Sunday, September 25, 2005

Touchy, touchy

You may have noticed as well – Israelis are touchy.
I am not only referring to their state of mind, but the “their-hand-on-you-body” kind.
They mean well, they just want to emphasize a point by touching you.
Personally, I like my space and only want to touch and be touched by people
a) I am close to and b) I like.
Unfortunately for me, Israel is filled with touchy people. While I am trying to keep my distance, they want to “enter my bloodstream” as they call it here.
It's an endless battle – the more reserved I become, the more curious is my environment.
Once I was cornered by a neighbor, who asked if I had a new boyfriend.
When I looked puzzled, he happily told me that they (the neighbors) discussed the fact that there was a new car in my personal parking. They came to the conclusion that it must be related to a new guy in my life. It never crossed their minds that I might have changed jobs and got therefore a different company car. When I gave neighbor-dear one of my non-answers, he looked peeved and snapped that I am too damn secretive. Touchy, touchy!

In my previous company, I had the pleasure to work with a nice Argentinean colleague. Being Latin American, he kept standing close to me – too close for my peace of mind. So I used to step back a bit, which led to him stepping forwards again. In order not to cross the whole length of the office building, I stepped slightly sideways, so we ended up full circle. It looked like we were dancing. He never had a clue.

In the USA and Western Europe, people get into overcrowded public transport and elevators, bending backwards (pun intended) to avoid body contact. Not so in this country. They not only lean against you, but also start a personal conversation, commenting on your appearance or the book or article you are reading. Once you bite (I counsel you never to do that!) they happily ask you questions such as: are you married, do you have kids, where do you live, what is your rent/mortgage and how much you make. If you refuse to answer, they are hurt.
So I solve it by rapidly firing all kind of questions at them. You see, it is a one-way street – they can ask you but you can’t ask them. They are touchy when it comes to their private sphere.

Don't be surprised when complete strangers or people you just met happily drape an arm around your shoulder, touch your arm, shoulder or hair and even hug you.
Employers are worse. Not that they touch you – the laws here are very strict and they know you can sue their pants off. No, they created something even more horrid: a Hugging Day.
Yes, really, that’s what it's called (and tax deductible). It’s their way of ensuring that their employees bond.
Now, I have nothing against bonds, as long as they are the equivalent of stocks, if you get my drift. I don’t see any reason to spend my free time with a whole bunch of people that I didn’t select to be my friends in the first place. Don’t get me wrong – I like my colleagues but I don’t want to spend my sparsely free time with them.

The day itself is a nightmare for a nerd like me – it consists of outdoorsy stuff. I like nature – I watch it a lot on National Geographic for which privilege I pay handsomely to the cable company anyway. So why should I rough it out, get sunburn and have to eat junk food? The planned activities are of the “let’s have fun together” kind: driving around in jeeps (not the way I want to spend my last hour on earth), karting (which is nice for kids under the age of 8), climbing through nets (what the hell is the point of that?!), shooting bows and arrows (hitting management isn’t allowed), sing along (I had my fill of music lessons, thank you very much) and walks, loooooong walks.

I didn’t like all the above when I was a kid and I didn’t acquire a taste for it since.
The head of my current company’s cultural committee is a tall, chubby and sweet guy who somehow made it his mission in life to drag me to one of those Hugging Things.
He cleverly asked me what would make me happy. I answered truthfully that I would like a day filled with a) fitness and b) Spa activities in a 4 to 5 star Spa resort with a state-of-the-art fitness center. He smiled, told me that it was too expensive for the company and guess what? Hugged me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A miffed terrorist – life is stranger than fiction.

Steven Spielberg is currently shooting the movie “
Munich” about the 1972 Munich Olympics attack, in which 11 Israeli athletes died.
“Munich” is a thriller chronicling not only the massacre but also the Israeli revenge assassinations that followed.
The source of the movie is contraversial – it is (at least partly) based on “Vengeance”, a book on the reprisals campaign that has been widely criticized.
“I am surprised that a director like Spielberg has chosen, out of all the sources, to rely on this particular book,” retired Mossad chief Zvi Zamir told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in July 2005.
The ex-spook is not the only one that read “Vengence”.
“I read it,” announced Mohammad Daoud, “It’s full of mistakes.”
Mr. Daoud is the mastermind of “Black September”, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) splinter group. He is the one that sent terrorists to abduct Israeli athletes at the 1972 Games. Two hostages were killed in the raid, and another nine during the botched rescue by German police.
Reeling from the loss of its countrymen - particularly on what had been the staging ground for the Holocaust - Israel retaliated with shootings, booby-trap bombings and commando operations that killed at least 10 PLO men and drove their comrades into hiding.
The weird thing is, that this Palestinian terrorist is miffed – big time.
“I know nothing about this film,” Daoud told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
“If someone really wanted to tell the truth about what happened, he should talk to the people involved, people who know the truth. Were I contacted, I would tell the truth.”
Yeah, sure, and I am a supermodel.

