Are Israelis rude?

I was actually just going to post a link to today's Haveil Havelim blog carnival, hosted by A Mother in Israel, but as I was browsing her wonderful blog, a post about Israeli "rudeness" struck a nerve with me, and I had to add my own thoughts. (I agree with A Mother in Israel's response to this question... I'm not ranting against what she said, but rather at the attitude she addressed!)

We've all heard that Israelis are rude, and to some extent this is true. More often, though, Americans coming to Israel are ruder than they realize. What is polite in America is not the same as what is polite in Israel.

For example, I've posted before about the way the relationship between Israeli sales people and customers is different from the relationship in America.  In America, the customer is always right-- and the customer is therefore entitled to demand service RIGHT NOW, monopolize a sales person's time and then walk away, ask to speak to the manager if anything is wrong with service, etc. In Israel, on the other hand, the sales person sees himself as an authority-- and is therefore entitled to take his sweet time in coming to serve you, give you advice you didn't ask for, and refuse to sell you a more expensive product if he's convinced a cheap one will do. The flip side of this, though, is that sales people usually feel invested in helping you find the right product, and they often have good advice to offer. Americans who come in expecting sales people to be subservient come across as arrogant and demanding... sounds familiar?

In other situations, I think Israeli "rudeness" stems from the feeling that we're like a big family crowded into a too-small apartment. Of course we tell each other what to do! Yes, strangers might ask pointed personal questions after spending two minutes with you in the supermarket checkout line. (If you don't want to respond, adopt the teenager-tested strategy of refusing to give away information. "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do there?" "Stuff.") Imagine if a family member was simply indifferent to you-- wouldn't that sting more? And here's the thing: when Israelis yell at you, it's something like your brother yelling at you. At the end of the day, he still loves you and you love him. It's not personal. Two strangers in Israel can have a loud, heated disagreement, and at the end of it clap each other on the back, call each other "achi," and buy each other coffee. An American after the same disagreement might nurse a grudge for years, while Israelis were just voicing their opinions and having a little battle of wills.

Israelis see Americans as friendly and polite on the surface but aloof and insincere in this kindness. Imagine: Americans see someone else's child misbehaving or crying and don't do anything! Americans might obey traffic laws, but they don't pick up the teenagers hitchhiking along the side of the road or invite strangers into their homes for a meal. When Americans give directions, they rarely offer to show the asker to his destination. Americans don't offer coffee to repairmen or shots of homemade peach liqueur to customers in their shops. When a friend of mine moved back to America after a decade of life in Israel, she was shocked by the dirty looks she received in American supermarkets when she accidentally nudged strangers with her shopping cart, and by the indifference of fellow travelers on American city buses as she attempted to lug around a baby and a small child. Again: Israel and the US have different definitions of "polite." Americans are offended that someone bumps into them in the grocery store yet don't consider that giving a dirty look in response could be rude.

In the US, social norms often call for you to be indirect and perhaps even passive-aggressive in how you state your opinions. You smile when you don't mean it. You say "thank you" when you don't mean it. You complain to everyone except the person with whom you have a problem. In Israel, social norms call for you to be direct and assertive. You honk your horn and flash your lights at the car that is going too slowly in front of you, and then pull over if they seem to need help. For me, the Israeli system works so much better. I hate being around people who might be upset by my actions and not say anything. I'm notoriously bad at picking up subtle non-verbal cues and like it when people are direct with me and I can be direct with them. It's tricky to nail the right degree of assertiveness (rather than combativeness) in your interactions with Israelis, but when you find it, you develop a relationship based on mutual respect. If you avoid confrontation at all costs, on the other hand, this might not be the country for you.

I feel for tourists-- I really do. The American strategies of smiling and being polite (until you're REALLY upset) send the wrong signals to Israelis and so elicit responses that only make Americans feel more attacked and annoyed. Because Americans assume you have to be furious to shout at a stranger in the street or lay on the horn, they must get freaked out by fairly normal interactions in Israel. Yes, Israel might gain a better reputation in the world and among visiting tourists if we learned about tact. But if you're in Israel, maybe you should try acting like an Israeli. People are so much nicer that way!

Ok, that's my rant. Told you that touched a nerve. What do you think? Have you had experiences with "rude" Israelis (or rude Americans)?


