Light-Hearted Generalisations Part #2: Holidays With Friends

24 May

Organisation of Food

Australian method: An email is sent out detailing the number of meals required for duration of holiday and requesting each family to be responsible for 1-2 particular meals. People respond with pre-planned menus, food preferences and dietary requirements including vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, lactose-intolerance and those who are abstaining from refined sugar. This is followed by more emails regarding an equal financial contribution to alcoholic beverages and snacks.

Israeli method: Everyone brings a shitload of food to share. Two people go to the shops and buy more food for everyone to share. Someone goes to the shops and buys fifteen iceblocks for everyone to share. A new person arrives with a tonne of meat to barbecue. Another person arrives with more wine and beer. No one has any idea who brought what or how much it cost.

Organisation of Rooms

Australian Method: Research is undertaken to know the exact placement and size of each room. Discussion ensues regarding which room will be suitable for who, with consideration to number of people in family and various other ‘needs’. Total cost is then divided up according to room size and quality.

Israeli Method: Pre-kids: sleeping on the beach, a plentitude of Israeli men with enormous tarpaulin and poles to make shade fit for a king. Random cushions and mattresses appear from nowhere. There’s always somewhere to crash even if you brought no gear of your own- this is the land of survivalists. Post-kids: Rooms in a kibbutz, side-by-side, massive takeover of the outside area, kids piled on top of each other, babies plonked in the standard wooden lul –  yalla balagan.

Israel & Australia: Light-Hearted Generalisations Part #1: Children

24 May

When Kids Misbehave

Israelis have no problem telling each other’s children what to do and not do.
Scenario: Child A pushes child B.
Australian method: Parent of child B soothes own child and glares at oblivious parent of child A who inadvertently missed her kid misbehaving. When it happens a second time, parent of child B says hesitantly: “Ummm, excuse me sweetie. Please use your words next time okay?” This is said quietly so that no one will judge her for instructing another person’s child. She will then go home and complain to her husband about the neglectful parenting style of child A. No wonder he’s such a violent kid.
Israeli method: Parent of neither child who happens to witness the push says: “Hey! No pushing!”
End of story.

Sun Awareness

Australian Method: First thing in the morning, all children are lathered with high UVA & UVB  chemical-free sun cream and then wait at least 20 minutes for cream to sink into skin before stepping into the sun wearing wide brimmed hats and full body high-necked rashies. Sun cream is reapplied every 2 hours. Children spend most of the time in shaded areas.
Israeli method: No hats. No suncream. A paddle pool is placed in full sun. When shade is suggested, the response is: “Ma pitom! It will be cold for them in the shade!” One kid who wears a hat is lightly mocked and never wears it again.

I’m Baaack (but now a tired frazzled mother so don’t expect too much)

24 May

Holy shitballs, my last post was when I was pregnant with my first child, THREE YEARS AGO. That speaks volumes. Motherhood has given me many things, but time out to be creative, ponder cultural differences and write is not one of them.

After a recent holiday to Israel with two toddlers in tow (say that three times fast), I have been thinking about this old forgotten blog, which surprisingly was of some interest to people from both sides of the globe, who seemingly (unless you were just being polite) found the concept of an Aussie/Issy lifestyle comparison interesting.

So I have a few observations I made along the way, jotted down on my iPhone notepad whilst on the road in Israel (for a small country, Israelis spend a lot of time on the road). I will hereby copy and paste those observations for your perusal.

To Know or Not To Know (the Baby’s Sex)

17 Feb

Since entering the world of Pregnancy and Beyond, I’ve been learning a lot. Like, a lot. It seems this reproduction thing has gone on long enough for it to have become a science, with nearly everyone holding some level of degree in Babyology. After five children including twins, my mother has a PhD. But even my childless friends seem to have a wealth of knowledge about things I’m only just discovering, from Bio-oil to perineal massage to the necessity of pelvic floor exercises.

There is one particular area of Babyology I’d like to address here: Finding Out the Baby’s Sex. It’s a contentious issue and everyone has an opinion on it.images

In Israel, the ‘surprise’ option is virtually unheard of. I have a few theories about why this could be: firstly, Hebrew is a genderised language in which a slip-up would inevitably occur during one of the numerous doctor/OB/midwife visits throughout the pregnancy. Also, in a country whose sense of security is fragile, let’s be honest…no one needs any more surprises. Israelis value stability and a knowledge of what is coming. Everyone finds out the sex, and apparently much earlier than we do here in Australia, around about the 14-week mark.

