Hosting Guests with Reverse Culture Shock


All of our American relatives and close friends descended upon us in quick succession. Specifically, we had 12 visitors in the month of Tammuz (June 9-July 7). We toured in Jerusalem with me parents, who then came and stayed with us for a few days. Then my parents moved to a hotel so my brother Jacob and his wife Cheryl could stay with us. Afterwards, we had close friends from Cleveland visit for a weekend, followed by my best friend and roommate from college with her husband. In addition we had many guests visit, but not stay with us, including Jeff’s uncle and cousin, and my rabbi from growing up with his wife.

It was wonderful to see everyone and show them around. It also was a bit wearing on us.

The most dizzying moment was when my parents were leaving. While they were waiting at the bus stop by our apartment, Rabbi Barnard’s car pulled into our parking space. The bus arrived as he got out of the car. They exchanged quick hugs and got on the bus. We took off our goodbye faces, put on our welcome faces, and proceeded with our day.

Preparing for Shabbat, at one point my mom and brother were mopping while Jeff and Cheryl were cooking. I thought I was “helping” but quickly realized that not only was my presence superfluous, I was actually so stressed by all the activity that I was picking fights with Jeff and working myself into a mood. So I left. I walked down the street and had a good cry, put my face back on, and came back to find the floor mopped and everyone relaxing. Much better.

One day, we went to Jerusalem for Jeff’s cousin Ty’s bar mitzvah at the wall. Because we had a long bus ride early in the morning (and nearly missed the event), I didn’t drink enough water or eat breakfast. It didn’t help that I had been out late with Jacob and Cheryl and was getting over a cold. By lunchtime I had a splitting headache but continued to keep my polite face on. Eventually it wore off and I had to disappear for a while. At least I was not the only one who visited the “fake bathroom,” as Jeff’s uncle Larry calls it.

Anyway, all is well, and it was pretty cool to be a tourist in Israel for a little bit. I am so behind and have lots to tell about the sites we saw as tourists.

We welcome our guests to write “guest blog entries” to discuss the various sites we saw.  Please continue reading the “reverse culture shock” portion by Jeff after the pictures.

Abby's family

Abby’s family

Grammie and Grandpa visiting

Grammie and Grandpa visiting

Noam and Shani Gelles visiting

Noam and Shani Gelles visiting

Uncle Larry and Ty visiting

Uncle Larry and Ty visiting

Lauren and Jon Fusfield visiting

Lauren and Jon Fusfield visiting


But what was more interesting than being tourists, maybe cause I had to work instead of being a tourist, in addition to all the stress of the visitors, was the amount of reverse culture shock we faced. Yes, it is stressful to have so many guests in a short amount of time, but it is even more stressful to do it with the reverse culture shock we faced.

Before we moved to Israel, we knew we were going to face culture shock, and our transition, although easier than expected, was still noticeable. Now I feel most times as if we are completely integrated into Israeli culture. To have so many American friends visit us, it just reminds me how much we have been changed already by this experience.

Most of the reverse culture shock was subtle and hard to explain. For example, many conversations were simply someone saying “XYZ” followed by us stating, “it doesn’t work that way here.” Then the wonderful look of bewilderment by our American family and friends as they thought, “it works that way everywhere.” Usually, then some small argument or disagreement as in we must be wrong because it goes against how it is in America.

(Feel free to read about big differences between Israel and America we initially observed when we arrived here.)

But we didn’t realize all the subtle differences between America and Israel until now. One such example is the food culture in Israel. Food, although considered generally safe when eating at a restaurant, still bears a risk of food poisoning. Luckily only one out of our 12 visitors faced mild food poisoning so far. But one example is we stated that there was a major recall on packaged smoked salmon. “Well, they wouldn’t serve that of course” stated our guest. But we had to explain that it was on the patron to inform the restaurant to make sure they don’t serve that brand. Luckily, our guest didn’t order the salmon, mainly because we couldn’t remember the brand that was recalled.

Abby explains, “Israelis see risk entirely different than Americans. Israelis see risk as something to be managed and acceptable; risk is just part of life here. Where Americans tend to see no risk as acceptable; ‘Safety first’ mentality.”

Another example is the idea of passive aggressive attitudes. One of our guests thought that someone was “hinting” that they should attend an activity. We informed them that if it wasn’t a direct request, and they are Israeli, it is probably ok if you don’t attend. This was great for us because they spent more time with us. In addition, we just were hanging out with an Israeli today, and he commented that the passive aggressive nature of Americans is so foreign to Israelis. The Israelis do not understand how someone cannot just speak their mind directly. How can they say one thing and think another. Or even hint to something that they want. This idea is so foreign here, it is considered completely rude. It is just more polite here to be direct with exactly what you want or what you are thinking.

A final major example is space. In Israel, space is very cramped and tight. NYC is also tight and cramped, but a completely different feeling. Luckily, we have started to become used to the close quarters in Israel. But we found our American visitors standing in doorways, in hallways, and generally in the way as we continued about our daily business.  Again you can attribute this to the volume of visitors, but when our Israeli friends are over, they seem to not be in the way.

In NYC, everyone is close and cramped, but not touching and minding their own business. In a small apartment, there is still personal space that exists, where you can stand and have conversations while someone works in a kitchen.

Israel’s spaces are designed so everyone is close and cramped, and now they get into your business and it seems like everyone is touching (unless you are wearing a kippa). If you are doing something strange, someone will correct you or maybe ask you about it. The apartments are no different; if you are standing about, it is as if you are involved with helping. If you are not helping, you are just standing in the way.

Also, I swear the word privacy doesn’t exist in the Israeli vocabulary. Heck, I have never heard the word for privacy. (Abby: there are two words for privacy. One is tzin’a (same root as modesty), which I have never heard used and just found in the dictionary, and the other is prati’ut, which is private in the sense of property: a first name, as opposed to a family name; a private car, as opposed to a shared car.) This seems hard to explain and maybe everyone reading this should just visit and experience the two cultures yourself.

Obviously all these statements are  a generalization of the prevailing cultural attitudes, and apply to individuals to a greater or lesser degree. There are many other differences than what I am listing here. I ask my visitors and others to feel free to comment on any subtle difference, whether previously mentioned or not.

To our visitors: Please come back and visit us again!!  And for everyone else: Visit us soon. Rafi will welcome  you with open arms!!


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