  1. Wow, this was a pretty exhaustive analysis. I will admit that I am not great at being confrontational or brutally honest when it is required. I AM AMERICAN. I do think service is a different animal though and just can't get used to the level of service here. A British woman was shellshocked a couple of days ago when the shoe salesman wouldn't let her try on a pair of shoes. She told him that she couldn't buy them unless she tried them on....he didn't give a flying falafel. When service improves here, certain stores and businesses will be left behind and will simply cease to exist eventually....capitalism has an element of survival of the fittest. When a salesman however doesn't care and would rather lose business and money than provide good service or give ground or help someone out, it boggles my mind.

    All that said, I know that the cultural difference goes both ways and there are problems in America as well. People will probably usually lean to the culture of the place they are from.

  2. Benji, I can't believe the salesperson wouldn't let her try on the shoes... that's crazy! I don't think I've ever encountered anything that extreme. If anything, I've found that salespeople even in places like dept stores tend to be TOO pushy because they get commissions. I agree that sometimes the Israeli lack of customer service goes too far... and yes, I'll always be American too. There are times when it's nice just to have friendly, trusting sales people.

    I'm a little floored by the fact that your comment is entirely serious, btw! You mean you aren't perpetually funny??

  3. I know, I know, it can be a shock sometimes. Don't you know that much of comedy comes from frustration? : )

  4. Interesting post! It's been several years since I visited Israel. However, while there, I found the people to be refreshingly honest! Sometimes the shop owners in the Old City were a bit too pushy when they grabbed one by the arm and pulled them into the shop. I had to be equally blunt in pulling away and firmly refusing after I instinctively slapped the hand pulling my arm. I think that honesty is why I felt very much "at home" while visiting.

    Pretense gets one no where. Honesty can sometimes get one into trouble. Find the tactful balance is the challenge.

  5. Fantastic post! I agree with it all, and I also *much* prefer the honesty that Israelis provide :)

  6. A solid post about the cultural differences. This and this for the sake of Heaven! Thanks for writing it with such honesty.

  7. Thanks! Btw, in thinking about the situation that Benji described, I bet there's more to the story. Maybe the woman misunderstood the sales person, or perhaps she had dirty feet or came across as someone who wasn't serious about buying the shoes. In any case, I bet a little cooperative talking (ma anachnu yecholim la'asot-- what can we do) rather than combative talking would have worked wonders. I'm not blaming her, I'm just saying that most likely something was going on here that she didn't understand.

  8. I've never been to Israel, but the Israeli approach reminds me a great deal of my culture shock when I first moved to Texas from the West. Southerners think nothing of having a personal conversation in the grocery store line with a perfect stranger, but they will also help you with the baby stroller and give you the shirt off their back if you are in need. I've learned to love it here...and I suspect I would learn to appreciate the Israeli approach as well. Thanks for the culture lesson. I love reading your blog.

  9. Excellent post and I agree wholeheartedly! (Mother in Israel just linked, which is why I'm a bit late in commenting)

    I had a screaming match with a dryer repairman on the phone and when he finally came back, he said upon walking in "wow, I know not to anger you again!" exactly as if he was my brother! And when he fixed my dryer, finally properly, we sorted out our misunderstanding, shook hands and "made up".

    Even if it's exasperating sometimes, I prefer the social interactions here to the fakeness in America.

  10. Great post! Similarly, many new American olim mistakenly believe that the best way to deal with Israeli pekidim (bureaucrats) is to yell and try and pull rank. Unfortunately, this approach rarely works.

    Instead, the trick is to show the pakid that you have a problem and that he's the only one who can help you out of a bind. Because once the pakid sees that you're really in trouble, he'll do everything - and I mean everything - to help you...

  11. Abbi, great story! Mrs. S.-- PERFECT example of what I was trying to get at here. If you show an Israeli you really have a problem (and kiss up a little, showing that they are the only possible solution to this problem), they'll go to the ends of the earth to help. Almost literally. On the other hand, if you come in with guns blazing, they put up the bulletproof glass.

  12. I've yet to go to Israel, but I'm an American living in Flanders and if Israelis think Americans are cold and aloof? They'd probably run screaming from Belgium!

