Today, I lost my temper and yelled at my boss. Because this is Israel, he just grinned at me and said, “good for you! I want to see this more!” It was one of the most interesting and refreshing experiences I have had here.
Let me preface this by saying that I rarely lose my temper. I generally believe that getting angry is a useless response. It doesn’t solve anything, it just makes me feel bad. I avoid it. I am a good-natured, laid-back kind of person for the most part, so this really isn’t hard for me. I just let stuff that might make others mad roll right over me without leaving a mark. I get annoyed, irritable, and grumpy just as much as anyone else, I just don’t get angry. There are people who have known me for years and have never seen me truly spitting mad. When I do get angry I usually feel terrible afterward and apologize to anyone who saw me. I am bad at holding grudges, and my anger is very short.
Right now I’m working a customer service job, I’m an American in a foreign country, and I speak only a few words of the local language. It is completely inevitable that I will get talked about behind my back, that men will make raunchy jokes at me, and that I’ll get various joking offers of marriage. That’s all par for the course with customer service. It bothers me a little because I don’t think I SHOULD have to put up with it, but it’s basically background noise. I just ignore it and move on. If someone gets out of line I tell them to stop and they stop, simple as that.
There are many cultural differences between Israel and the US, but the one I encounter the most is also the one I dislike the most when directed at me.
Everyone assumes that I want a boyfriend, need a boyfriend, or should have a boyfriend. Everyone. When I say I don’t have one and don’t want one they usually ask if I have a girlfriend, and when I say no, they look at me like the fact of my single status is personally offensive. They seem completely unable to comprehend that I might actually just enjoy being single. When I say this to them they say things like “Ah, you’ve never been in love.” When I tell them that actually, yes I have, they look baffled and don’t believe me. This makes me furious.
I also meet a fair number of middle aged or older men who decide that flirting outrageously with me is a good idea. And look, I get it, they think because they’re old it isn’t threatening, it’s just funny. For the most part they’re right. I either ignore it or flirt back a little, because old men give good tips and most of them are actually quite nice. They’re bored, they see a cute young thing who reminds them of their glory days, it’s all fine. I don’t mind. It still pisses me off when they start telling me I should have a boyfriend, like I’m missing out on some essential part of life.
There is also a culture of saying exactly what you’re thinking here that doesn’t exist in the US. It is totally fine to be tactless, blunt, direct, even rude at times. Nissim (the boss I lost my temper at today) is always telling me I need to be “stronger.” He means I should be louder and more assertive, which is a little silly, in my opinion. I’m assertive when I need to be, and loud when I need to be. I also value good manners and although I don’t get annoyed or offended when Israelis are blunt to me, I don’t do it back. I like being polite. I’m not shy.
Today one old man made a comment about marrying me/taking me home/not remembering what to do with a woman because he is so old. The way he said it was uncomfortable, which I told him, and he apologized and backed off. I don’t think he had realized he was being gross. He immediately switched back to what I assume he considered a “safe” topic – do I have a boyfriend? I gritted my teeth, gave my usual answers (although the phrase “men are pigs” may have slipped out at one point, oops. I was pissed off.) and extricated myself from the situation.
Alas, not the end of the story. I was debriefing with Nissim and Michael, who is a Russian Israeli who runs the kitchens, and we started just chatting. Michael said something like, “You should get a boyfriend and come back to work here!” and I just lost it. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I straight-up yelled at them for about thirty seconds, which is actually quite a long time, banged my hand on the table, threw my hands in the air, etc. while telling them exactly why I hate that assumption. I’m… fairly certain they missed the details, because neither of them is fluent in English and I definitely went into a bit of feminist rant-mode, but they DEFINITELY got the gist.
Being Israeli of course, they both looked quite proud of me when I was done, agreed that I should do whatever I want, and told me I should definitely come back, with a friend. Nissim told me he was glad I was getting angry at him because it meant I was more comfortable around him. True-ish, but mostly I was just really pissed off. Two minutes later we were laughing about French girls being scared of cats. (This is a thing, apparently. We have a group of French girls here tonight and they are scared of cats, dogs, camels, snakes, spiders, the dark, the desert, and… pretty much everything, actually. The last French group was the same. On the plus side, I got to speak French pretty much all day, which was nice. I’m rusty, but improving with practice.)
I didn’t apologize for getting mad, and neither Michael nor Nissim expected it. Nissim and I talked about Prague, and then I went back to my room. It was so refreshing to get angry in a culture that just accepts it, doesn’t bother with hurt feelings, and then goes on with business. I suspect that this has reassured Nissim that I’m not too soft to get by here. How bizarre.
I’m not going to get angry more often now – I still don’t think it’s useful. But it is nice to know that if I do… it’s not a big deal. No one will worry about me, or be offended, or try to read too far into it. I’ll just say what’s pissing me off and then we’ll get on with the next thing. How refreshing!