Truth from the mouths of terrorists?! Just is case you wonder, according to Daoud, it’s not the PLO which is to blame for the deaths, but Israel and West Germany.
Our innocent lamb survived a 1981 gun attack in Poland which the PLO blamed on the Mossad. But then, the Mossad has been blamed for a lot, including the death of Princess Diana.

Spielberg, not wanting to shake the money tree, has vowed that “Munich” will be sensitive to all sides.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait not to see this movie!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

For those of you who are fed up with news about the disengagement, corruption scandals and balancing your checkbook, here is your chance to put some romance and glamour back in your life.
I am referring to the cheesy reality show “of all the girls in the world”.
New York businessman Ari Goldman (34) is the male star aka the object of desire.
He is a slightly chubby bachelor who lives in Manhattan, where he runs a (supposedly) highly successful vintage comics enterprise.
According to the visuals, he drives a really cool car, has a powerboat and a nice house with a terrace overlooking the water. Mmmm, not bad at all! So why do I have the sneaky suspicion that all those worldly goods are not his? And why does he want to meet 17 Jewish Cinderellas aged 21-34 in Israel? Is he desperate, or does he want to improve his business? If the latter is the case, I applaud him – free worldwide marketing & PR is something only A-list actors enjoy.

The ladies in question come from diverse backgrounds, and were born in Estonia, Bulgaria, Canada, the US, Ethiopia and Israel. All (but one) have at least a BA, as the producer happily pointed out. (No idea why that is relevant, but who am I?).
According to the producer, they are “the type of girl that any Jewish mother would want for her son”. Yeah, sure, every mother-in-law just loves her son to marry a woman who made a fool of herself on international TV for a worldwide audience.
Goldman doesn't speak Hebrew, so a large part of the program is in English. Some of the girls don’t speak English well, and use one of their competitors as a translator. Talking about shooting yourself in the foot!
The producer justifies the lack of English skills with: “We didn't pick them for their fluency in English; love is an international language”. He added that language and culture obstacles will add spice to the show.
Except for the significant fact that he doesn't live in Israel, Goldman travels on Shabbat, but has his Friday night dinner with his family. He eats only kosher, dons a kippa when he sits down to eat and studies with a rabbi every two weeks. We can therefore safely assume that he will not make alyah, so his bride will be whisked away to NYC. I am sure that’s a huge incentive to participate in this show.
Some of the young women he meets are fully Sabbath observant, some just eat kosher but don't observe the Sabbath, and others are barely observant at all.
As we all know, that’s already a breaking point in any date, so good luck to all of them.
No show without a twist, so there it comes: an 18th contestant is watching all the episodes except the last from the comfort of her living room, who can also join the rat race if she considers herself superior. Of course she will – but isn’t that unfair towards our poor bachelor, who never even saw the wench?
Toward the end, Goldman will take the four women who appeal to him most back to New York, where family and friends will help him narrow the choice to one.
The rewards? A $ 200,000 engagement ring, a car, and a rent-free apartment for one year.
The catch? He has to settle in Israel (Talking about pressure!).
I am not the only one being cynical about this all - Goldman's own mother doesn't think the show will bring her a daughter-in-law. What I don’t get: New York is full of intelligent, gorgeous single women, so what is Goldman’s problem?
Especially NYC is the ultimate ethnic melting pot, so why shop afar when you can do it right on your doorstep?
Does the show work? Yes and now. The chances that Ari will find a bride whom he can whisk away to Manhattan are as high as any of us winning the lottery. Are we being entertained? For sure!
The styling of this program is excellent – no money was spared on locations, outfits, hair & makeup.
In the first episode, the candidates arrived in brand new identical cars (that were obviously not theirs), wearing white outfits that complimented one another. During the episodes shown, all the girls have nice clothes, beautiful makeup, and every hair in place. I would love to see them in their own feathers, so to speak.
Needless to say, the program is heavily sponsored. In contrast to American shows, where sponsors get subtle acknowledgements, in this one an aggressive male voice interrupts the show rattling off the products and its benefits, while stills of the products in question are shown.

The tasks that the girls have to perform are rather weird – one received 4,000 NIS to spend in 2 hours. This would be a good test to see which one to eliminate!
Ari’s only comment was that he didn’t get anything. Makes you wonder about the spending habits of this mother and sister.
Some girls had to play golf; others had to sing in Casarea's amphitheatre. It looked more like an “Apprentice” episode than a dating show.
There is one shot of Ari reclining on his hotel bed, looking bewildered.
The gift of one of the girls tells it all: she gave him a fish tank with a fish, so he wouldn’t feel lonely. It only emphasized that he looked like a fish out of water…

Monday, September 05, 2005

It all started with an invitation for a marketing writing course that I received about a month ago. I got the invitation via a PR network, so I should have been warned…. It was organized by a company (let’s call them X-team), which specializes in technical writing. Since the current economic situation is bad, such companies have a tough time surviving. Due to the unemployment rate among marketing and technical writers (45%), companies prefer to hire laid-off writers that are dirt cheap, very experienced and are paid per hour. X-team invited me to join their course that took place on August, 2nd from 6pm-8pm. It consisted of two parts – the first part “what is marketing writing” and the second part “how to write killer marketing material”.

