I ran into this post on Linkedin talking about what non-Israeli people should expect when working with Israelis (and especially if they visit Israel for business). It’s a very nice read and it’s not long. After reading it (and laughing to myself, as it’s quite accurate), I decided to write this post. Most of the people that read my blog are spread around the world, and the culture difference between countries is truly interesting.
My Own Experience
The first time I really noticed the culture difference was back in 2001 when I was backpacking in New Zealand and Australia. Because of the nature of New Zealand, it’s easy to find rooms in big houses where the owners simply rent part of their house as a hostel. This is so much fun as you often meet the owners and chat with them. In this case, I sat with the owner in the lounge and once she realized I’m from Israel, she said that until recently she didn’t like Israelis at all. When I asked why, she explained that we are pushy and rude. Israelis always phone or knock on her door saying “I want a room” and “I need this and that”. That’s not polite and she was intimidating by such behavior. So I would like to apologize on behalf of all Israelis out there, but this is how we talk. We are very direct and to-the-point and to say “I want” in Hebrew is perfectly fine, while the polite way is to say “I want something please” (because of the please at the end). There is actually a translation for “I would like” or “May I” but we don’t really use it (and actually “May I” and “Can I” are translated in the same way, so many Israelis say “Can I” instead of “May I”, but that’s a different story).
Then she continued and said that her son visited Israel not so long before and explained all of this to her. He also taught her to say “REGA” which is like “just a minute” in Hebrew, and she said that this changed her view of us. Every time she felt stressed by an Israeli, she said “REGA” and they immediately said “sure, no problem” and the stress went away. Once she was relaxed around us, she really liked talking with Israelis.
During the rest of my travel I tried to listen to the Israelis objectively. We are loud, we cut each other off in the middle of the sentence all the time, and in general it seems like we are always fighting. But we don’t. This is just the way we express ourselves.
After traveling quite a lot and meeting many people from many places and cultures you see so many differences between people that it’s simply fascinating. Another thing I won’t forget from the same trip in New Zealand is a chat I had with a South Korean girl. When I asked her how old she was, she said 22 and after a moment she said “just a second, no, sorry, I’m 21”. I was puzzled, doesn’t she know her age? Apparently, In South Korea, when you’re born you are one year old, so in South Korea she was 22, but by the western world terms, where we are one year old only after the first year, she was 21. This showed me how even the trivial things can differ from one culture to another.
The Business world
In the business world it’s just the same. There are many different cultures and different behaviors, and you have to understand this when you work with people from other countries. I remember seeing a blog a couple of months ago about the culture difference between the US and Germany written by an American who moved to Germany. The way mails are written, and instructions are given are different. I have quite a few examples with Israelis, here are two:
A good friend of mine who moved to England, had to write a presentation at work. During his preparation he continuously consulted colleagues as this was the first time he did that. In the end, the presentation was completely off, probably because he misunderstood their way of saying what he should change, and he assumed that it was fine. I guess this is because in Israel we are very direct and say exactly what we think (sometimes in a quite rude way). In England (and I think most English speaking countries are the same), people are more polite and cautious with the way they say things and when you are not used to this way of communication, you miss the point.
Another example was another friend that worked with European people remotely and in one of the phone calls he had with a colleague he started a small talk about non-business related stuff. Nothing offensive or personal, but he was reproved afterwards as this was very unprofessional.
In some countries people are more direct, in others they are more subtle. In some countries people are quieter, in others they are louder. In some countries, it is common to talk about personal stuff at work, in others this is way over the line. The dress code is completely different and many many other stuff.
Being in North America
These days I live in Canada (about 1.5 years when writing this) and the mentality here is completely different than in Israel. Apparently, it’s also different between different parts of Canada. Vancouver is very low paced and relaxed, while Toronto is more high-paced and energetic.
The atmosphere here is so different than the one I’m used to, and I feel it everywhere: when you drive (it’s so wonderful to drive here comparing to Israel), when you are walking around, and when you’re looking for a job. In North America in general, the communication uses a lot of understatements (the linkedin post talks about that). Israelis simply say stuff to your face. I understand that it might be offensive, but when people are used to it, it’s hard to understand the subtle way in North America, so we have to learn how to communicate and understand the local culture.
Cultures are different, the way people communicate, write emails, review your work and criticize things is completely different. I guess there is no “good” or “bad” but there is “understanding”. When we meet people from other cultures, we need to be patient and realize that they work differently. If you are the one who moves to another place or go on a business trip, it’s your responsibility to try to learn about the place you go, understand how they behave, and try not to offend or be offended by anything.
I think this topic is fascinating and I always enjoy talking to people about their culture. I hope you are too.