strangest "ask for directions" adventure I had was when Elder Daughter and I were in Tokyo. We were in the subway, waiting to catch a train to Asakusa, when two women (Asian in appearance) asked us in English whether this was the train to Asakusa. Somewhat surprised, I said, "Yes - that's where we're headed." And we all got on the train together.

Turns out the women were Kazakhs, and neither of them spoke any Japanese. They simply were looking for someone who appeared to be able to speak English. (I resisted the impulse to ask them about their "landsman" Borat.)

But in Israel? I'd be lost. Losterino. Losterama. Losterocious.

Posted by: Elisson | Mar 12, 2010 8:06:30 PM

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