  13. Wow! I just came across your blog... this post hit the nail on the head! I have been in Israel almost five months now (originally from Hawaii, with several stops in between), and have experienced so much frustration with the apparent "rudeness" of Israelis. I know (and have known) that it's just the cultural mentality, and I am slowly gaining an understand of these attitudes. But I have to say, this is the biggest adjustment so far! I don't even mind using a magav to dry the bathroom after a shower!

  14. really honest post and much appreciated. you're right-- that perception *is* out there-- for sure. it's nice to take a balanced look as well as at the "why" behind things. well done and thanks.

  15. Hi Maya,

    I totally disagree with you regarding copy the same attitude of Israelis.....and the "honesty" aspect.
    KINDNESS should be spread around here, specially in Tel Aviv, where I live.
    Holding a door, waiting in line, giving seat for elderly, saying please/thanks/welcome ..is not about being fake. but showing respect towards people.
    Treating people how you would like to be treated.
    I am not American ( as you probably noticed...) and after 2 years here the Israeli rudeness still bothers me a lot.
    and when you have a bad day followed by rudeness ....it's terrible, you fell awfull!!!
    There is no need to smile to everybody or hide your opinions, just as you don't need to invade people privacy with stupid questions.
    I am from a country - BRAZIL where people are very friendly, full of personality and kind. Just like are some people like this here.
    Yes its possible! We should promote positive attitudes!!! I believe everybody will benefit from that.
    I love Israel...but give excuses or promote arrogance and impolitenesses will not help this country at all...
    ps: scenes like the shoes store happened all the time, dont surprise me anymore....debora

  16. when you travel try to be more polite! the image of the rude israeli is too much!

  17. We moved to Israel for one year as my husband worked for US defense contractor that wanted several staff onsite in Israel. It was a nice increase in pay and housing was taken care of. We thought it might be a neat experience to live overseas with our three kids under 10.

    We are very southern and adjusting in Israel to the demeanor and tone of general society was a big deal.

    Our children were yelled it more than once in public in a way that would have warranted me slapping someone in the US. In stores when I had questions, I was treated like an idiot. People were terribly blunt and abrasive for no reason. Many of our early attempts at kindness were looked at warily or with disdain.

    Some families with children we got to know through the Israeli staff in the office did turn out to be wonderful. One mother I think got tired of me asking questions and took off a day from work to help me sort out a number of issues - it was a miracle gift! The people we really got to know were as nice and kind as any southerners we grew up with. I truly have great memories of the personal level interactions.

    The overall way of conducting life was just too much for us and when my husband's company offered him another year in Israel, we declined eventho the money would have been nice.

    When we got to Atlanta, someone held the door for me and called me ma'am. I knew I was home.

    So my thoughts - Israel's rudeness, totally true. Israeli people, wonderful kind souls.

  18. I don't view us as rude, but I certainly agree that americans can be VERY rude when coming to Israel. I'm amazed at how many american women do not dress appropriately for Israel.

  19. What chutzpah of American shoppers to give an Israeli a dirty look just for for exercising her God-given right to bump into shoppers with her cart! What nerve!

  20. No vivo ni en Estados Unidos ni en Israel, pero he visitado ambos. A mi juicio prefiero los israelíes por que te hacen sentir humana. No estadounidenses creen que el resto del mundo es basura. Eso se percibe desde que se llega a los aeropuertos. Los israelíes son directos pero amables. El estadounidense es prepotente y frivolo.

    Viva Eretz Israel!!!!!

  21. Hi Maya,
    I know it's an old post, but nevertheless I found it fascinating. I'm an Israeli expat living and working in Europe.
    I had similar insights about the differences between Israeli and European cultures. Starting out in Europe, I've sensed those vague clues and passive aggressive behavior, but didn't have a clue how to respond.
    My most important lesson so far was realizing how much I like Israel and Israelis. Like some Israelis commenting here I've felt a certain lack of good manners in Israel, but although I thought I was "getting away from all those barbarians", I quickly learned that in Europe I am considered the barbarian, before I get to say a single word.

  22. i will never forget the comment of some sweet guy trying to sell me a small appliance when i first made aliyah. when he started raising his voice and yelling at me over some point i started yelling back, thinking i would be more israeli and it was part of the transaction. he stopped, looking shocked and wounded ..and said "why are you so mad at me?" perplexed i said, well i was just yelling like you were. how come you and others can yell at each other and it's just part of the way to do it, but when i yell you get hurt? He said..because when WE yell it IS just the way we do business, but when YOU yell i think you are really mad at me. :( sabras..tough on the outside, sweet and soft inside..nachon?

