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.