Life on the Other Side: Chutzpah

There’s just something about Israelis – they have to know everything about you and tell you what they think. I used to consider it a form of friendliness – getting to know you. Now I’m wiser.

It started over 30 years ago – when I was a student at Tel Aviv University. I had just gotten back from a trip to Turkey, and my friend and I went to the local supermarket to stock up on groceries. As we approached the cheese section, the stocky, older woman behind the counter called out to my friend, “Hey motek, what happened to you? You got so fat!” And there began my love/hate affair with the quintessential Israeli character trait – chutzpah!

Perhaps I should just say what it really is – rudeness. But it’s so in-your-face obvious that you kind of get used to it and laugh it off, although the first few times it is rather shocking. I’ve been back here almost 20 years and only now am I getting used to it.

The intrusiveness can take the form of a truck driver delivering tiles. “This your house? Why so big? How many of you live here? What do you need such a huge place?” Or the bank manager who asks how much you pay for rent and then tells you it’s too much. Or the person in line behind you at the post office (actually, she’s now next to you and breathing down your neck) who advises that you can send your package cheaper by using another method, or the person who jumps in line ahead of you in the supermarket because “I have only three items and you have more.” Or the taxi driver who, when he hears your American accent, asks you to marry him, bring a package to his son in New York, or arrange a visa for him with the American ambassador. Are you getting the picture?

I used to arrive home from shopping forays in tears. I just couldn’t understand why people had to be so rude in person, so inconsiderate in the parking lots, so aggressive in every behavior. And that’s when my husband told me I had better shape up – because I’ll never survive in this land if I take it all so seriously. And eventually I learned he’s right.

The same obnoxious behavior of having to know your business can take forms that are charming and helpful. Like the butcher who, while explaining to you how to make chulent, is interrupted by the next customer who insists that you use a different cut of meat, who is overheard by the store manager who insists that you add eggs and figs. You know what? I thanked them all and adopted their suggestions; the chulent came out fabulous.

The trick is to accept the comments/criticisms/commentaries in a friendly manner – don’t take them too seriously. And if you really want to feel good – the next time your bank manager offers his opinion about your rental price, ask him how much he paid for his house. When he gets over his shock and timidly answers you, tell him without blinking an eye, “Oh, what a shame. My friend just paid half for the exact same house down the block!” That ought to do the trick.

Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique Bed and Breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea.Visit and

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