  23. I am glad I came across these comments. Thank you everyone.

    Sincerity, directness and good will are the values, and the Jewish heritage values at that. Lack of those in communication in Canadian mainstream is one of the rationals of my making aliyah now.

    This information confirms my idea of communicating with Israelis without taking things go to my ego, having a sense of humour about our differences, and exercising the sense of equality and belonging to the same tribe.


  24. I am an "adopted israeli" ie have been living in Israel for ten years, and I'm not American, although I was there for a few months. It is quite hard to generalize, as New Yorkers can be terrifyingly rude in public and they really couldn't care less about you either, but southerners have manners that just melt your heart. Ukrainians are exceedingly polite and exceedingly anti-semitic. As for Israelis, it is really a mixed bag. There are Israelis who are extremely polite and considerate and who also suffer from "Israeli rudeness". But tourists probably don't notice them, as it is human nature to notice extreme experiences whether positive or negative. Once a man in a falafal shop screamed at me for nothing. I was very taken aback. I calmly said to him, why are you screaming. And he said I've had a long hard day, I'm dirty and sweaty and you've just stepped out of the shower! After that he was quite nice. On the redeeming side, as you mentioned the same Israeli who screams at you, will sell the shirt off of his back to help you. Unfortunately many non-Israelis do not get past the bravado, and do not realize that Israelis are the most tender hearted people in the world. I had the same experience twice that a bus-driver drove me home at end of his shift:, once I was on a wrong bus and once it was late and I had missed the last connecting bus. I guess they felt sorry for the clueless newcomer. Also before people get all hung up on Israeli rudeness, please note that Israel officially (according to the UN) has the highest rate of volunteerism in the world, and it's rising. So bottom line is Israelis really do care about other people.

    On the other side I have noticed that Americans in particular can be quite arrogant when abroad, as if everything is always better where they came from. Which of course begs the question ...
    They also need to be a bit more humble.

  25. I am American and I can say that I know all about being confrontational and what rude is in every way shape and form. Upon my first trip to Israel I felt instantly at home. I don't mind when people are being honest or impatient. I do mind when people are mean spirited; angrily lashing out but I don't feel that is the usual attitude of Israelis. I see nonchalant where one would see trained proper politeness in public situations but again that is 'no skin off my teeth' as my mother used to say. I was taught by my father to be brutally honest and by my mother to be absolutely considerate of others. However she had a great sense of humor and didn't teach me that one, dangit! The brutally honest personality I adopted from my father has been tempered in the course of time but I am rarely offended by honest, blunt, candid speech. I like it. It is far more comfortable for me than any other....though my mother's humor outweighs them all!

  26. This is another comment I'm making on your blog. Name's Richard and I'm an Australian alter-knocker (Yiddish = 'old fart') and my wife, adult son (28 and 6'8") visited Israel last year. Yes, we have found Yanks (in Aussie - 'septics' as in rhyming slang 'septic tank' = 'yank') rude and often arrogant, but we found Israelis so much like ourselves. We did have some trouble in the 'Old City' in Jerusalem with Arab (Palestinian?) shopkeepers, one of whom quite forcefully grabbed my wife by the arm and pulled her into his shop. He actually hurt her; our son and I don't take that sort of sh*t from anyone. Wearing an Aussie slouch-hat and a kangaroo badge, he - he spoke OK English - soon found out we weren't Yanks or English. The interaction went something like this -
    Me (cross): "Hey, Camel-f*cker! Get your grubby hands off my wife."
    Him: "You came my shop, I show you many things, you buy."
    Me: "We'll show you an f***ing knuckle sandwich if you don't piss-off.
    Him (ignoring me and pushing junk at my wife): "I give you good price, you come in my shop, he (me) stay outside."
    Son (laying a strong hand on Arab shoulder): "Hey Dad! Want me to bash him?" (Threatening raised large fist)
    Him (now showing fear) "Who you people?"
    Me: "We're Australians, the people who threw your Turk wog mates out of this country before it could be returned to the Jews who your lot stole it from. Ever heard of the charge of the Australian Light Horse Cavalry at Beer-Sheva against Turkish artillery. . . we're those people. Don't mess with us."
    The Arab quickly gave my wife a free little necklace trinket, apologized and we moved on. Out of ear-shot, our son and I got hauled over the coals by our wife / mother for being so rude and aggressive, she thought if her 'boys' acted like that, people would think we were Americans.

