“You’ve got too much to say!”
So North-West London’s most famous French teacher would often chide his loquacious (he preferred “yapping”) pupils.
And not always having to say something – especially if, as my parents would remind me, that “something” is not worth saying – is an English attitude that the Israeli would do well to consider. Indeed, while silence and Jerusalem may both be golden, only one of them is “blue and white” too (for the time being, at least).
As I have documented on these pages (here, here and here), most Israelis are of the view that it is not only their God-given right, but also their duty, to give their opinion – even to complete strangers – on absolutely everything, whether or not that “everything” even concerns them.
Most common is advice . . . in my case, dating, dieting and doggy (dogging is, I am informed, something completely else). Earlier this week, for instance, there was the elderly lady on Rothschild who deemed it incumbent upon her to inform me that I was endangering the lives of Stuey and Dexxy by not observing the Do Not Walk sign (wonderfully altruistic, I thought, considering that Hezbollah is now in possession of scores of missiles capable of reaching, and destroying, her bidet).
The Israeli, however, does not limit him or herself to the purely prescriptive . . .
Two Saturdays ago, I drove Stuey and Dexxy to see Tal, a friend’s 6-year old daughter – housebound and miserable due to an upset tummy – who is particularly fond of my hairy flat mates, and who had summoned them to Hod Hasharon to cheer her spirits.
It might have been wise, before tucking in, to have spared a thought for the cause of Tal’s stomach ache. And, lo and behold, a short while after being amply fed by my Moroccan hostess, Tal’s mum, my bowels started to feel the effects of her schnitzel and couscous (delicious though they were).
While Edna’s apartment is small, and WC smaller still, I have brilliantly refined, over the years, the subtle art of camouflaging my lavatorial activities in other people’s homes. I don’t wish to give too much away – if the Made Simple or For Dummies people are reading this, you know where to find me – but it involves cleverly synchronizing eruptions, emissions and plopping (to quote my earlier Blog on the Bog) with the ebbs and flows of living room discussion and/or peaks in television volume.
And on this particularly delicate – the smaller the abode, the greater the risk of social disgrace – occasion, I put in a typically sterling performance. Indeed, even the absence of a canister of air freshener in the poorly ventilated shoebox did not worry me unduly, as I had noticed that Edna had only just exited. The true professional, you see, leaves nothing to chance.
Fortune and fate, on the other hand, are vicissitudes for which even the ultimate pro cannot legislate . . .
Whilst washing my hands in the adjacent bathroom, I heard (who I immediately understood to be) Edna’s ex-husband (and Tal’s father) – whom I had never met, and who was totally oblivious to my presence – enter the apartment, and head straight for the toilet.
“Shit!” I exclaimed to myself. “What stinking luck!” One always likes a few minutes grace after visiting one’s host’s WC.
And my worst fears were confirmed at once, with the uncouth bellowing of “Ed-naaa . . . eifo ha’spray (where’s the spray)?!”
“Shut up!” I silently begged. “Pleeease!!”
I had, now, nowhere to hide.
I mean, I hardly expected a momentary awkwardness, followed swiftly by a forced (and redundant) clearing of the throat and an off-the-cuff comment on the day’s weather – the inevitable English response – off a Moroccan! But, meeting the corpulent, hairy native in the narrow corridor, neither did he deem a cheeky grin and a wink to suffice . . .
“La’briyut, gever (good health, man)!” bellowed the great oaf – clearly delighting in my lavatorial faux pas – as he shook my hand in traditional, Gever Gever Israeli style (i.e., as if trying to yank my arm off my torso).
I was reminded, by way of contrast, of an incident from my youth – at a friend’s parents’ dinner table in the genteel London suburb of St. John’s Wood – when a contemporary’s risqué crack was instantly met, by our friend’s mother, with a totally straight-faced “More meat, Jonathan?”
But the thought of saying nothing on the subject – or, at least, nothing that would heighten my considerable discomfort – had not even occurred to Edna’s ex. And I wouldn’t mind, but it is not as if your average Israeli male has exemplary toilet habits (see a philistine with a small pee).
On the other hand, perhaps I am just, still, a little too sensitive to that male. After all, the episode was nowhere near as humiliating as that experienced by a friend, backpacking Down Under, who – from overenthusiastic eating on suddenly being reacquainted with home cooking – chundered over the seder (Passover) table of his Australian friend’s parents, whom he had just met that same evening.
It was also far less excruciating than that suffered by another travelling friend, who chose the family home of an American girlfriend, no less, to discharge matter that stubbornly refused to be sent on its fetid way. Seeing no alternative – and I jest not – he fished the offending object out of the bowl, wrapped it in toilet paper, and smuggled it out of the house.
Nonetheless, hardly just reward for a well-intentioned visit to a poorly child.