Depending on what country we come from, and what culture(s) we identify with, each of us comes with a healthy dose of baggage of what we think are “right” and “wrong” topics to bring up with other people.
Originally from the USA, I inherently know you do NOT talk to strangers (or your friends) about things like money, sex, religion, race, and politics. This isn’t something I learned in school. These are no-nos you simply don’t talk about. I can honestly say, that to this day, I have no idea how much money even my own parents earned.
Very often the most jolting culture shock we experience is having complete strangers ask us all those things I mentioned above, and more! I laugh about it now, but in my first months living here I got incredibly annoyed having strangers in stores (even the clerks themselves!) asking me why I wanted to buy something.
My logical answer being “because this is what I want” just didn’t seem convincing enough to the clerk who wouldn’t sell me the blue coffee pot (which I really wanted) because in her caring opinion, black would be better for me because it wouldn’t show off dirt.
I like to consider myself a reasonably intelligent guy (I studied Linguistics and Psychology), so in my first few months in Tel Aviv I paid attention to the tone of the voice and the body language when I felt lines were being crossed.
Eventually, it hit me: they’re being sincere. Israelis ask these questions because they really want to get to know you. They’re not crossing any lines, because in this country, the lines simply don’t exist. I realized after that epiphany, that the real insult should be felt when people don’t ask me these questions.
Although I can say I haven’t completely shed my discomfort in some situations, I definitely do feel liberated that I no longer live within a culture that conditioned me to not share things about myself that would have allowed other people to actually get to know the real me. So, I can either get upset and say how things are “where I came from” or, I can simply learn to adapt to a new life in a new country where I intend to live until death do us part.
About the author
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.