I met her my third week here when I was feeling desperate. It was a hot Monday mid-morning when she started talking to me with her clipped British accent, and I was drawn to her. I noticed her right away; she was small and dark and familiar looking. After eyeing her, I just knew we’d become fast friends. Danielle and I met at Big Box, a large electronic store with everything from electric tooth brushes to oversized TVs in Raanana’s industrial zone. When the salesclerk explained that she can travel all over Europe knowingly and will be updated for the next three years with new maps, I was duly impressed by her capabilities, trusting that she would show me some back roads. But first, I needed her to get me to Tel Aviv that night.
My greatest concern was language. I didn’t want to have to listen to some Israeli barking orders at me in Hebrew day or night on unfamiliar roads. He assured me English was possible. I asked him to show me how to set the language. “Betach,” he said, sure. “You will have three choices: language to read of map and street signs, language it speaks and language you type.”
“I want all English,” I told him, sure of myself, set in my ways. “Only English.” Driving in this country was hard enough. (Think Manhattan on steroids!) I had to concentrate on all sides of me at all times. There was no way I was going to do it in a foreign tongue.
The salesclerk started pressing buttons, first to set the country to Israel. Then he got to language options for the screen and map. Hebrew was the default but there were loads of other possibilities: Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Lithaunian, Slovakian, several different written versions of Arabic. The next screen was for writing. The options were equally as dizzying, some of them completely unfamiliar. “It will be easier for you, faster, if you type in Hebrew but use the map and voice in English,” he warned. I told him I understood but that for me to type in Hebrew (even just city, street, number) on a Hebrew keyboard would be close to impossible since I didn’t even know the alphabet. Sure, I could speak fluently but twenty plus years ago when I had taken Hebrew immersion classes I had missed learning the aleph, bet (ABC’s).
“OK, now you choose voice.” He kept pressing buttons and I watched the screen as endless options presented themselves. It became obvious that while English was available, it was either the Queen’s version or Australian. I chose the Queen, and he told me my choices were Danielle for the girl or Robert, if I recall correctly, for the boy. I smiled at the names; since I have always been partial to the name Danielle and since it reminds me of my friend Danielle in Mamaroneck, I chose her.
“OK, I’m ready to go. Toda!” With that, I paid and he waved goodbye to me and wished me good luck. With my new Garmin gadget in hand, I went to my car to program it to “Go Home”, even if home wasn’t exactly how I felt about the house yet. I plugged her in, set country, set the languages and starting typing city, Ra’anana. Nothing appeared. Frustrated, I bypassed city to enter my street name: Ya’akov Hazan. Nothing. I started over, I re-typed, I tried everything several times and each time my searches came up empty.
Even though my car was parked in the shade, it was still blisteringly hot and I was feeling that deep sense of irritation at and helplessness in Israel mount. I left the GPS, got out of my car, locked it and marched into Big Box. The salesclerk was ringing up another customer. I waited. She left. “Ifshar la’azor?” he asked me if he could help. I explained that no matter what I typed I couldn’t even set Danielle to go home and asked sweetly if he could come to my car with me. We left the comfort of the AC and walked the half a block to my car together. I felt sorry for him in his long-sleeved button-down shirt and overgrown body, sitting half outside my car since he didn’t fit.
“I told you writing in English would be difficult because the transliterations don’t always work,” he said. “Show me ze problem.” I cradled Danielle in my hands and began typing Ra’anana again. The ‘ between the first two a’s represents the guttural sound of a letter called eyein. The problem with this letter is that it creates a second syllable, which is impossible to spell out in anything but Hebrew. In order for me to write in English on my new GPS, it turns out, is that I have to use a dash (-) between words that have an eyein or that start with the letter hey (h) in front of the name, also creating another syllable in the word. As soon as I don’t put the dash between the sounds, the word is unrecognizable. Mr. Salesclerk reiterated again how much easier my driving experience would be if I wrote in Hebrew, but I refused, confident that I can and will understand Danielle’s inner workings and adapt.
Finally, with my city and street successfully entered—dashes included—into the GPS, I sat back in my light blue fabric seat and sighed, content, as if the battle of the languages was over. I started the engine, released the emergency break, turned on the AC full blast and followed my new best friend all the way home.