One of the biggest lumps that Israel takes from visitors is often the lack of customer service. You will hear apologists say that it is very cultural (it is very Mediterranean), that Israel is improving (it is, slowly, visit a cell phone company), or that it is uber-family like here (think, my Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Salach Shabbati). As with life, sometimes a disadvantage can also be precisely the same advantage.
In fact, I have found that there are three keys to thriving in Israel that I want to share, and expound on one of them here a bit more. These keys are great for first timers coming on Birthright and very much a reminder for the Oleh/Olah who may get frustrated after a run in with a local. Key 1 – Long term planning in Israel is two weeks in advance. It just is; wedding invitations go out 10 days before the chuppa. Key 2 – Israelis do not have sense of personal space; they are not being intentionally rude by pushing in front of you at the bank, they just don’t see you there. Key 3 – Everything is negotiable; and by this I mean EVERYTHING.
I have personally witnessed people negotiating on prices in clothing stores, in restaurants, over fees for a mortgage, at the post office for postage fees – and each person paid less than the initial asking price. Some people think this approach is rude, others might use the word chutzpah, but there is no denying that being in the Middle East, everything is up for discussion.
While you might enjoy the firm return policies at Target or the clear boundaries of what is the breakfast vs. lunch menu at a restaurant, we Israelis know that they are really arbitrary and that someone has the power to make an exception.
In Israel it is difficult to get a credit card, which is the diametric opposite experience I had being on a college campus in the US when they would sign you up for a card if you agreed to get a free T-shirt (which is also why Israel was not hit with the Great Recession of 2008). So as a new immigrant I went to my new bank and was only offered a debit card. My kind brother, a veteran of Israeli negotiating courses, first offered to co-sign on my account but the branch rep denied this option. And then my brother leaned forward and pushed the negotiations further than I thought humanly possible. He threatened to bring my Moroccan sister-in-law down to the branch to yell at the representative who wouldn’t give a credit card to a new immigrant. Swiftly, the bank rep happily granted me a new credit card, without hassle, without a co-signer, and without my sister-in-law having to step foot into the bank.
I recently succeeded in nudging the company that runs the airport’s Duty Free store to expand my voucher beyond the perfume category, after receiving 3 “no’s” from in-store staff. I was ready to fight, but all I had to muster was a firm, logical request and a magical fax to get my initial request granted! Voila!
Why is “No” the first the response? I am not a psychologist nor do I play one on the internet blogosphere, but I am fascinated to see that Israelis often display this toughness first but it melts away after a little pushback. Perhaps because they care so much they don’t want to give something away without an argument – or just that they want to argue a bit (#nationalpasttime).
Everything is up for grabs which means that you have to be ready to reach or fight for what you want. It can be hard at times, but sometimes you need to show that you really want something. A job offer rejection doesn’t mean that the door is closed; it’s okay to pushback and ask about another future position. Don’t be too pushy, that would be rude! But it is normal and encouraged to ask beyond the initial “no” – you might be pleasantly surprised to see yourself smiling from receiving a hefty discount or just your own simple credit card.