Since I live on campus and have been spending a lot of time going to class and studying during this short semester, I’ve found that I need to get off of campus and do something fun (for mental health reasons) at least once a week. I would definitely go crazy if I didn’t make a point to do that.
Last week’s outing was not some exciting destination like Jerusalem or Jaffa, but it was somewhere that I consider to be my soothing natural habitat- the mall. Haifa’s biggest mall is called the Grand Kanyon- a play on words since ‘kanyon’ means mall in Hebrew.
Even though the mall itself is very modern and western, there were several moments during the day where I thought “I am definitely not in America.” I’ve documented them here.
These pictures are not related to my stories, but they make me smile... I guess because in my head I don't imagine traditional, religious Middle Eastern people at malls. #mallsbringpeopletogether
But back to my stories. While waiting for the bus, a guy came up to me and started speaking Russian. I told him that I didn't understand what he was saying, and we had the following conversation:
“What?? But you have such a Russian face. I was sure you were Russian.”
(I shake my head and attempt to continue reading my book... he doesn’t take the hint)
“I am Sasha. Nice to meet you.”
“You are new in Israel?”
“I’ve been here for a few months.”
“You must let me take you out to show you the fun of Haifa. It vill be vunderful.”
“Sorry, I’m too busy with school. I’m only in Israel for a few more weeks.”
Sasha looked a little sad, but he eventually walked away after saying “Dasvidanya, Russian-face girl.”
This was pretty entertaining. I’m sure he only thought I looked Russian because I obviously look closer to Russian than Middle Eastern.
If you’re not aware, there are a LOT of Russians in Israel, especially in Haifa. Usually if I don’t understand someone’s Hebrew, they try to switch to Russian. That does not work very well for me. Angleet, bavakesha.
After that whole Soviet Union thing didn't work out, about a million Soviets immigrated to Israel. That is HUGE considering the tiny size of Israel (today, about 8 million total). Israel had a rule that any Russian with at least one Jewish grandparent could come here easily and immediately become a citizen. I probably would have taken Israel up on that offer too and gotten the heck out of Russia.
The reason this experience made me think “I am not in America” is because random men (especially Russian-Israelis named Sasha) definitely do not just start talking to me in America. In general I appreciate that about the U.S., but it can be entertaining sometimes. I still laugh about some of the weird and usually flattering things that European men would say.
Once on the bus (sans my new friend Sasha haha), an argument between two-thirds of the passengers and the bus driver broke out. From what I could see and understand, the bus driver tried to start smoking while he was driving. Some people were passionately against this, and others were defending the driver. Like 20 people were yelling at each other in Hebrew with lots of dramatic hand gestures. If that happened in the U.S., I’m sure some people would also be annoyed... but I can’t picture a whole bus full of people yelling at each other over that.
I’ve noticed that Israelis seem to enjoy arguing, and they also tend to enjoy getting involved in what other people are doing. Sitting between 2 strangers exchanging heated pro and anti bus driver arguments was my second major “I’m not in America” moment of the day. No worries... within a few stops most of the angry people had gotten off and there was no more smoking within the bus.
Once at the mall, I had a happy reunion with some of my favorite stores (ZARA), and found a dress to buy at an Israeli department store. I guess there was some kind of sale on the dress, but in order to get the discount I needed to join the stores ‘moadon’... something like ‘club’ in English.
I tried to just say that I didn’t want to bother with it, because I didn’t know if it was actually worth it or some kind of a scam. At that point, people standing behind me in the line started to get involved and agree that I needed to join. Giving into peer pressure, I took the moadon application and started to fill it out.
I saw on the application that you needed an Israeli I.D. number. I explained that I was a student here and didn’t have one. Some people behind me were getting angry about the wait, but others were still very committed to me joining the moadon and argued with them to stop complaining. One of the cashiers just shrugged and started ringing up the dress at full price, but the other one was more determined.
“It doesn’t have to be your I.D. number, it just has to be a number.”
At that point, a lady behind me in line handed her I.D. card to the cashier. Without my input, I then became an official member of the moadon haha. I now have a card obtained under shady circumstances that I can always use at that store. And... the best part is that I ended up only paying 50 shekels for a 150 shekel dress. Thanks, semi-crazy Israeli people!
Like the bus incident, this was another example of Israelis enjoying getting involved in what other people are doing. This was my third “I’m not in America” moment of the day. I can see people being helpful in similar ways in America too, but I don’t see a whole line of people arguing and conspiring together to break the rules for some random foreigner who only half understands what they’re trying to do. This moment made my day! I was laughing all of the way out of the store.