One of the least appealing aspects of life in Israel is living side-by-side with “The Israeli Arse“. No, I am not referring to the backsides of my fellow denizens. I’m talking about that ubiquitous character that makes life in Israel much more colourful perhaps, but at times also very annoying and almost unbearable.
The “Arse” is by now a stereotype: tight jeans, white t-shirts, copious amounts of hair jel, heavy golden jewelery, hand gestures, blue neon lights under the car, etc… (if you’ve lost me here, watch the movie I linked to above). But what used to be an amusing anthropological pastime has fast become the norm of Israeli society. “Arseem” are everywhere: on the road, in supermarkets, in malls, at the airport, in the synagogue. Perhaps it’s just my being away for a few years, but it seems like the “Arseem” population has grown immensely.
But it’s more than that really. The “Arseem” themselves are not the whole problem. What bothers me is the the “Arse culture” which seems to have become the de-facto Israeli culture, the zeitgeist. The total lack of basic manners (queuing up, or saying “sorry” after bumping into someone), the rudeness, the loud talking, the lack of respect for other people’s space or even presence. I find myself appraising people judgmentally on the street and in shops, to ascertain whether they are friends or foes.
I am currently reading a book about the 1967 “six day war”, which describes the general atmosphere of Israeli society before, during and after the war. What a different country! I’m not referring to the political/military differences but to how people wrote, spoke and behaved. Despite the harder times – both economically and politically – people back then had respect for fellow citizen and for country. I regret to say I don’t see that around me today. It’s every man for himself (except for rare moments of short-lived unity, around some major tragedy like a suicide bombing).
Last week, after a particularly nasty road incident with an “Arse” (I use the term freely here; he looked pretty respectable but his driving was definitely “Arse” in nature), I remembered something a friend told me many years ago. We were talking about life in Israel and how hard it was to get used to some aspects of it, and he said: “There is no choice. At a certain point in your life you come to realize that in order to protect your family and your sanity, you need to erect virtual walls around you. You block yourself off from the rest of the world and care only about the ones you love most”. How true, and how sad.