The surprise option is much more common in Australia; I would say the division is about 50/50, with both sides having strong and vocal views on the subject, and subtle, eyebrow-raised antagonism towards the opposition.

Let’s start with the Surprise group. Reasons include:

  • “It’s fun to guess, and keep others guessing”
  • “Ignorance is bliss”
  • “It’s the more natural way” (insert opposition roll of eyes here)
  • “I don’t want my baby’s gender to influence how I feel about it”
  • “It doesn’t matter, as long as its healthy” (roll eyes again)
  • “It inspires the fortune-teller in everyone”
  • “It’s a great distraction during a long hard labour”

If I’ve left something off the list here, feel free to add it in the Comments.

Then there’s the Find Out group, whose reasons include:

  • “There will be plenty of shocks surprises awaiting us at the other end so I really don’t need to add another to the future list of ‘Dear God, I had no idea that (fill in the blank).”
  • It will help me relate to the foetus more easily.”
  • “I’d like to give my foetus a personal pronoun – referring to it as ‘It’ reminds me of the childhood horror movie I never recovered from.”
  • “I’m a planner and I’d like to halve the baby name list/buy gender-specific clothes and toys (insert opposition roll of eyes here)
  • “I’m just really curious”

Perhaps it’s clear which camp I belong to by now? The truth is, all my life, I assumed I’d be in the Surprise group- the all-natural, wait-and-see, happy-go-lucky hippies of this Baby Debate. That’s the way my parents did it, and half the fun for us kids was betting who was going to be right. I was surprised to discover after becoming pregnant how utterly my position shifted, beginning with mild curiosity and growing into an impatient desperation to KNOW KNOW KNOW! NOW!

Perhaps it’s a control thing for me, as I venture on a journey where so much seems capricious, unpredictable and mysterious. If I know nothing right now, and must accept my completely novice status in this endeavour, at the very least let me know one thing!

Consider this: we’ve all had that moment encountering some interestingly androgynous or unisex person and not knowing for sure whether it was a male or female- now don’t tell me that didn’t disconcert you a little. I‘m sure you turned to your mate and had whispered debates on what was lurking beneath that poor unsuspecting person’s underpants. It’s not easy for our little minds, so used to understanding through association and context and categories, to not know that rather major human characteristic.

Now try having that mysterious uncategorisable person inside you. I mean, it’s weird enough feeling like there’s a goldfish swimming in your tummy…the least I can do is know the sex of the goldfish.Certainly, both sides can feel grateful to live in a country in which choice is available, and know that those who do find out the sex are unlikely to abort their female fetus because they’re only allowed one kid or can’t afford their daughter’s dowry.

Like everything baby-related, To Know or Not to Know is a personal choice and who are we to judge? I think it’s safe to say that the only ones we can all truly judge are those who find out and then DON’T TELL ANYONE as that’s just really mean.

Tomorrow morning, we will finally find out if it’s a boy or a girl. Yes, I know it’s not 100% accurate and everyone knows someone’s neighbour’s auntie’s sister-in-law who was told she was having a boy but ended up giving birth to a girl with a prominent umbilical cord.  But c’mon, they’ll probably get it right. And we are so ready to find out.

So last bets, people!

Naked In Belgium

14 Jul

I’m standing in a queue with naked people. I  am naked too, except for a tightly fastened towel. Ori is next to me. He is naked as well. Some of the naked people are wearing loosely tied dressing gowns, some have casually draped their towel over one shoulder like a jaunty chef. There are breasts, penises, hairy and not-so hairy vaginas and several bottoms of extraordinarily different shapes and sizes everywhere I look. And I’m trying very, very hard not to look. A chubby middle-aged woman bustles past me to join the queue. She has tied her towel around her waist, man-style. Good God. Ori and I look at each other. “Does this remind you of…” “Yes,” he says tensely. Where is this queue taking us? What will happen when we get to the front? And how the hell did two Jews end up in Europe standing in a line with naked strangers, heading into a shower room?