Since I always want to improve myself, I thought it was a good idea to go. The costs were also OK, 40 NIS. (I did not even contemplated to ask this amount from my employer).

So I registered…and did not get a confirmation. So I emailed twice, to make sure I had a place. Finally, I got the confirmation with a map how to drive there. And then the fun started….

That whole day, Ibby (my boss) kept throwing work at me. When I told him that I had to leave that day at 5.30pm (I start at 8am, mind you), the reaction was 1) why so early 2) what for.
I was stupid enough to tell him. He replied it would be a waste of time. I was finally able to leave armed with the map that X-team had faxed me. I don’t have the greatest sense of directions, but I was quite confident that I would find it. The map clearly showed that I had to turn right at the fifth traffic light on the main road into Rehov Habaniem, so that would be easy enough, correct?
So I drove off…..already being tired and stressed.

All went well, and I turned right at the fifth traffic light. Wrong street name, so I parked, and went to ask directions. I asked the proprietress of a small kiosk that sells milk, cigarettes, snacks, and newspapers and also serves coffee. She did not know, but her customer sitting outside budded in, took my map, and started to analyze it. Not very successfully, since he kept turning it around. After some minutes, I took the map back, and said I would ask at the petrol station. The guy looked insulted and said that he would have figured it out eventually. Yeah, sure, and I am a super model. The petrol station guy at the end of the street was very nice and helpful, and told me that he knew were Habaniem was. I just
had to turn left at the next traffic light. By that time, it was 6.10 pm, so it was cutting it close, but what the hack, I was almost there, right? Wrong!
I went back to my car (feeling hot and sweaty) and turned left at the traffic light as instructed. Lo and behold, the correct street name! Found a nice parking place, parked and saw that a high tech guy (pony tail, end 20s, must therefore be a software engineer) was getting into the car next to me. I thought that double checking would be a good idea, so I showed my map again, and he assured me that I was in the right place. He recognized all the streets, and pointed into the different directions to indicate them. I was very impressed and relieved. So, I went looking for X-team at Habaniem 1… that turned out to be a Chinese Restaurant. By that time, I was confused and nervous. I decided to ask a mother with a small child walking towards me – those ladies normally know all the streets. She was very nice and looked at my map. She told me that I was in the right street, but in the wrong kfar! Of course, I thought to myself, that explains a lot! She told me that I had to turn back to the main road, go to the left, 3 traffic lights and then to the right.
Bt that time, it was already 6.30pm, so I wondered if it was worth while to go. But since I am extremely stubborn, I could not give up. By that time, my feet were also hurting and I started to get hungry (Did not have anything to eat since my salad at noon).
So I drove off again. By that time, I was smack in the middle of rush hour, so I had to move with the speed of a snail, a heavily medicated, doped out snail. Finally, I arrived at the third traffic light and turned right. Guess what? The right street, but in the middle of a cluster of buildings. It resembled a kibbutz.
I parked my car, took my map and walked into the first small building I saw – a small high tech firm. I asked the two young guys there if they could help me. They looked at the map and told me that X-team should be in a building somewhere behind them. They did not know for sure, and happily informed me “nobody can find us as well”. This sentence was delivered with a big smile, so I wondered why they didn’t relocate.
I walked around amongst several clusters of small buildings. I suddenly saw an old sign with X-team on it, so I followed it…and ended up in a playground! Looking around, I noticed this tiny sign “X-team” on a building dwarfed by huge signs of other companies. Go figure. By that time, it was 6.45pm…..But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I went into the building. Nobody to be found, so I first looked for the restrooms since I drank lots of water on the way. I walked around, and finally a guy talking loudly on his mobile came out of his office and demanded to know what I wanted. I answered that I was looking for the course. He pointed were it was and added “You must be very polite when you go in”. I informed him that I am always polite. At that moment, a young guy came rushing towards me and told me he was also late. We decided to go in together.
So I opened the door to slip in…. and nearly fainted.
It was a small meeting room, packed with 40 people sitting (shoulder to shoulder, knee to back) and another 10+ standing…without air-conditioning!
By that time, the idea of standing for two hours or so, having to pay for that privilege, and no possibility to make notes was enough to freak me out. I made a hasty retreat and drove home. By 7.30pm, I was finally home and thought this whole exercise over.

My first lesson: never trust maps sent to you by companies.
My second lesson: People are friendly and helpful, but not always reliable
My third lesson: X-team has a good idea – if implemented correctly

Their concept is great:

  • you let your own employees teach – no costs involved
  • in your own offices – no costs involved
  • 50 invitees = 2,000 NIS tax free
  • 5%-10% might turn into customers (hack, even 1 customer out of it makes it all worth while!)

But what upsets me most……Ibby was right!