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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Under-Appreciated Magic 

As an ex-pat American who has traveled extensively for work, I have often been struck by how how much more volatile and adversarial (combative, even!), Israeli business culture is compared with elsewhere in the developed world. 

For example, it is not at all unusual for Israelis in a professional setting to cut each other off mid-sentence, shout at one another, slam their hands on the conference table to emphasize a point, shout each-other down or even toss out dismissive and/or insulting jabs to score points in an argument.

A few recently overheard phrases that come to mind (translated to English): 

  • What do you have? - ?מה יש לך (what's your problem? / what's wrong with you!)
  • Have you gone crazy?! - ?השתגעת (said regarding anything outside the speaker's comfort zone)
  • Don't confuse my brain! - !אל תבלבל לי את המוח (stop making me crazy!)
  • Go find your friends! - !לך לחפש את החברים שלך (you'll be on your own)
  • Don't be naive! - !אל תהיה נאיבי / תמים (grow up!)
  • You must be confused! - אתה מבולבל (you don't know your place)
  • Nonsense! - שְׁטוּיוֹת (dismissive usually combined with a wave of the hand)
  • Dumbbell! -  דביל! (Usually said about someone, not to their face)
  • Waste of Time - !חבל על הזמן (can be either very good or very bad, depending on context)
  • What Garbage! - איזה זבל (dismissive used to denigrate bad work)
  • You're living in a film! - אתה חי בסרט (disconnected from reality / a drama queen)
  • What a mess! - איזה בלאגן (anything that isn't arranged as the speaker would have done)
  • He has a cockroach in his head! - יש לו ג'וק בראש (someone who can't let go of a bad idea)
  • A redeemer has come to Zion! - !ובא לציון גואל (used sarcastically when a newcomer to the dicussion thinks they have saved the day)

I was recently in a meeting with several colleagues when the discussion began to get heated.  Opinions were dismissed, facts were discounted, intentions were questioned and feelings (mine, anyway), began to get hurt.

And then suddenly I took a mental step back and looked around the conference table.  There were a few native Israelis, but many of the participants were immigrants; from the former Soviet Union, France, Argentina and the US.

Here we were, a group of people who had grown up speaking a grab-bag of languages, yet we were magically communicating (albeit, rudely).  All I could do was smile.

When the guy directly across from me noticed my grin he gave me that classic Israeli hand gesture where you extend your thumb,index and middle finger and turn your hand palm-up, and asked ?מה יש לך (what's wrong with you?).

I just shook my head and continued smiling as the argument swirled around me. 

How to explain to an Israeli how magical it is to an American (we, who travel the globe screaming in English thinking that will help make ourselves understood), to be able to sit and converse effortlessly in a common language with people from all over the world.


[When I started this blog back in 2003, I was fresh off the boat and was constantly getting hit on the head by things that only a new immigrant would see.  That era was rich in blog-fodder which (hopefully) helped smooth the way for others who came after me.  But over the past few years I have become mostly blind to that 'je ne sais quoi' known as 'the immigrant experience'.  Maybe it means I'm acclimating.  Maybe it means I've grown a slightly thicker skin.  Whatever the reason, I have become less attuned to the charming (and not-so-charming), things that only an outsider would notice.  I guess that's why the topic of today's post caught me so much by surprise... and I just had to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on January 25, 2018 | Permalink


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Love it

Posted by: SaraK | Jan 25, 2018 1:44:29 PM

Hey David,
This was wonderful to read! You described feelings and provided imagery so well that I felt like I was at the table with you!

I think that at almost 15 years (!! How did THAT happen??!!) of living in Israel you should be kind of feeling like a ‘native’, no??!

Happy to read a blog post, even if they’re not as frequent! It’s not the quantity, but rather the quality!


Posted by: Jake | Jan 25, 2018 4:38:28 PM

As an ex-pat American who has traveled extensively for work, I have often been struck by how how much more volatile and adversarial (combative, even!), Israeli business culture is compared with elsewhere in the developed world.

I think "disgusting" is the word you are looking for

Posted by: Simon | Jan 28, 2018 2:13:41 AM

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