JWR Only in the Middle East!

Jewish World Review Aug. 11, 1999/ 29 Av, 5759

Freier, Freier,
Pants on Fire

By Joan Weinberg

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) IF YOU’RE LOST and need to ask directions, Israel is the country where you must ask three times. The first time is a benchmark, the second is to check that the answer jives with the first, and the third is just to be sure this final response agrees with one of the former two. Israel is like having a friend who may not know the answer, but who doesn’t know how to say, “I don’t know.” We forgive this in those we hold dear.

Think of it as creative lying.

I think this know-it-all attitude comes from one or both of two places: either wanting to please the inquirer, a quality noted by anthropologists who study the mentality of developing cultures, or just plain ego. Either way can point to disaster. And cynicism.

Econophone When I began to find little bits of floating brown stuff flooding out of my water tap, I called Tel Aviv City Hall. I was immediately connected to a very nice lady named, appropriately, Noa. She calmly explained that it had to be rust, sand or sediment. Right.

I was more concerned that it might have something to do with recent, major sewerage line breaks, located not far from my building. Noa put me on hold, called the water company, and within seconds, reported a truck would be at my apartment house within the hour to flush out the lines. Sure.

The most dangerous players in this know-every-answer game are shopkeepers. They stand the most to gain by concocting instant replies. I have been told that the instructions are in the box in English, as well as Hebrew. That the paint, once applied, is washable. That it truly is arugula in the little plastic bag. That it is 100 percent cotton. That the dish is microwaveproof. That the little stain will easily come out in the first wash.

Israel is the country where making a monkey out of one’s fellow man or woman has been elevated to a high art. (Denying responsibility is another.) It’s called the Freier (sucker) Syndrome, what I call FS, and it is most commonly exhibited among newcomers who come here a fairly trusting lot. FS is not nice, but it is evident and once you get the swing of things, it is compelling to watch it in action. As long as you don’t let it happen to you. Or do it to others. Unfortunately, as a side effect, it breeds suspicion and mistrust. Suspicion is even reflected in the modern Hebrew vernacular. It took me awhile to understand why it is not atypical to hear an Israeli say "Bemet?"(“Really?”) as if questioning the veracity of a statement. Almost any statement. After all, who wants to be taken for a sucker?

Leiters Sukkah Which is why I knew the water people would never come “today,” let alone tomorrow.

I called back a couple of hours ago just to be a nudge, and because I didn’t relish schlepping plastic bottles of water from the supermarket. Noa told me the water people had been there yesterday and today, and to go turn on my tap.

Clean, clear water. Pure, like the truth.

Although I will continue to boil. Just in case.

JWR contributor Joan Weinberg is English-language publications editor for the Weizmann Institute and a former LA Weekly columnist. You may reach her by clicking here.


07/14/99: Going blind in Tel Aviv
04/09/99: Air Shows, Alte Zachen and Air Conditioners
04/09/99: Confessions of a Cat Lady

© 1999, Joan Weinberg