  27. I am an EU citizen and I have recently had a trip to Israel. Beautiful country with exquisite nature... spoiled by the locals. Those ppl seem to be quite rude to foreigners. Not making a deal out of Israelis inability to stay in queue, I was rather appalled by some employees of Ben Gurion airport. I have never met so rude people in all my travels so far. I understand the need of security and searching to my luggage is fine with me, but talking to me in an “ordering”-kind of tone of voice is definitely not OK. Talking behind my back and making jokes is also not OK… I have decided that visiting the country is not worth the humiliation.

  28. 30 years ago I ended up in Israel for health reasons and needed to work. I used Israeli 'rudeness' to my advantage and was as polite as I could be, without being soft. I had some very nice jobs where my politeness was appreciated. I was promoted and trusted. However I remember once I was at a bus stop when some young lads threw their litter on the ground. This is one of my pet hates...so in my best Hebrew I said...Oi!! Look at the way you throw your trash on the street. I would never do that. I guess maybe I love your country more than you do !! They picked it up and put it in the bin.

  29. The Israelis do not think behave or act with respect, as a person born into the world and taught that all Humans are to be respected I would like to add this. I married a very beautiful Israeli Man who from what his birth certificate states is 100% Arabic Isreali ''JEWISH''. His own Friend since arriving in the country has ripped him off 25000 dollars , suffered the green eyed monster syndrome notorious downfall in the culture( the big eyes of israel someone might get something before me. Israel is over populated has no idea how to fix its problems locks an entire race of people who owned the land first into the worst oppression ever and cant understand why this happens to them.Its Simple Really considering the oldest religion in the world Is hypocritical to the very words the scripture represent.Israel is its own worst enemy and from what ive seen in my own country is its pown worst enemy.

  30. I've been relocated to Israel and, in the beginnig, felt pretty happy about it.

    Israel is a fascinating country; it's not only its History but the level of scientific progress that it's attained which I particularly admire.

    Nonetheless, I am very disappointed at the way I am constantly treated, and I am not talking about the typical shop owner.
    I've lived all over the world and I have never experienced this level of rudeness before.
    There's a complete lack of consideration towards the " others"; people laugh at you when you try to speak Hebrew, make disrespectful remarks for no apparent reason and always put an Israeli before a foreigner.

    All of this in ( what Israelis think is) " liberal" Tel Aviv.

    I wanted to come to this country but now I just want to move somewhre else.

  31. I couldn't agree with this article more. I haven't lived in Israel since I was very young, about 5 years old, and have lived in America for about twelve years now since I was 10 and my mother always tells me how much of an Israeli I am. I can't stand the fake niceness that seems to have caught on as some kind of rampant disease in America, I am all for stating my opinions whether one likes it or not, I will not be vile towards you but I will let you have it. Just last week I had to put some stranger's kids in their place because she wasn't around to see their misbehaving, but she sure noticed when I put in my two cents. Either way, being honest without harm is always the best way to go.

  32. I found this post because the rudeness of Israelis has given me such great stress I stay in the house. I came from the USA and yes I understand Americans can be rude but I never witnessed such harsh behavior as in Israel. I came from a small rural area where people say hello, thank you and please and help each other. I stay in the house and do not go out. I have been yelled at so often I lost track. I also had comments made about me that are actually cruel. Ok, in the USA we may fake smiles and pretend to be nice but no one ever was cruel unless they dislike you . I was told this person was just being honest. I plan on moving back to the USA there I can go out and feel good.

  33. I am an American who came here 2 years ago. I came from a smal rural area where people say hello, thank you, please and help each other. When, you go in a store you get service and help. If people yell at you it means they are angry or do not like you. My time here I have been yelled at ridiculed. I had cruel comments made toward me. Never in the USA did anyone ever speak to me so cruel. I agree there are fake smiles and Americans should be more polite when traveling but we only say crule things when we dislike others. I was told this person was just being honest. I now stay in the house and do not socialize. I am moving back to the USA so I can get my life back.

