Whenever I am asked how Israelis compare to the British, there is one single reoccurring experience that always springs to mind as best illustrating the cultural, social and psychological differences between my two sets of compatriots.
“Do you have brothers and sisters?”
This is a compulsory first date question. Indeed, it is on that mental ‘note’ that we serial first-daters keep in our mental ‘pocket’ just in case our mind is blanked out by the devastating appeal of the stranger sitting opposite us or, as is more common, by the thought “What the f* ck am I doing here?!”
“I had a brother, but he died.”
In England, this was invariably the cue for a swift glance floorward or (for the more self-assured woman) a courteous extension of sympathy, and – in both cases – the immediate changing of the subject.
The odd bold bird would go a bit further.
“How did he die?”
She looked sorry she asked.
But not here. Israeli girls go further in every sense.
“How did he do it?”
The first time I was asked this question, I thought I was on some cruel Israeli dating version of Candid Camera. But judging by the frequency with which I had to field it thereafter – on about two out of every three first dates – it soon became obvious that I was the one who would have to be making the psychosocial readjustment.
I don’t know why it should matter to a potential second date how Jonny took his life, but it would certainly appear to.
One could argue that the army and the “matzav” (political and security situation in Israel) desensitize Israelis to death . . . or, not giving the natives the benefit of the doubt, that they are just remarkably tactless. And it does sometimes feel as if that part of the cognitive process that inhibits other nationalities from asking grossly insensitive questions is just missing from the mental makeup of most Israelis.
New olim (immigrants to Israel) – especially those from the UK, where the natives tend to be rather less frank – often cite Israeli openness and directness as one of the main reasons they prefer it here.
Indeed, in Israel, it is better to be asked such questions than not to be asked at all.
Last Saturday evening, I went on a blind date arranged by Sidney, my real estate agent.
Eylat was refreshingly normal for a Tel Aviv woman, reasonably attractive, and studying for a Ph.D. (and not in Retail Therapy). I hadn’t been blown away, but Eylat was a considerably better proposition than any of the apartments Sidney had shown me.
And, on my stroll home from the Dizengoff café where Eylat and I had shared a two-seater, I resolved that I would look kindly on the fact that Eylat could not have been far off 40, was in possession of a rather oddly shaped mouth, and larger thighed than I tend to like. In fact, I would reward Eylat with a second date.
I was now feeling distinctly regal. In fact, if I had been double-jointed, I would have patted myself on the back for my generosity of spirit.
So, on Sunday morning, I sent Eylat an sms, notifying her of her good fortune. And, a few hours later, I received the following reply:
“Mitz’ta’eret, aval zeh loh ma’tim – be’hatz’lacha.” (I am sorry, but it is not suitable – good luck.)
I was flabbergasted. Where was the appreciation for my selfless grant of a second audience?! Anyway, our conversation had been pleasant and had flowed, and was totally devoid of that bane of the first date: the awkward silence.
But then it occurred to me . . . after enquiring about my sibling situation, Eylat had not followed up on the news of Jonny’s death in any way. She simply didn’t care. The warning sign had been there, but I had been too preoccupied with the concessions I would be granting Eylat to notice it.
Suddenly, the memory of all those tactless women seemed a whole lot better . . . and, from now on, I will no longer wish for what in Israel is considered cold indifference.