Monday, January 26, 2009

Israelis and Rules הישראלים וכללי המקום

I do a rotating Saturday lifeguarding shift in my community, as I have since I came here in 1981. In contrast to the rest of the world, around the pool, not much has changed. One thing that has remained constant is the persona Israeli fathers assume upon their contact with chlorine. They suddenly decide that their offspring must learn to swim TODAY. NOW.

They begin an immediate training regimen that rivals that of the IDF’s Elite Commando Unit. If offspring balks…Abba presses harder. At the tears stage, I intervene. Needless to say, the attempt to teach Little Gal-Gal or Mai-Mai or [you supply New Age Water-related name] fails. I’ve seen it happen so consistently I can almost predict it the minute I lay eyes on the family.

My theory is that most Israelis are accustomed to swimming at beaches, where kids are expected only to romp in the surf and build sandcastles. Swimming pools are still unfamiliar to many Israelis, who associate them with competition swimming, bringing out the males’ macho side, hence their reaction thereto.

Another manifestation of the machismo that pools seem to bring out in Israeli men is their aversion to following the rules thereof. Unlike other lifeguards, who put their enforcement energy into infractions of the no running rule, I intervene in four situations: 1) Diving in the shallow end; 2) Using noodles as weaponry; 3) Somersaults off the side; and 4) Consuming food or drink or chewing gum in the water.
On my last shift, when I approached Typical Israeli Dad who was drinking a cup of juice while standing in the shallow end (after I’d greeted the family on their entrance, introduced myself, and informed them that there’s no eating or drinking in the water), the conversation went thusly:

Me: I’m reminding you that there’s no eating or drinking in the pool.
Macho Daddy: Huh?
Me (pointing to juice being consumed): Get the juice out of the pool.
MD: Huh? How come?
Me: As I told you when you came in, it’s pool rules.
MD: What’s the big deal? It’s just juice.
Me: Yes. And it’s against the rules to drink it in the pool.
Macho’s Wife from behind me: Yossi, get the juice outta the pool!
At which point he complies.

Meanwhile, the social scientists ponder why Israelis are argumentative and have trouble obeying simple rules taken for granted in the rest of the West. Well, there you have it: The child of Macho Daddy sees Abba 1) Break rule, showing disregard of rules 2) Argue when busted, showing disregard for rule-enforcement / authority.

My question: Why does this disregard seem to apply only to rules that make society more pleasant to be a part of? What’s so hard to understand about the advantages of a smoke-free, dog poop-free, garbage-free environment?

Oh, but that same Macho Daddy who catches his kid walking out the door to a Memorial Day ceremony not wearing a white shirt will lecture that kid from here to Kingdom Come about respect for our fallen soldiers, for our country, for sacrifice. What would Macho Daddy say about a citizen who crosses out the *le’om* [“nationhood”] field on her ID card? Well that’s the most heinous act he’s ever heard of. Obviously there’s no punishment harsh enough for a subversive traitor who does such a thing. She should be stripped of her citizenship and immediately deported. What country did she grow up in? Didn’t her parents teach her patriotism? By God, *ein la elohim* [“she has no shame”]!

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