Every country has its own cultural norms through which people connect with one another. In the United States when you meet someone new the first questions you often ask are “Where do you live?” and “What school did you go to?” quickly followed by “What did you study?” and “What sports did you play”? When you’re a little older, the first question they ask might be “What do you do for a living?”
Israeli cultural norms are different. When Israelis meet a new person for the first time, they might ask “Where are you from ba’aretz (in the country)?” One of the most important follow-up questions they typically ask each other is “Where did you serve in the IDF?” The Israeli army experience is such a complete part of society that for Israelis, very often their closest friends and their co-workers and business partners are people connected to them via their IDF experience. Knowing what unit (brigade, battalion, company) you served in establishes instant trust and connections with new people.
So, without these experiences, how does an international newcomer to Tel Aviv find common ground?
1. Networking Events
You can meet more internationals and local Israelis at professional networking events
2. Hebrew Courses
You can meet other internationals while taking Hebrew lessons at Ulpan
3. Religious Community
If you’re spiritually inclined, you can meet people at your local house of worship
Join meet-up groups of like-minded people (hikers, extreme-sportsniks, book clubs, joggers, etc.)
5. Talk to Strangers
Don’t be afraid to talk to complete strangers in coffee shops, restaurants, or bars (even if you would never do this in your home country).
And always remember- Creativity is key! Israelis are friendly people, and even if you’ll never share the IDF experience with them, there are creative ways to find connections and build relationships with people with whom you can write new, shared stories together.
Gregg Hoffman was born and raised in the United States. When in his 20s, he moved to London, England for his first taste of international living, and after 2 years there returned to the States, enjoying different parts of the country and traveling around the world more than a few times. In 2014 Gregg escaped a very bad winter in Washington, DC to enjoy 2 weeks of Eastern Mediterranean sunshine (and sunsets) in Tel Aviv, returning 6 months later to make it his permanent home.