Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ayzeh Mehdeenah* (1)!

*Literal translation: What a country!
Free translation: This you call a country?
Definition: An exclamation; a comment on an event, place, object, or behavior. It connotes irony, pride, wonder, delight, shame, disgust, or all of these together.

Instead of continuing a chronological narration of my move to Israel, I hope to share with you as many of my Ayzeh Mehdeenah experiences as I can remember, the ones starting from August 29, 1988, the day I landed in Israel as an olah chadasha (new immigrant). Because my memory-retrieval engine works much slower than Google's, I will post these experiences as they bubble up from the depths of my personal memory base, and, occasionally, even before they get stored there. For example, from last week...

Today's Vegetables
Originally uploaded by savtadotty.
The Best Things in Life Are (Almost) Free

4 cucumbers.....NIS 1.96
4 tomatoes........NIS 3.29
4 avocados........NIS 5.01
broccoli............NIS 5.00
red pepper..gift_______
Total................US $3.55 March, 2005

The First Day
On August 30, 1988, my first morning as an immigrant, I had one appointment and two errands: a welcome meeting with the "house mother" of the temporary immigrant dorm/studio apartment building, a visit to the local bank to open an account, and a visit to the local supermarket to buy groceries. This post is about groceries.

My studio apt. was in the middle of a small shopping area in Ramat Aviv, so finding the supermarket was pretty easy. It was at the end of my street. Buying food was a bit more problematic: most food packages were text-heavy, so I decided to buy only fresh vegetables and fruit, or packages I could see through (like cheese and frozen chicken), or packages with relevant pictures on them (like canned beans or spaghetti sauce). After all, it was my first day and I had plenty of time ahead to be adventurous. While waiting in line to check out, I observed that customers bagged their own groceries. OK, I could live with that. When I got home and unpacked what I'd bought, my work began: for two hours I sat, armed with calculator, alphabet diagram, and Hebrew dictionary, and translated the register-printed receipt.

Numbers are (almost) the same - hurray!

I started with the easy stuff: converting the prices from shekels to dollars, and the weighed items from grams to pounds and ounces. I was to learn later that handwritten numbers are not so easily recognized. The ones have heads, the sevens have tails, and the fours? Don't ask.

Letters are very different
I laboriously transliterated the letters when I was able to recognize them. To this day there are Hebrew letters I find difficult to distinguish from one another. In this way I looked up the English-Hebrew dictionary and browsed until I found a printed Hebrew word that could possible correspond to what I had on my cash-register receipt. It was a relief to learn that a few items were sounded familiar, like "banana."

Where are the graphics?
A marked lack of graphic cues culture-shocked me in 1988. I reflected on the history of American advertising , and realized that it had not been exported (yet). The literacy statistics in Israel are impressive...there is certainly a connection, for which I am at a disadvantage compared to an Israeli in the USA. I must "climb up" to really understand this place. I decide my aliyah must include becoming Hebrew-literate. As of 2005, I greet the "advances" in Israeli graphic communication with ambivalence. It makes it easier for me and others to navigate the culture, but it reduces the motivation to become Hebrew-literate.


Dale said...

This is fascinating, thank you!

PPB said...

Yeah! Blogger Comments are working! this sounds like a fabulous adventure.

sirbarrett said...

Intriguing. I always like to learn something new, and ayzeh mehdeenah is probably one of the most heteroglossic set of words (or is it considered one word?) I've come across yet. How are 4's written? (ops!) I'm hopeless with the Hebrew alphabet. I suppose it makes sense that they are so literate. If you can read that stuff, what can't you read?

Udge said...

Permit me a question at right angles to the topic: Are there more (a greater percentage of) lefthanded people in Israel? I heard a theory that "we" write from left to right and top to bottom, because the overwhelming majority of us are right-handed, so we don't smudge over the previous word while writing the next one.

Either the theory is bunk, or there should be a strong propensity to lefthandedness in the semitic gene pool.

Savtadotty said...

BC: ayzeh mehdeenah is two words, but it's definitely not the only Hebrew phrase with many context-dependent meanings. There are many fewer Hebrew words than English, so most of them have to do multiple jobs.

Udge: I don't know what the percentage of left-handed Israelis there are, but I suspect the theory is bunk, unless the invention of written language preceded the evolution of -handedness. I have observed more dyslexia here, but it could be just increased diagnostics and reporting.

Naomi said...

bc, what does "heteroglossic" mean??
Eizo Mehdeenah indeed... I have fond memories of buying fresh fruits and veggies at the Petah Tikva shuk every Friday with my dad. On Friday afternoons you'd get all the good deals since everyone had to close shop before Shabbat. I've lived in America and now in Australia, and the fruits and veggies just don't compare to the Israeli ones.

Savtadotty said...

Hi Naomi. You can see my transliterated Hebrew comes from what I hear, but I honestly do appreciate your reminder that mehdeenah is feminine (aizo, not aizeh). Would you like to be my Hebrew teacher and prove to the world that I'm not hopeless (in Hebrew)?

Naomi said...

SavtaDotty, I'm always happy to help with Hebrew. I have been out of the country for 10 years but it'll always be my mother tongue...
Udge, from what I remember we had one or two left-handed kids in my class at school, and I can't remember very many else. I think it's about 5% of the population anywhere in the world. The only thing you get from writing right to left is that the ink tends to smudge on your hand (if you're right-handed).

Udge said...

The only thing you get from writing right to left is that the ink tends to smudge on your hand ... which is exactly the reasoning behind the theory. This has the makings of a wonderfully abstruse PhD thesis for some anthropology student.

The Lioness said...

Don't look at me!