Our anniversary in Belgium was incidental. That is to say, tickets were booked before we realised that it coincided with our second wedding anniversary. Being only Year Number Two (in anniversary terms, probably no more than a post-it note), the date has not yet lodged itself into Important-Dates-To-Remember territory, which I assume comes with time, or according to stereotype, never eventuates for men.

Anyhow, apparently the thing to do for a wedding anniversary in Belgium is to go to a naked spa castle. So I booked us a deluxe room at Thermae Boetfort, a renovated citadel in the Flemish part of Brussels. I added two full body massages and of course, entry to the thermal baths, which included an assortment of different saunas, pools, jacuzzis and other watery rooms which sounded strange and intriguing (eucalyptus sauna, hmmm, lovely…horse stable sauna, promising ‘the nostalgia of saunas from the past’…WTF??).

We are dropped off at Thermae Boetfort by my brother-in-law, who lives in Belgium and recommended the place. We gaze in awe at the sight before us. It seriously is a castle, turrets and all. The grounds are as green and manicured as a Game of Thrones estate before being ravaged by war, rape and pillage. It’s pretty. We go ‘ooooh’ and then  ‘aaahh’.

Purposefully, we enter the castle and walk to reception, where we are greeted by a startled baby-faced boy wearing a bizarre black silk scarf around his head and a thick red sash around his adolescent waist. He’s like a blonde Flemish Bambi, all wide-eyed and tongue-tied as he explains to us in halted English the rules and regulations of Thermae Boetfort.

“You have two messages,” he tells us.

“Two messages? From who?” I ask, confused. Who the hell has called us here?

“Oui, two messages for six-thirty tonight.”

Oh, massages. I stifle a giggle and nod sagely.

“Emm, do you planning to use thermal baths also?”

“Of course!” we say with gusto.

“And, emmm, do you planning to use with clothes or with no clothes.”

A rather personal question one would think, but considering this young man’s previous flustered manner, with this question he appears quite composed.

“Ummm, both?” we reply with uncertainty.

“Ah, yes. Good. Then please you know that for man, you cannot be wearing…” he searches for the word then with rushes over to a sign on the counter and taps it eagerly. We look. The sign features a tanned man wearing board shorts with a big red x slashed across his crotch.

“No shorts?” my husband asks.

“Non. You must to wear…how you say? Like this.” And he scurries off again and pulls something out of a drawer.

“Don’t tell me you have to wear a g-string,” I mutter under my breath.

“This!” Bambi says triumphantly, holding up a pair of Speedos.

“Oh God, really?” my husband asks.

“Oui oui,” the boy says earnestly. “It is…hygiene.”

Ori reluctantly rents a pair of tight blue shorts, and we receive the key for our room and instructions for use of the thermal baths. Open until midnight. Flip flops to be worn inside the baths. Showering is mandatory before entering the saunas. No nudity in the clothed section and no clothing in the nude section. No nudity in restaurant. Uh, duhh!

“Ca va?” Bambi bleats, his black head sash hanging comically over one eye.

“Ca va!” we reply and turn to the direction of our room.

“Ooooh, ooh, excuse moi! Si vous plait! Please!” he suddenly calls out to us. We turn back to the counter.

“I almost forget! This weekend is special Spanish weekend. All things Spanish. There is sign on door for all the activity, for special emm,…scrubbing and…oof, how you say? Ah oui, pouring. D’accord?”

Okay, so that would explain the weird Salvador costume poor Bambi is wearing. We thank him and look briefly at the timetable on the door, which lists various bizarre things such as Spanish chocolate scrubbing in the Steam Baths as 16:30. Cool.

We are so up for this. We head to the locker rooms to get changed.

As we walking through the locker rooms, our bravado starts to fade. The locker rooms are unisex. I begin to realise the reality of this situation. Men. And Women. Naked. Together. It’s like, I knew this, but I didn’t quite get it until three women with lockers next to ours start to freely undress in front of Ori, who is pretending not to look stunned and busying himself ‘checking the lock’ of our locker. We had planned to start off in the clothed section and work our way towards the nude part. But as I look around at these liberated Europeans, stripping off and chatting as though they’re at the supermarket, I think: C’mon Sheli. Look at them! They’re so free, so unrestrained, so European!

