Saturday, July 05, 2008


Anyone who manages to live in Israel for a period of time learns the word for patience; savlanut (pronounced sahv-la-noot). Most of the time it is used when you are already so exasperated that you're ready to upend the desk of the clerk opposite you and crave the release of flying papers, spilled cups of tea, rolling pens and telephones. Having seen this melodrama played out many times in various government offices that deal with the public, I've gotten rather blase about frustration: the librarian at the university library won't let a tenured professor of art at the same university look at art books? the local post office branch decides one day that it's too much trouble to work the posted hours? the bus driver refuses to open the back door at a bus stop? Yeah, yeah, so what else is new?

Of course those who don't adapt leave. Or stay and complain. A few committed and energetic ones try to make it better, and eventually a few of them succeed. Changing a closed society to an open, service-, consumer-entitled mentality is a slow and painful process, and requires a certain hardiness and persistence on the part of the crusaders (please excuse the term, which has unhappy connotations for Jews) and for the victims general public. So it's not really a surprise that when Israelis travel, which we do a lot, we carry along habits and expectations that can work to our detriment. In third- and second-world countries, standard Israeli inventiveness, argumentation, letting off steam, and improvisation often get the desired results: an airline seat on "full" plane, a hotel room when a reservation was "lost," a medication from a pharmacy that was "closed." But when we travel to Western so-called "civilized" cultures, the effect can be disastrous. Learning what is "the done thing" in a place usually takes a lifetime of acculturation. "The done thing" is not universal.

Paradoxically, very crucial human behaviors in times of crisis also vary from culture to culture, and at these, Israelis excel. Anyone who was in New York City on 9/11 knows how a catastrophe can put humanity to the test. People who would ordinarily avoid eye contact with strangers suddenly risking their lives to help them; yes there were a few looters, but many more impressive acts of unselfishness. When you look at it this way, daily life in Israel is an ongoing catastrophe.

I love it!

* 29th out of 178? That's not good enough.


Fred said...

I had a similar experience after our house fell done thanks to Hurricane Andrew. Well, everyone else's house also took a hit.

Suddenly, houses in a neighborhood became a tight-knit group of people who suddenly were struggling to survive. At that moment, we became a community that cared about each other, not our lawns.

Savtadotty said...

Fred - It sounds like once survival fears subside, community caring subsides too. But lawn care improves!