Israelis are addicted to their cell phones, and despite this being illegal, love to talk on their cell phones while driving. This is especially terrifying because A) Israelis continue to drive like maniacs even while talking on their cell phones, and B) talking in Israel is a full body sport. I have actually seen Israelis take both hands off the wheel to gesture while driving and talking on their cell phones.
But if you want to talk like an Israeli, you'd better master the art of Israeli body language.
To assist me in this lesson, I'm going to draw examples from the PSA that a bunch of Israeli celebrities filmed to protest the 30% raise in insurance prices for scooter and motorcycle riders. My husband commutes by scooter, so he's been involved in these protests. Basically, our government is raising two-wheeled-vehicle insurance to rates higher than semi-trailer truck insurance, and many times the rates of two-wheeled-vehicle insurance in Europe. The government is delaying a decision on this insurance hike because they hope the organized movement to protest this hike will peter out. Let's hope it doesn't!
Here's the PSA (there's a little bit of crude humor in the middle, but if your Hebrew is like mine, you probably won't get that part anyway):
Now, let's break down the classic Israeli body language at play in this clip.
1. The Lip Shrug
Seen at 0:16 in the clip, the lip shrug involves pulling down the corners of the mouth and pushing up the lower lip in an exaggerated frown. Often accompanied by a slight shoulder shrug and the extension of one open hand, the lip shrug indicates, "Ani yodeah? Nu, who knows? I have no idea. Not my job. I am also slightly disgusted."
2. The Instructional Finger
Seen at 0:18, this gesture demonstrates the authority of one who DOES know. Commonly used by Polish grandparents alerting grandchildren to certain danger and drivers explaining to fellow drivers how to drive, this gesture indicates that the listener should sit up and pay rapt attention. To correctly execute the Instructional Finger, raise your hand so that your palm faces your intended target. Keep both your finger and your head erect. In one swift motion, accent a particularly cogent point with an emphatic head nod and finger point.
3. The "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch
Seen at 0:26 (and again at 1:02, to accent the phrase "b'emet") this is perhaps the most crucial gesture for would-be Israelis to master. It indicates that what is being said is urgent, crucial, and true. To execute the "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch, place your thumb and forefinger together, keeping your other fingers loose and your palm facing towards your body. Accent your words with a shake of your hand and your listener will understand you to be earnest and sincere (or at least really emphatic in your attempt to swindle).
Note: Combine this with the final gesture-- pointing your other three fingers up rather than to the side-- and this gesture means "Techake Li Rega! Wait a second!" and need not be accompanied by words.
4. The Cooperative Two-handed Beckon
This gesture is at a more advanced level, and should not be attempted until gestures 1-3 are mastered. To execute this gesture (common among salespeople who are putting all their cards on the table and giving you the sincere advice that you should purchase their most expensive model, because they like you), move into your intended target's personal space. Extend your arms to the side and back from your body, so that your wrists are even with your hips. Raise your chin and eyebrows, open your palms, and say, "Tish'ma achi, what an I say? You want your water to taste like plastic, buy the cheap kumkum!)
5. The "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug
At first glance, this gesture might seem to resemble the Cooperative Two-Handed Beckon, but note the key differences. In the "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug, the shoulders are raised, the chin is lowered (and turned slightly to the side), and hands are extended out beyond the body. This gesture also differs from the Lip Shrug in that rather than indicate that the shrugger does not know, this gesture indicates that what the shrugger is saying should be obvious to any sane person listening. In fact, what is being indicated is so obvious that you shouldn't speak while making this gesture, because nu, it's clear, no?
6. The Two-Handed Precision Gestures
This encompasses a whole range of precise, two-handed movements. Using two hands together at close proximity indicates that the reader must pay close attention to follow the complex point the gesturer is making. (In this case, the gesturer is indicating the one spot in Tel Aviv where, just maybe, between 6 and 8 in the morning, street parking is available.)
7. The "Zeh Oh Zeh" One-Handed Swipe
In another gesture that is executed without talking, this gesture involves a dismissive sweep of the hand from the center to the side. This gesture indicates that all worrying is over (that's it-- zeh oh zeh) and a situation has been taken care of. If the gesture's recipient still worries, click your tongue and make a patting gesture to the side. As a side note, the person in this picture looks eerily similar to our landlord.
8. The Emphatic Finger
This gesture-- seen in the clip at 1:28 and elsewhere-- might at first be confused with the Instructional Finger. Not so-- this is the Emphatic Finger, and the palm facing the body makes it completely different. Execute this gesture by leaning slightly forward, raising your eyebrows, and shaking your hand forward slightly with every word. Frequently accompanied by baffled outrage at the government, this gesture indicates not only that the speaker really, really means what he is about to say, but that he has a very important point to make.
Now go and gesture like an Israeli! Which gestures are your favorites? Which ones do you actually use? Would you add any to the list?