“Let’s just go straight to the naked part.” I say impulsively.

“Really?” Ori shrugs. “Yalla,” and steps out of his newly rented Speedos. I quickly take off my bikini and wrap a towel around myself, facing the locker while pep-talking myself. You are a free liberated woman, just be cool, there’s no shame in the human body, you can do this.

Naked and towel-wrapped, we walk towards the entrance of the naked section. The first thing we see is a sign saying ‘Shower First!” The exclamation mark is foreboding. There are several people walking around in various states of towelled and untowelled nudity. Oh dear God, there’s a penis. Jesus fuck, another one. Don’t look, don’t look…shit! That man saw me look.

“We have to shower,” Ori says to me.

“Yes. Okay. Okay.” I say, psyching myself up. With a deep breathe, I untie my towel and hang it on a hook, trying to look nonchalant as I walk towards one of the shower heads that are lined up in a row. The water is warm. I stare at the wall. I figure if I don’t look at anyone, then no one is looking at me. Or at least, I can’t see if they’re looking at me. Denial is a wonderful thing.

We shower and I hurriedly-but-pretending-to-be-unhurried wrap the towel around my exposed body. Where to next? The place is like a maze, with various rooms off to each side, marked with golden plaques titled ‘Steam House’ and ‘Ice Cave Sauna’. I notice the same Spanish Fiesta timetable pinned to the wall and check what’s on now, at 15:30. Lemon and orange pouring in the horse stable sauna. There it is again, that horsey place.

“Shall we check it out?” I ask Ori bravely.

“Sa baba,” he answers and we gingerly search for the room and I continue my internal mantra: Don’t look, don’t look, Jesus mother of Christ those are big balls, don’t look, don’t look!

We find the horse stable sauna. We are not alone. Looks like this is a popular session – about thirty people stand in an orderly queue…as orderly as a naked queue can be. Which in Europe, is very. “Is it gonna be packed in there?” I mutter to Ori quietly. “Mmmaybe,” he responds, looking a little less cool than before. The line shuffles forward and we move along with it. What is a pouring anyway? How big is this sauna going to be? Do I have to take off the towel when I get in? What’s going to happen to us??

We reach the front of the queue and I look inside. The room is not big. Not at all. It is about five by four metres, with five wooden-slated sauna steps. The first four rows are literally packed, bottom to bottom, with naked men and women, sitting on their towels and chatting about the weather. This is it. It’s now or never. We have to somehow squeeze past the four rows of people to reach the very top step. On the one hand, I’m relieved to be at the back where I can sit in relative naked privacy. On the other hand, I’m going to have to climb up the steps, tentatively trying not to step on anyone’s tits or ass on the way up, as well as making an effort not to flash my genitals to the poor saps I’m climbing over.

Okay, we’re up. Back row, far end. I lay out my towel underneath my bottom and pretend I’m having a little picnic. La di da. Isn’t this fun? A blonde man in front of me turns and gives me a hello smile, checking out my boobs in a casual ‘oh, aren’t they lovely’ kind of way. The woman sitting next to Ori does the same casual glance down at his crotch and I realise that there is no hiding now. Amongst all these uncircumcised specimens, I’m afraid our religious heritage is blatantly exposed. I remind myself that this is 2012, not 1938, and take a deep breath of the already very hot sauna air.

