This is actually the default title for the blog when you first sign up, but I’m keeping it because I like it, even if it isn’t original. In fact, it could be classified as downright generic. Anyhow, I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I just think it’s nice to say hello to the world every once in a while, that’s all.
Which leads me to thinking about social interactions with random strangers. In California, I was absolutely the type of person to smile at strangers in the street, make conversation with people I didn’t know, and wish them a nice day when we parted ways. I don’t do that in Israel. I realized the other day that when I walk down the street now, I don’t make eye contact, don’t smile, don’t nod hello. I don’t talk to strangers (ok, that’s a lie. but I do it less), and I am more likely to get in an argument while standing in line – probably because someone is trying to cut – than I am likely to make new friends.
Why is this happening? Well, there’s a lot to it. Firstly (I didn’t know this was a legitimate word until about a month ago. Now I use it as much as possible.), it’s avoidance of the Middle Eastern man catcall/comment. In many ways, Israel is as modern and western as, er, any other modern, western country. But there are also ways that it really is still the Middle East, including many of the attitudes towards women and its chauvinistic tendencies. Women are still seen as sex objects in a lot of situations. There are the looks, comments, and whistles from the men at the shuk. There is the fact that I often get called chamudi (cutie) or matoki (sweetie) by everyone from shopowners to bus drivers to… well let’s just say I’m not surprised anymore. The President of Israel is currently getting into some deep doo-doo for sexual harrassment and rape of female employees, and I have to say that I’m disgusted but not surprised. Especially with men in power, this country still has a major connection to old-world attitudes about the value of a woman.
Not that this doesn’t have a good side, in a way. Women are appreciated in a way that doesn’t exist in the US. I feel like in the US, sexuality is used and exploited even, but not truly appreciated. Even the popular definitions of beauty are not particularly femine. But here, a woman with curves is valued, and men take the time to admire a woman they find attractive. Although this can be kinda disturbing sometimes (there are a lot of pervs who just don’t have to hide it here the way they would elsewhere), there is also something about being female in a country where they like the feminine form. For once, curves are a good thing. Well, as long as you don’t work in the President’s office.
Anyhow, back to public interactions. I don’t smile at men on the street, because I think it would be an open invitation to something I’m not sure I want (ok, I’m definitely sure I don’t want). I don’t look people in the eye because even that can open unwanted interaction or dialogue. Plus, there are a lot of crazies in Jerusalem. Like, a lot. So if I ignore them, I will hopefully not be subjected to a lecture on how they are the messiah/I’m a bad person for not being covered head-to-toe/the whole world is going to hell/etc.
Of course, there’s also just the thing about becoming more Israeli. This is a population also known as “sabras” – after a native fruit that is prickly and hard on the outside, but sweet and wonderful on the inside. It’s true that Israelis can be tough and difficult and mean to people they don’t know, but are the warmest, most welcoming and accomodating people for their loved ones. Which means that when you’re out in public, there’s no accounting for what kind of atrocious behaviour you might encounter if you get in the way between them and their goal. Hence, no need, time, or point in making eye contact or saying hi – and they kind of just look at you like you might be a Jerusalem crazy, if you wish them a nice day. So I navigate the streets with my eyes forward, neutral face in place, avoiding the pervs and the crazies, until someone starts a friendly interaction and I’m as warm and sweet as can be!