Monthly Archives: January 2010

Israeli Phone Etiquette

by David Bogner (Efrat, Israel)

The title of today’s post makes a bold assumption; it assumes that there exists some sort of established etiquette for speaking on the phone here. If there is, in fact such established etiquette, I have yet to encounter it.

Take, for instance, the following typical exchange:

[Phone rings]
Me: “Hello?”
Caller: “Hello?”
[long pause]
Me: “HELLO?”
Caller: “Hello?”
[another long pause]
Me: “Can I help you? You called me. Surely you had some idea of what you wanted to say when you dialed my number!!!”
Caller: [as though 30 seconds hasn’t elapsed since I answered the phone] “Yes, I’m calling to speak with David, this is…”

Just so we’re clear, this is not something that happened once or twice. This is what happens every single time I answer the phone! I’ve listened to other people’s phone conversations and with the exception of my sarcastic remark about who called whom, this is exactly how the entire country begins a phone conversation!!!

The first few times I was on the receiving end of one of these calls, I thought perhaps the person had forgotten who they were calling. I mean, it’s happened to me on occasion that my mind wandered while the phone was ringing and when the person answered I had no idea who they were or why I was trying to reach them. But that’s not the case here… everyone begins their phone conversations like two painfully shy teenagers meeting at a school dance!

The crazy part is that Israelis are wonderful conversationalists. I can’t ever recall seeing or hearing of an Israeli who lacked for something to say. The Hebrew language’s relative paucity of words is more than balanced by the generous use of inflection, accent, tonal range and volume.

Israelis can go gesture-for-gesture with any of the great ‘talking cultures’ of the Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, French, etc). By this I mean that Israelis are extremely animated talkers, sometimes to the point of becoming oblivious to the scene (or accident) they are causing during an emotional tête-à-tête.

So what happens at the start of a phone call that makes them momentarily mute?

The end of the phone call has the opposite problem. Israelis seem to have never adopted the standard formulas for ending a phone conversation cleanly. People here don’t say:

Caller one: “Thanks for the recipe, I’ll look forward to seeing you this weekend.”
Caller two: “My pleasure, Bye.
[click]

No, instead conversations are allowed to loiter and circle the airport until the ‘plane’ is completely out of fuel.

For illustration purposes:

[at the tail end of a long phone conversation]
Me: “Well, I’m really glad you called.”
Other person: “Good…”
Me: “Great, so I guess…”
OP: “Ok, so…”
Me: “Alright then…”
OP: “Wonderful…”
Me: [sitting in confused silence because the conversation is inexplicably still going on… it simply refuses to die a quiet death!]
OP: “So…”
Me: “Ireallyhavetogonownicetalkingtoyoubye” [click]

If I hadn’t finally given the caller the verbal equivalent of the bum’s rush, the conversation would likely have gone on for another two or three minutes! No exaggeration! It makes me tired just thinking about it!

Again, I have listened in on other people’s conversations (it’s really not hard to do in such a vocal culture) and virtually everyone has this stammering, meandering wind-down to their conversations in place of the familiar (to me) formulaic; ‘set up’… ‘acknowledgement of set up’… and ‘mutual disconnect’.

Now, granted I’ve been living here in Israel less than a year-and-a-half…. so there are still quite a few cultural nuances that bump up against my ‘old country habits’. I’m sure if I was in Japan and I had to listen to people answering the phone with a brisk, “Mushy Mushy!”, it would take me at least this long to become comfortable with the change.

But if there is anyone out there who can shed a little light on how the concept of a clean start and finish to a phone conversation turned out to be such a difficult thing for Israelis to master, I would be much obliged.

David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003, David has been working in Israel’s defense industry in International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog, Treppenwitzhttp://www.treppenwitz.com(where this piece first appeared) and is an amateur beekeeper.

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As the sequoias

by Chaviva Edwards (Storrs, CT)

The first time I went to a Conservative synagogue, I was told by a friend that when the mourner’s kaddish is recited, to stay seated unless I actually am in mourning for a lost loved one. I sat there as a few of the 20 or so people there stood up on old, worn ankles, tired hips mustering the strength to stand tall in the sanctuary while reciting the prayer that does not once mention death. I mouthed the words to myself, because it was what I knew — when reciting kaddish, the congregation stood together with those mourning, each holding each other up. This is an across-the-board kind of thing, though it varies from shul to shul. I can confidently say that most Conservative/Orthodox shuls are the kind of places where only the mourners will stand.

But last night at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, the rabbi gave probably the most poignant explanation for why all congregants should stand during the kaddish. He told the congregation about an article he had read about the seqouias — the tall trees that grow thin and high. The roots of these trees are pretty much at surface level, that is, they do not grow very far below the immediate surface. So how do these trees stand so very tall when threatened to be blown over by the smallest breeze? The roots are intertwined across entire forest areas. The roots lace together, creating a strong, solid structure, a base of root upon root that allows each tree to hold his neighbor up, and in turn, to hold up the entire collection of sequoias. Without one, they all would falter.

How appropriate is this? How beautiful an analogy for why a congregation should stand, arms intertwined and souls laced together tightly in a sanctuary space with those mourning and those not mourning, simply to support one another in a time of extreme sadness? Like the sequoias, Jews, too, should interlace themselves, standing tall and help one another brave the wind that blows soft, then hard, across our cheeks.

Chaviva Edwards, currently residing in Storrs, Connecticut, is in her second year of the master’s program in Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut. In her past life, Chaviva was a copy editor for such publications as The Denver Post, The Daily Nebraskan, and The Washington Post. Alongside her master’s work, she is rekindling her insatiable desire to edit through special projects involving Judaism and Jewish topics. She is an avid photographer, devotee of her many blogs, and a Web 2.0 connoisseur.

You can find more of her work at www.kvetchingeditor.com, chaviva.yelp.com, www.twitter.com/kvetchingeditor, and flickr.com/photos/kvetchingeditor

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The Diner

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

God’s sitting at the next table over,
amid the noontime rush,
consulting the menu the angelic
waitress has placed before him.
I wonder what he’s ordering,
what celestial meal will be to his liking.
There are so many questions I would like to ask,
but I don’t want to appear rude,
like some overzealous autograph seeker.
I’d like to ask if he made the universe eons ago,
and whether these days he takes an active hand
in the petty and paltry affairs of man.
I’d like to know why over the course of time
he has let so many disasters go unattended,
and more selfishly, what plans does he have for me?
But I will sit here quietly at my own table
and not presume upon his meal.
He has enough on his plate, I would think,
though I do wonder whether he leaves a large tip
as he finishes his coffee, checks his BlackBerry,
and contemplates what miracles
he has to accomplish by evening.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

“The Diner” was prompted, Mel says, by “the Job-like questions I still have about God and what He is not doing lately.”

You can read more about his work at his website: www.melglenn.com

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