I am on a very short visit to Israel (3 days), and here is an observation that came to my mind about one of the major differences between my country, Israel, and the country I currently live in, Japan.
In one word: variance.
In statistics, variance denotes how far a set of numbers are spread out from their average value. In other words, the higher the variance, the wider and more spread out things are.
In Japan, conformity and adherence to rules are the norm, which results in a pretty uniform experience when interacting with other people. There are prescribed phrases and norms of conduct governing almost every human interaction. For example, when arriving and leaving work, the same phrases are said to colleagues, every day for years. Or when buying in a store, the staff will invariably greet customers with the same set phrases or set questions. Very little is left to the imagination, let alone individual expression.
The opposite is true in Israel. When you meet a person, enter a store, or ask someone something – you never know what the response will be. It’s terra incognita every time. It might be a pleasant interaction which will bring a smile to your face, or it might be a confrontational one which will make you angry or disappointed.
Here are a couple of small examples from a visit to the supermarket today. I approached one of the staff members asking where to find a certain product. She shrugged her shoulders (no words spoken). I took that as an “I don’t know” and asked her if there was anywhere I could ask. She barked back at me along the lines of “I don’t know and stop bothering me”.
A few minutes later, as I was leaving the store, the guy checking the receipts at the door smiled heartily, wished me a great day, and a long and healthy life. I didn’t ask him anything or say anything; he bestowed me with these kind blessings unsolicited.
So, the variance in Israel is huge in comparison to Japan. This reminded me of something a visitor to Japan told me recently: Japan is great, people are very polite and kind, and service is unparalleled. But when it comes to everyday human interaction, it’s “devoid of colour”.