One of the many beautiful things about living in Israel is that I barely speak Hebrew. I know that sounds funny. Yes, I’m learning…slowly. The truth is that you don’t really need Hebrew to get around, although hit would make some things easier. Going to the bank, calling internet customer service, reading maps, etc. But, the nice thing about not knowing fluent Hebrew is that I can be alone in my head, without other people’s conversations breaking in. Sitting in a café or on a bus, the conversations happening around me are white noise. Maybe I understand a word here or a phrase there, but as I am a very curious person, I am grateful for the fact that I can’t tune in and take in everyone else’s day.
If I am walking down the street and a surly man tries to say something to me, it doesn’t bother me. I just don’t understand what he is saying! He could be telling me that I’m gorgeous, a princess, or a whore. Who knows? Who cares. I can shrug, laugh, and say “what?! Lo avanti (I don’t understand). I don’t walk away feeling violated, or infringed upon. He’s just another Israeli yelling something I don’t understand.
Hebrew is a very yell-y language. It always sounds like people are having these intense arguments, when really they are talking about how they like their coffee, or their plans for the night. They use a lot of hand gestures, and I’ve decided this is probably because they don’t have such specific grammar regarding voice or aspect. The hand gestures make what they are trying to communicate more understandable. More meaningful.
Meaningful. There’s that word again. Part of me feels like that is what I am searching for. Something that is meaningful, something that means something.
I’m an English teacher. Part of my job is explaining how to remember what words mean. Recently I told a student that anything that ends in the letters “-ful” means that it is “full” of whatever the first part of the word is. Meaningful = full of meaning; tasteful = full of ‘taste’; beautiful = full of beauty; careful = full of care. You get the picture.
My job really makes me sit and analyze the words I use to communicate. Am I conveying the right meaning? Am I really saying what I think I’m saying? Speaking to people who don’t speak fluent English can be very revealing. Frequently, they understand things very literally. These experiences every day are making me a better communicator. I can feel it.
But, then, there are those who insist that I try to speak Hebrew. So, I try. Admittedly, I’m not very good at Hebrew. I can speak, but only to have a very basic, uninteresting, slow conversation. My accent gets made fun of, the words I use make people giggle: I get it, I’m not speaking “normal” Hebrew. I’m speaking classroom Hebrew. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Someone once told me that I need to find a boyfriend who does not speak English at all so that I will be forced to learn and use Hebrew. While this may be true, it is unfathomable to me to have a relationship with someone I can’t communicate with. It’s obvious that it would be based on looks and feelings and not anything meaningful. Or maybe that is the way to find something meaningful. If someone is willing to stick it out until you can understand each other in one language or another, a relationship is built. It’s hard for me to believe it works like that. It seems to be that it would be incredibly frustrating, boring, or quiet.
I don’t date Americans here. They just seem too harsh, too vulgar, and worst of all, they are too in my head. I like that when an Israeli I’m dating answers the phone, I can’t understand him except for bits and pieces. I like that we can teach each other about the nuances of our languages. I like that when I get rolling in English, he has to stop and ask me what I mean and to slow down. It gives for breathing space to the friendship, more air, more room to think and reflect. We can laugh about weird sayings in either language, we can play 20 questions to figure out what the right translation for a specific word is. I like it.
And Israeli men are men (mostly). They are firm, tough, confident, attractive. They aren’t whiny, effeminate, game players. They (for the most part) are up front with you about what they need and who they are, and expect nothing less from you. If a man asks for your number, he’ll call. They always call. They go after what they want. Because they fill the role of the man, you (me) are allowed to fill the role of woman. I don’t have to be the strong one, the one with all the answers, the nag, the one without questions. I can laugh and wear high heels with short skirts without worrying that I am being “too girly.” I can be a powerhouse at work, and then come home and be soft and loving. It’s ideal.