“When da plane full, dare nut enough room fer all de bags.”
We landed in Barbados, on Friday evening, only to discover that my suitcase (as well as numerous others) hadn’t made the flight from Antigua. “Lost Baggage” staff at the Liat Airlines counter merely shrugged their shoulders. I shouldn’t have assumed that my case would be on the next flight (there are several a day), either. “It should get ere in a coupla days.” When I queried as to what I was supposed to wear in the interim, they just chuckled. “Clothes cheap on da island.” And I would be entitled to 50 Bajan [=25 US] Dollars to cover the cost (of a pair of flip flops, perhaps). Anyway, they had absolutely no idea why I was getting so worked up.
I was pulling my hair out, too – during the lunch break of the Antigua Test (which, incidentally, was great) – having to queue twenty minutes for a sandwich . . . when, on entering the shop, I was third in line. And, when I finally was served, the Subway employee, with excrutiating slowness, arranged the tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, etc, as if she was planning to enter her yeasty work of art to the Tate Modern (Damien and Tracey, that’s my idea!)
As I have now learned, however, trying to tell a Caribbean Islander that you are in a hurry is about as effective as informing an Israeli that you respond better to politeness. The stereotype of the Islanders – portrayed memorably in a British TV ad for Malibu rum (“Imagine if we Caribbeans took life as seriously as the rest of the world”) – is remarkably accurate. One informed me, yesterday, that the supermarket was a “five to ten minute walk” away. It took me no more than a minute and a half.
It has taken me over a week to adapt, but I am starting to appreciate the huge benefits of such a laid-back approach to life. These people just don’t get stressed about anything. They don’t care how much you earn, paid for your house, or tip, about your relationship with your God (and which of His commandments you choose to observe), or whether you are right, left, straight, gay, or a little bit of both. They exhibit a wonderful simplicity and seamlessness, not seeming to give a toss (excuse the puns) about much other than cricket . . . and, even then, not in the aggressive, jingoistic way that the English, for example, ‘enjoy’ their sport.
I tried to imagine a similar scenario to the airport one involving Israelis (somewhat tragically, I am often informed that my behavior is getting me extremely close to becoming a ‘real’ one) . . . The testosterone-challenged (too much) males of the species would have referred Liat staff to the private parts of their mothers (“Koos ima shelachem”), whilst their hysterical female mating partners would have been feigning to pass out and begging their men to calm down, all the while fanning themselves with a copy of Yediot (the closest Israeli equivalent of the British Sun ‘newspaper’ . . . but without the tits [if you exclude Bibi and Katzav]).
In another week and a half, I will be back in Tel Aviv, with fellow Israelis breathing down my neck as I withdraw cash from the ATM, attempting to push in front of me in every imaginable excuse for a queue, and generally being aggressive and discourteous. I am currently involved in a building project, and hearing how my partners address our architects and other hired professionals, during our weekly meetings, makes even this lawyer shudder.
So, what is it about Israelis?
We think too much. We question too much. We agonise too much. We say too much (often when it doesn’t concern us). We kvetch (complain) too much. We argue too much. We are over-cynical. And we are certainly too competitive and covetous. Woody Allen sums it up best, when he says that “Jews are just like everyone else . . . only more so.” And I would take that one step further: “Israelis are just like Jews . . . only more so.”
My (almost anti-Semitic sounding) view is that there are just too many Jews squeezed into so tiny a land mass. It often feels as if you are living amongst several million Sigmund Freuds, Alan Sugars, and Woody Allens (with several thousand Bernie Madoffs thrown in for bad measure). And, sometimes, the sense of suffocation causes me to fantasise about taking my leave, not just from Israel, but from Jewish life in general (whilst, at the same time, recognising that I probably wouldn’t last too long in such self-imposed exile).
True, the safety issues that Israelis have to contend with are rather more existential than those relating to bowlers’ run-ups. We can’t, however, perpetually use the matzav (security “situation”) to excuse our behavior, much of which is caused, not by our lovely Arab neighbours, but by our own greed, jealousy of, and lack of respect and tolerance for, our fellow compatriots and coreligionists (not to mention others).
I love my Land, and Israelis have many qualities, not least of which are a candour and straightforwardness not exhibited by my other compatriots, the British. At last week’s Test, England cricket supporters unfailingly greeted every outspoken utterance of flamboyant, exuberant West Indies fans with sycophantic laughter, which – amongst themselves (and on their own “patch”) – would undoubtedly, instead, have taken the form of racial slurs and epithets. But, there I am, being cynical again.
We angst-ridden Israelis (and Jews), with some justification, are always worried about what might happen tomorrow. And we are so busy competing and achieving, that we have forgotten (if we ever really knew) how – like the Caribbean Islanders – to “live the now” . . . and just be.