A man dressed in the same bizarre attire as Bambi the receptionist comes in and begins a seemingly well-rehearsed welcome speech. Have you ever heard Flemish? It sounds a bit like this: Gobbledy woddly flooshy belooshy belumpty mumpty boom. Yeah, it’s funny-sounding. But what is he saying? Are there instructions that we’re supposed to be aware of? He says something with the word ‘premiere’ and two brave souls raise the hand. Did he just ask if this is anyone’s first time? I would rather eat my own vomit than raise my hand right now. Look at me everyone! This is my first time and I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to my naked body! Just the thought makes me want to pass out. Mr Flemish says something that causes everyone to chortle. What’s the joke?? Loompety woompety blumdy la. He turns and walks to the pile of black stones and ladles three large spoons of water over them. The rocks hiss and sizzle and the room immediately gets really, really hot. There’s a pleasant lemony odour in the air and my entire body starts to drip sweat. The little voice in my head goes: This is good, this is healthy, mmmm breathe it in Sheli. Then it’s rudely interrupted by another voice in my head that goes: You can’t handle saunas, you idiot! Have you forgotten that? You can’t even be in a hot bath for too long without desperately sticking your head underneath a cold tap after a few minutes. Oh shit. Voice Number 2 is right. And it’s getting hotter. Mr Flemish continues his apparently terribly amusing presentation: blumdy muppety flushy wushy. He heads to the rocks and lifts the ladle again. Dear God no. It’s too hot, we’re all pouring enough sweat here to solve the world water shortage, please don’t – sizzle sizzle hiss. I didn’t think it could get any hotter but it can. I can’t breathe. Oh my God, I cannot breathe. I look at Ori with panic and whisper, “I don’t think I can take it for much longer! It’s too hot! I can’t- ” He looks at me wide-eyed and says: “Just hold it together! You can’t leave now.” Oh no, Mr Flemish is reaching for the ladle and I’m trying to gulp in the little air that is left in this steaming sweaty naked room and all these crazy European bastards look like they’re in Zen meditation while my breathing is getting shallower and both little voices in my head are screaming: Get us the fuck out of here! And I’m trapped, trapped you see! I either stay in this hell hole and pass out for lack of oxygen…or I stand up and bring immediate full attention to my naked self by somehow squeezing nakedly down the steps past all the tightly squished together naked people to get to the door.

I choose escape. I turn to Ori. “I’ve gotta do it. I’m going.”

“No!” he says aghast.

“I must!” I reply and pull the towel out from beneath my bum, wrap it around myself and begin the slow and humiliating descent down the stairs. “Ummm, excuse me. Errr, excuse-moi. Sorry. May I just…merci. Thank you.”

Mr Flemish says something incomprehensible, probably something like, ‘Look at that weak, pathetic American who can’t handle the heat’ and everyone has a good chuckle. I burst out the doors and run, yes, run to the giant pool outside, fling off my towel and SPLASH! Blessed, blessed relief. I made it. I’m out. I can breathe. Who knows how long I would have been stuck in there?

Exactly two minutes later, the doors open and everyone starts pouring out of the sauna. Ori saunters out, sucking a piece of orange. He scans the pool and spots me flapping about in the pool. Walking over, he flashes me a smile and says: “You missed out on the orange.” Then without missing a beat, he holds out his hand and hands me another orange slice. “I brought you one.”

I dunwanna gooooo!

14 Jul

When I was seven years old, my Aba took me to Israel to meet his family and friends. Every time he wanted to visit a new place or friend with me, I didn’t want to go. I felt nervous/shy/concerned about new people, about leaving the comfort of what I knew. Inevitably, once we arrived at the new place, I had the best time and didn’t want to leave. Yes, I was a brat.

Point is this: all the way back to Sydney (and do keep in mind I’m talking about a total of THIRTY NINE HOURS from when I stepped foot into Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv to the moment my body exited Sydney Airport killmenowyesiknow), I felt a little anxious about my return. Is this normal, I asked myself? To feel anxious about a holiday ending and going back to life and work and normality? It seems normalish, but is my level of anxiety normal? How anxious exactly is normal? Yes, my fuzzy little brain was spinning with these inane and mildly destructive thoughts as I flew and waited and flew waited and flew home.

And now I’m home. I brought along the sun (you’re welcome) and I have this amazing family who welcomed me not only with big hugs and open ears, but with a sparkling clean apartment and a kitchen full of food! I just slept for 12 sweet hours on my fresh-sheeted bed (“cloud bed”, my sister calls it, who house-sat while I was away). I’ve woken up slowly, showered in my sparkling mould-free shower (thank you Aba). I’m munching on fresh fruit and yoghurt that was lovingly bought for my return.

And just like that little seven-year-old me, I’m finding it’s all rather lovely. I think, for now, I’ll stay.


