By the time the girls and I left for our two-week trip to San Francisco, I was ready to see family, reconnect with old friends and feel my feet on American soil. My positive energy was waning, and I was craving a break—from the ups and downs of trying to build my yoga studio, the Hebrew speaking world surrounding me, the pushy drivers. And now, two weeks later, it’s over and feels as if it never happened.
What follows is a list of eye-opening experiences that made me realize how much I have always taken for granted:
My native tongue: For the first time in months, I could listen, talk, read and write without concentrating or hesitating. Whether I was renting a car at Enterprise, buying a SIM card at T-Mobile or asking a toll collector on the San Mateo bridge how to get to the Stanford Shopping Center, I was comfortable and able to communicate. Being able to understand the voice over the loudspeaker at the airport, in the movies, at the theater or on the radio and television relaxed my central nervous system. Even the girls mentioned how nice it was that we could read menus,road signs and magazines.
Rules of the road: Every aspect of driving our little rented red FIAT 500 was a pleasure–the wide, expansive roads where no one insists on the right of way and motorcycles don’t zig zag between cars and drivers don’t honk within the first five seconds of a green light and parking isn’t reminiscent of being on a reenacted battlefield. I didn’t once raise my voice or swear at another driver under my breath.
Manners: People smile and always ask how you are and say please and thank you and have a nice day. There’s no unnecessary screaming or shouting, which can make you wonder if you’ve committed a crime.
Organized lines: I waited in long lines at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Target, Old Navy and Costco, but it didn’t bother me. They are orderly so that no one pushes or asks you to hold a spot, and, since dozens of cashiers are open, the lines move quickly.
Green living: In people’s homes they are requested to compost rather than throw food items down a garbage disposal or in the garbage; when clearing your table in food courts and cafes, the array of garbage cans is dizzying—glass, plastic, paper, trash, landfill, compost—often leaving you unsure where to dump your waste.
Hot topics of conversation: Pharmacology, therapy and botox
Infrastructure/society: Despite the physical beauty, California’s public sector, from the school system to libraries and roads, is bankrupt, wrought with severe cutbacks and reduced hours along with violence, drugs, gangs. One of my girlfriends who lives in Oakland hears gunshots from her house and fears for her children’s safety. When you walk around downtown San Francisco, it is impossible not to see street people, homeless men and women, some of whom beg outright, others who just set up their few possessions and lie on the sidewalks. It is impossible to avoid and difficult to witness.
And on that note, and since this blog is my attempt to stay open to the good that is here in my new home, I must reflect on and acknowledge the flip side of some of the same coins:
My native tongue: Most people only speak English in America and think and assume everyone else should too. They have a difficult time understanding people who speak with foreign accents or who come from countries like Israel. If the subject of where I lived came up with strangers, which it did, and I would say Israel, it tended to put an end to the conversation. In Israel, most people come from some place else. Accents are part and parcel of being Israeli and speaking Hebrew.
Rules of the road: Driving in California makes you feel like you’re on auto-pilot. If everyone’s being nice and polite, never insisting on the right of way, it seems easy to tune out.
Manners: Being so mild mannered makes you wonder… does anyone really care when they ask how you are? Do they ever stop to listen to the answer? What happens if you aren’t able to answer the perfunctory fine?
Organized lines: I didn’t strike up one conversation while in line whereas in Israel, I often end up in a back-and-forth with the people in front of or behind me. I have yet to befriend someone in line, but you never know.
Hot topics of conversation: Religion, politics and travel trump all in Israel
Infrastructure/society: For such a young country, it is quite well developed and thriving. In the center (Tel Aviv, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Hod HaSharon), the government buildings are outdated and hours of operation are odd (half days, full days, open and closed days) but in Raanana, many schools and parks have either undergone construction or are in the midst. The city seems to be bursting with energy, people eating out or sitting in cafes at all hours, flowers planted on city streets year round, new high-tech companies opening. There is a gap between upscale Herziliya where many diplomats live and lower class cities such as Bat Yam, but in all of my years of living and visiting this country, I have yet to see anyone living on the street.