Native Israelis, called ‘Sabras’ are named after the sabra fruit, which is dangerously prickly on the outside, but tremendously sweet on the inside. It may be difficult to crack one open, but when you do, you may enjoy the sweetness, which makes navigating the prickles more than worth it. Israelis are just like sabras—they are prickly on the outside. Patience isn’t their best virtue, and they are extremely direct. But once you are used to it, their directness is a great thing—they don’t want to waste your time ‘beating around the bush’, so tell it like it is. Many other cultures, including the American culture, are not used to this directness and it might come off as rude. But if an Israeli is direct with you, they likely don’t mean it to be rude. If you bring your thick skin with you to Israel, the rewards of the sweet fruit you find inside the sabras will show itself soon enough!
A few weeks ago, Israel hit a nightly temperature high since the establishment of the state, so bring your survivor tools. First and most obviously, a personal fan—more points if you bring one of the fans that also spritz water at you. Another handy tool for the heat is a cooling towel. This towel is not a normal towel; when you wet it and ‘snap’ it, it cools and stays cool for a while. It’s pricey for a piece of fabric, but, if you’re outside in the heat, you will want it use it often. If you don’t want to invest your shkalim (Israeli currency) in a towel, you can find a cheap Popsicle mold in many stores like MaxStock all around Israel.
One of the best parts of being in Israel is going to the shuk – a central market with local fruits, veggies, spices, and really anything you could ever want. It is truly a culinary paradise. The shuk, like Israel, is filled with goodies, and it’s just a matter of finding them after going multiple times. The shopkeepers can sometimes be impatient, but their products are fresh, reasonably priced, and delicious. With such inexpensive prices and delicious goodies, you’re going to want something to carry it back with. The ‘shuk bag’ looks like a stroller mixed with a carry on luggage and it’s super helpful in lugging all your shuk purchases back to wherever you’re staying. The best kind of shuk bags have wheels (often in the shape of triangles) that are meant to go down stairs. Always a good idea when travelling in a 5,000+ year-old city.
Speaking of the shuk, I can guarantee you that if you are speaking in English, then taxi drivers, anyone in the Old City quarters, and shuk salespeople will jack up the prices for you. (This is one good reason to practice your Hebrew!) Taxis should not cost as much as they do in New York City and you don’t tip them. Anything at the shuk is usually cheap, so if the price sounds average, bargain. If the price sounds a little high, it definitely is. You can sometimes negotiate prices down to 75 per cent off of the ‘original price’. Note that this is mainly for markets, not for fancy stores and food items that have individual price tags.
Israel is a small place, the whole country is around the size of New Jersey. Therefore, apartments in Israel are probably smaller than you’d think. But if you have the right tools, your horizons will expand, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Try to maximize your living space with organizational products like bed risers, door hooks, closet storage, and anything and everything in The Container Store and Bed Bath and Beyond. And remember, a small living area means that only the things you love most will surround you—and that is a very Israeli way of living.
One of the most annoying things about basic bathrooms in Israel is that the shower is often connected to the rest of the bathroom. Meaning the bathroom floor is also the sink floor and the toilet floor. It’s going to get wet every time you shower. I suggest bringing an absorbent rug or shamwow – a super absorbent towel/sponge.
The bureaucracy is rough. Expect things to take three times the amount of time you think it will take. Bank associates will probably be on the phone talking to their ‘motek’ or ‘capara’ and there’s really no use putting up a fuss, because if you do they will make sure to thank you by being even slower than they already were.
Especially important if you’re in Jerusalem, many things shut down from Friday night until Saturday night in observance of the Jewish Sabbath. Even if you do not observe Shabbat, you are bound to find some meaning in being with friends and family without electronics around. If you’re dying to do something on Shabbat, try a restaurant that’s open on Shabbat. How do you pass the time? Get to know people on a deeper level, go on walks, play board games, throw a Frisbee… the possibilities are endless and it feels great to embrace your inner child and swap your phone for a deck of cards.