(Stay tuned for ‘Naked In Belgium’. You’re gonna wanna read that one. You can subscribe to my blog and receive an email when I publish a new post. If you like what you read, let me know. It can be lonely here in cyber space 🙂

Two Homes

30 Jun

For four years while living in Israel, I visited Sydney annually. Anyone who has lived overseas and then come home to visit will understand the strange and unique experience of ‘coming home for a holiday’. You’d think that time and distance would change things, that after living in a new country so that your senses are swollen and your cultural assumptions challenged and sense of self turned upside down…you’d think that things would seem different when you went back home. But the strangest thing is how familiar everything is. Your tree-lined street, the smell of your family home, the instant reconnection with close friends. Little pockets of random familiarity fill you with delight. Ha! That’s where we used to sit in the park after school…the lady from the chemist still works there! There’s comfort and nostalgia and a blissful feeling of contentment that is unlike the thrill of exploring unknown territories. There is not the breathless excitement of meeting new friends in hostels, forging connections with fellow travellers. No, this sort of trip is reunion after reunion after reunion. Your nearest and dearest gather together, arrange barbeques and dinners and brunches and you’re all booked up from start to finish. Every minute with family and friends is precious. Every return takes days to recover.

I left Israel two years ago. Even that length of time seems illusory and surreal. Seriously, two years ago? It feels like less. Now, I ‘return’ to my (second? other?) home. And how strange that those same feelings of nostalgia and bittersweet reminiscence occur again here, in the place where I did not grow up. Though Israel is more than just a place where I spent four years of my life. It’s the country of my birth, it’s the homeland of my father, it’s the place of childhood holidays where I got off the plane at seven years old and stared in amazement at all the people speaking my father’s language, eating the food I grew up with, knowing the customs that were quietly confined to my family home. It’s the place I experienced how it felt to be in the majority after a lifetime in the minority.

I didn’t know that coming to Israel would make me feel as I did when I returned to Australia. It’s joyful. Somehow, old friends become dearer and closer after time apart. I’m a little older and wiser, so my underlying fear of the language barrier, of my confusing in-between state of Hebrew where I know enough for people to assume I am fluent but not enough to always keep up, doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I didn’t forget my Hebrew. It lay dormant for two years only to gladly rise again when needed. All the things I loved about Israel become brighter and more beautiful after time and distance: the generous Israeli breakfasts of salads, cheeses and freshly baked bread, colel shtiyah! (the best café breakfasts in Australia will always disappoint in comparison). The instant warmth and genuine love of friends who will make time for you without needing to book in advance. The way people look you in the eye and strangers speak like they’ve known you for years. The blessed freedom from subtext and risk of unintentional offense. I love how every time we have visited friends, smart phones are in bags, not on tables. I love watching my husband become most himself, and how my own identity changes through language and I become a different Israeli me. Tel Aviv is as alive and noisy as always; every corner contains a memory: our old apartment on Brener St; buying fresh fruit and veg at the shuk, the sweaty humidity, the run-down tumbling apartment buildings with linoleum floor and peeling walls. When I lived in Tel Aviv I got used to the dirtiness of the city, but after the pristineness of Sydney, I can’t miss it. At the end of the day, I’m grimy and scrub my blackened feet before bed.

Everyone asks: Are you ever coming back? Are you staying there? Where do you want to live? We look at each other and smile knowing and unknowing smiles.

This is what we know: our life will always move and shift between two far-away countries. We will always have two homes. We share in the experience of having two worlds, of grappling with a second language, of missing our family, of searching for new friends and reconnecting with old ones, of marvelling and scowling at cultural differences, of nostalgia whenever we leave one home for the other.

This is what we don’t know: the whens and hows and whys and ifs- the details. We don’t know the future. But there’s plenty of future to be had.

Nostalgia comes from the Greek compound of nostos, ‘homecoming’ and algos, meaning ‘ache’. We are deeply awash in the ache of homecoming right now… swimming in a sea of it. It will take a little time to settle back ‘home’, especially for Ori. I used to cry for a week when I returned to Israel after a visit to Australia. Now I’ll cry for a week when I’m back. There’s a mourning period before we wiggle back into the life we’ve built for ourselves in our new old home, back to work, routine and life. We’re an adaptable species, us humans.

So just as we tell friends and family: “In the meantime, we’re there”, all I can say now is: “In the meantime, we’re here.” ..and it’s so good.

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