Don't be a Fryer

Before I made aliyah, I watched a rather depressing Israeli movie that taught me a huge amount about Israeli culture-- specifically, how not to be a fryer. At that point I probably thought that "fryer" referred to a small chicken, but no... "a fryer" is the person who gets naively used while more savvy people make "combinas" (a post about that some other time). The best English translation is "sucker," but I'm pretty sure the concept of a "fryer" also has to do with passivity and a kind of naive niceness-- with being taken for a ride rather than driving the getaway van. A fryer pays double price, has faith in the UN, and gives out unecessary information to strangers.

In the movie James' Journey to Jersualem, James is an African Christian sent on a pilgrimage to Israel by his village, but then arrested for illegal entry and strong-armed into working illegally for very little pay. As he loses his innocence and comes to understand Israeli culture, though, he realizes that he's a "fryer" for earning a pittance while his boss profits. He then starts his own cleaning business in his time off, exploiting his fellow illegal aliens and under-cutting his boss. It's not a movie for anyone who wants to maintain a starry-eyed view of the holy land, but useful viewing for anyone who actually wants to move here.

I understand the concept of a "fryer" better when I look at our two cats.

Zeus, being born in America, is a fryer. When we try to clip his claws, he sits in our lap with a long-suffering expression... but makes no effort to actually move. He fully trusts not only our good intentions but that, if we're punishing him, he has probably done something to deserve it. Similarly, if Zeus jumps on the table to sniff at some chicken and we yell at him, he'll immediately shrink back with a guilt-stricken expression and try to win back our approval.

Pixel, on the other hand, is thoroughly Israeli, the product of rigorous natural selection on the Israeli streets. Clipping Pixel's nails is an ordeal involving me, my husband, and several thick blankets. Even so, we emerge scratched and bitten, and Pixel (who is otherwise a very sweet cat) emerges with his back nails still intact. Pixel trusts us-- to a point-- and is grateful for our protectzia, but he'll watch out for himself, thank you. If we attempt to do something not in his self-interest, well, we'd better think again. If Pixel jumps on a table to sniff at some chicken and we yell at him, he'll grab a drumstick on his way down. No fryer, Pixel.

I basically have "fryer" tattooed on my forehead, but according to my husband's aunt, I compensate by having "marpekim"-- elbows!

I think Americans actually reward fryer-like behavior: we love the steady worker, the anonymous donor, the cop who splits his winning lottery ticket with the waitress. Israelis, on the other hand, frown on this kind of behavior-- or rather laugh at it, incredulously. What do you think? Would you rather be a fryer or not?


  1. Hello!

    I just stumbled upon your blog and am so glad that I did.

    I hope someday to make aliyah, so it's nice to visit a place where I can read about it.

    Shabbat Shalom!


  2. The difference between our two cats (and by extension, between the Fryer and the not-fryer) can be summed up like this:
    Zue's motto in life is "don't do anything that would piss off the humans"
    Pixel's motto in life is "don't get caught doing anything that would piss off the humans" ;)

  3. except Pixel doesn't even really care about being caught... it's kind of more "stop doing it if they make me stop, then go right back to it when they aren't looking"

  4. btw, in an e-mail to me after reading this post, my grandmother just made a great observation: Pixel is a "slumdog cat" (as in "Slumdog Millionaire") :) Not that Israel's a slum, though... very far from, despite the fact that my bro-in-law says our apartments look like the projects

  5. cool! this has been on my netflix queue all week, will watch it tonight if you recommend it.

  6. In the Romanian language we also have this word, spelled "fraier" - it means a person that doesn't know how to take advantage of something,of a situation and it comes from the German language - :freier", where in means, surprinsingly,suitor. What's the common ground? No idea, but it is interesting how words circulate from language to language, receiving new meanings...

  7. I'm pretty sure this is a Yiddish word originally, and Yiddish has a lot of German influence. The two words probably have the same origin! Thanks for sharing the original meaning!

  8. We saw this movie at my daughter's junior high school -- it was too funny and too sad. Did you catch the Salach Shabati reference? I missed it, but my husband pointed it out to me!

  9. WOW! I hate to admit it but, I'm a fryer. Luckily I have some Israeli friends who were born and raised there. So, I think I'm gonna ask them for some advice how not to be a fryer when I go. Thanks for the post. I loved it!

  10. Wow! I love that movie and that phrase, my DH and I watch lots of Israeli (Hebrew Language) films.
    We are on our way to making aliyah... will I arrive as a fryer, well, I hate to say it but probably yes. It's just the American conditioning! LOL! I know the first visit in 2005 we were definitly fryers of the first degree. Went to the Kotel and got hit up by all the beggars . . . (which is OK until the same ones keep coming up to you 10 minutes later and you give them more money!) My Israeli friend had to fend them all off for me. Oh and did I mention that rug that I bought in a nice man's shop whom the Taxi driver was friends with and brought us there from in front of the King David Hotel where we were staying. I'm still afraid to have the rug appraised, why? Because I know I was a fryer!
    Anyhow I signed up to follow your blog and I will be reading it daily before our pilot trip. We are part of the Go North program, and G-d willing we will be settling in the North too.
    So nice to meet you ad thanks for the sage advice.


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