10 Things You Might Not Know About Israel
Living in Israel for the past 14 years, I’ve grown comfortable in my chosen home, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still often look at my surroundings through expat eyes. While a quick and easy top 10 list may give you a sketch of Israel, so many of the nuances about Israel might be missing. So, here’s my chance to fill the gaps. Check out the 10 things you might not know about Israel!
1. The Dead Sea is not your ordinary seaside excursion.
The Dead Sea is the saltiest sea on Earth – so salty you can’t sink – and it has a lot of amazing minerals for your skin. But if you think to yourself, “oh, we’re going to the sea, so I better shave/wax,” STOP right now. Have you ever heard the phrase “put salt in your wounds”? Even if you have microscopic cuts, the salt and minerals will cause an intense burning sensation. Run to the freshwater showers and rinse immediately. On the plus side, those little cuts will heal pretty quickly and the rest of your skin will feel really good (once the aroma of the Dead Sea fades).
2. Israeli food could be the foundation of that diet plan you’ve been looking for.
It’s fresh, tasty, colorful, healthy, and characterized by a lot of vegetables and legumes. If you aren’t used to this kind of fare, you might find that your stomach will stage a rebellion. The vegetables might cause, well, let’s call it a “cleansing” experience. And the legumes will probably cause bloating and gas. May I recommend some fennel tea? Once your stomach settles down, enjoy!
3. Israelis love dark humor.
Given the situation in Israel, you might think that Israelis are totally serious about everything all the time. Death and violence are serious. But in Israel, there’s always room for a little humor. A recent joke is that a new army corps opened up that specializes in the use of nunchucks, umbrellas, selfie-sticks, and shopping carts (all things people have used to thwart recent knife attacks).
4. Israel is generally safe.
This might seem counterintuitive, but the fact is that Israel has lower levels of street crime than most other countries. You should definitely be alert and aware of your surroundings, but the likelihood of a personal attack (day or night) is pretty low.
5. But traffic incidents are still a big problem.
A friend once noted that even during the worst days of the Second Intifada, there were still more people dying in traffic accidents than terror attacks. So keep your eyes open and always look both ways before crossing the street.
6. Zionist blue-and-white glasses don’t turn Israel into paradise.
Israel may be the Zionist miracle, but it is still a young country with a lot of ancient cultural and religious history–and tension–at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It’s complicated around here.
7. The Start-Up Nation is very advanced and backward at the same time.
Israel is second to Silicon Valley in hi-tech and start-ups. And yet, until very recently, many government offices will accept forms delivered in person or via fax. Israel still isn’t totally in the 21st century, but we’re working on it.
8. Israel is not a mini-US.
Even though you can speak English almost everywhere and even feel like you are in the US sometimes, Israel is still a country with its own unique flavor. A prime example is the supermarket line. When you are standing there wondering why it’s so slow, why there are no helpers bagging your groceries, and why others in line feel compelled to inspect and comment on your purchases, just laugh and keep repeating to yourself “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
9. Yekirati, you are totally adorable, but so is every other dear, hon, sweetie, and love.
Your new friend in Israel might call you neshama (soul), yekirati (my dear), hamuda (cutie), metuka (sweetie), mami (dear), or even buba (doll). It’s sweet and sounds loving, but a word to the wise, romance is in actions, not endearments.
10. Israel is in the Middle East, not of the Middle East.
Women travelers to Israel do not need to cover their hair, go out in public with a male companion, or rent a burqa. Israel is a Western society and you are free to dress as you wish and you can go just about anywhere you want. That said, in Jerusalem there are a lot of religious sites and, just as you would in your home country, you must dress modestly to enter a synagogue, church, or other religious area. In Tel Aviv, you can comfortably (and generally safely) walk around in your bikini anywhere near the beach, but be prepared for men to stare. You are that awesome and they are that obvious.
Israel is a worthwhile adventure. Bring an open mind when you visit, experience everything, and above all, ENJOY!
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