  34. I can say that some of the rudest, most vulgar, selfish and amoral people I've ever known have been Israeli Jews; while some of the most decent, humane, and ethical people I've ever known have been American Jews. Go figure!

  35. Oh, I love this blog; it makes me miss Israel so much and I've never actually been :-(.

    Your 'About me' section says "I actually can't tell you how to be Israeli, because I'm still working on it myself. But at least we can muddle towards Israeli-ness together!" but I've always thought students made the best teachers.

    Love from a stranger

  36. Marvelous and I totally agree!! I am going to have to share this with my friends and on my blog!!

  37. I think that rudeness should not by any means promoted nor excused.
    I love Israel but the way people have been treating me here goes far beyond the pale.
    There are still many things to change in this country.
    As for me, I'll move back to my country as soon as I can.

  38. Wow, this post really struck a nerve with many people. I went from your post about running races in Isreal to this emotionally charged post. Luv it!

  39. To the Anonymous Aussie:
    Funny how you consider Americans to be rude. I've met a number of you hear in the U.S. and have found you to be among the most rude, arrogant and boastful (why, I don't know) lot out there. And for some reason you think that if someone doesn't have intimate knowledge of Aussie geography, politics, culture, etc they're some kind of ignorant oaf (as if you guys had intimate knowledge of all small, insignificant countries). It's actually you Aussies I dread meeting the most, I know what arrogance there is to follow.

  40. Wow. Every time I come here, there are more comments. I first visited this post a year ago, while looking for things to help out with 'second-homesickness.' I miss Israel an awful lot, and much of what I miss is the forthrightness of Israelis. Rude? Never. Israelis are just honest.

    Todah, ve'Shabat shalom.

  41. I have had a bank worker give me her cell phone and have me meet her at her house after hours while she was making dinner for her family and kids because I was unable because of my work to make it to the branch in order to pick up my debit card (in Israel credit cards must be picked up at the bank, not sent home).... just one representative example out of thousands....

    another funny story where I was at my job, had a fender-bender with some middle aged women, and she was screaming at me at the top of her lungs despite the fact that I was armed - because it's clear that you won't degenerate to any kind of violence or threatening - although if you had a case of road rage in the states and you got out of your car with a pistol on the hip, the other party would get all unnerved (uncorrectly).... hah

    of course... don't take the fact that there are some of the kindest, most helping and good-hearted people the wrong way, i mean you do also get kids get stabbed to death in kiryat yam (for example) for speaking the wrong way.... I think wehreas in the states people really are "adishim", not too nice and not too mean, in israel people can tend to extremes more both of helping and of anger, people feel more..

  42. In my opinion This artical is noting more then a cover up for isrealis rudeness.They are rude pepole!!!And there service sucks!!!

  43. Starting reading your blog today and will be making Aliyah this summer. Thank you for sharing your insight. I agree with your assessment but I could not express it as articulately as you do.

  44. If you type into Google, "why are Israeli's-" the first phrase suggestion is "so rude". So, it seems, I am not alone in my search for this answer.

    This article is ok. I get the whole American smiley face aversion thing.

    I can wipe that smile off my face and act gruff, but it doesn't address the: "let's treat Americans like they're stupid so we can feel superior" attitude.

    Psych 101 portends this kind of superiority defense to be just a thin veneer hiding deep insecurities. Ok, but so what? I still have to face this rudeness every single time I go out and interact with the israeli working public. Out of 10 rudesters, I would say I encountered 1 basically kind employee.

    After 1 week of this, it's getting old.

    On the positive side, Israel has a great transportation system.

  45. as an israeli who traveled the US (2001)
    i must say the American service attitude
    was very loafed cold dishonest, to point of alienation.

    i will never forget the desk lady at "holiday inn" Los Angeles, after talking to her iv'e sensed from the subtext a grate deal of Alienation almost to the point she was playing with double meaning words to the point after our chat i felt she meant to hurt my feelings.

    yes she was very cleaver but also very alienated to the point of hostile in her subtext.

    i felt Americans are cold and extremely insincere, to the point of being fakes.

    i loved traveling the US as a tourist, but
    i cant say i wasn't a bit disappointed with
    Americans way of being.

    but i'm guessing maybe in other places in the US things may be a bit different.


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