18 October 2008

B'Culture Shock [...o-b'sakit]

My last post (so long ago!) drew worried comments from some Americans who like me and worry that I might never come back. Aww! Let me assuage your fears with a blurry graph:

That's from the tail end of the ʇɥbıɹq1nɟ orientation in DC. The graph's titled "Pattern of Adjustment," and it plots Satisfaction against Time. (What are the units on the y-axis?!) As you can see, we visitors of foreign cultures predictably become infatuated with our host country, and then our moods come crashing down into the Valley of Great Dissatisfaction, from which we eventually emerge... only to plunge into the Even Deeper Valley of Horrible Sadness when we experience reverse-culture-shock back at home.

Fellow-fellowshipper Mitch-in-Egypt puts it this way — "Being in Cairo like being in a relationship with another person.... You might find it fascinating in the beginning, and then not so much later on."

It's not just Cairo, of course. I find myself marking little benchmarks-of-culture-shock.
  • Random feral cats all over the place? No longer the Cutest Infestation Ever. The more dead/starving/diseased street cats you see, the less you want to snuggle up with the healthy-looking ones.
    I was walking around Jerusalem yesterday and saw part of a cat lying in the middle of an intersection. There was nothing cute about it.

  • The thrill of public transportation? Basically gone. I think that I lost my appetite for bus travel after I spent 50 minutes shivering in the windy Jerusalem dusk while I waited for line 17, which (it turns out) takes the longest possible route between Beit Hakerem and Rechavia. I could have walked it and gotten there almost twice as fast.

    And the classic Israeli game of shoving your way onto the bus becomes much less fun after you lose, and get stuck waiting another twenty minutes for the next bus.

  • Gefilte fish. I do not have very much to say about it, except that I really hope I stop being sick of it in time for Passover.

    That's my grandma, making gefilte fish by grinding up fish into little shivering worm-like things. Honestly, my grandmother's gefilte fish are amazing, but we ate them for breakfast lunch and dinner throughout the עשרת ימי תשובה period.

  • Aggressive flirting from random dudes, especially dudes who are trying to sell you something? Not even mildly amusing anymore.

    Except, okay, there was one time when I got on a train and I really wanted to be left alone, so I sat across from an oldish guy who was wearing a white shirt and a black velvet kippah, which normally signals a strong predisposition against chatting up girls in tanktops. As I sit down, the dude announces a heavy Russian accent that his name is Moshe and he "needs to get married very urgently," and gives me his card, which is actually just a piece of cut-out printer paper advertising his services as a "therapeutic masseuse for men only." That... was pretty amusing. But still: random dudes, cut it out!

    If you don't know why I chose a photo from Machane Yehuda for this one, you have probably never been a 20-something-year-old woman at Machane Yehuda. For every obnoxious remark from a sales-dude, I think a customer-lady should be entitled to a date. (The fruit kind, not the other thing.)

But most of all I am getting worn down by a bunch of conversations I keep having, which generate a lot of friction and never seem to get anywhere. Chief among these are:
  • Arabs / Muslims / Palestineans: their dispositions, their cultural contributions, etc.
  • Feminism.
  • התבוללות (intermarriage between Jews and gentiles).
I don't want to avoid these conversations — and anyway, I can't — but I need to find a way to have them more productively.
(To be continued!)


  1. Well, apparently "being an Arab", and "being a decent family man" are mutually exclusive in the US as well:
    I thought McCain would be eaten alive for that... but no one even mentions anything being wrong with his statement. They only praise him for sticking up for Obama for a change...
    Honestly, I don't think McCain meant it the way it came out (so maybe it's only fair to give him some slack), but can you imagine the uproar if you replaced the "Arab" with any other nationality in that sentence? (as in "No, he's not a Jew, he is a decent family man...")?

  2. Good one, DR. Your vivid description brings up so many suppressed feelings.

  3. Oh, Israel. I think that for a lot of visitors and new immigrants, the disillusion swoop is even steeper and even sooner because of the thousands of years of cultural baggage that the poor country has to live up to. Not just the scriptural, but the literary, and the religious, and the cultural, and the hasbarah, and...etc.

  4. It sounds hard, Ronni. I hear you and hope that you are feeling your own strength and also getting support from the people around you, and feeling the support coming at you from other ends of the globe, too. And I am wishing you bus-getting-on next time and the right kind of dates (mmmm!).