From the secular business hub-cum-seaside resort town of Tel Aviv to the religiously significant Jerusalem, Arab villages, kibbutzim and everything in between, Israel contains a huge amount of diversity in one small strip of land.
Expats may experience varying degrees of culture shock in Israel as the local culture reflects its varied population of Europeans, North and South Americans, as well as inhabitants from the Arab world, the former Soviet Union and various African countries.
It's fitting that the phrase chutzpah originates from Hebrew, and newcomers may take some time to adapt to Israel's unique cultural traits. Blatant flirting with strangers is standard, shouting at a customer is to be expected, understanding that ‘no’ means ‘no’ is rare and waiting in line is practically unheard of. Conversely, the straightforwardness of Israelis can be strangely refreshing, and there is something exhilarating about bartering at a local market.
Expats may have heard Israelis described as cacti, and this is indeed an apt description for both the people and their culture. On the surface, Israelis may often seem rude, pushy and inflexible, but new arrivals are often surprised by how willing people can be to break rules in their favour, and how helpful people are in moments of crisis.
That said, bureaucracy is a key cause of frustration for expats living in Israel, as the completion of the simplest administrative processes can easily stretch into weeks or even months.
Dress in Israel
Unless expats are in areas such as Jerusalem’s old city, Tsfat or the West Bank, dress in Israel is similar to Europe and North America. During summer, expats in Tel Aviv will see women in short dresses and men in nothing more than their swimming shorts.
In more religious or conservative areas, new arrivals are advised to dress appropriately. Both men and women are expected to keep their arms and legs fully covered. Men should also cover their heads at Jewish religious sites.
Alcohol in Israel
Although not usually consumed in vast quantities, alcohol is a part of everyday life in Israel and is served in bars and cafes across the country.
That said, the presence of drunken youths in the streets of Israel is a lot less common than in countries like the UK. Perhaps an explanation for this is the price of alcoholic beverages. They are fairly expensive in Israel.
Women in Israel
Despite the many laws that have been passed to promote equality and rights for women, Israel has a reputation of being a patriarchal society.
Women generally receive lots of attention from Israeli men, and foreigners are a common target. Expat women will most likely receive some unwanted attention. That said, Israel is generally a safe place for women compared with many other destinations. Many women feel safe to walk alone through most areas at night.
Language in Israel
Speaking English or Russian can be advantageous for an expat in Israel, but neither really match the benefits of speaking Hebrew.
Expats may question whether it's truly necessary to learn Hebrew. Often even simple processes, such as sending a parcel or buying a bus pass, can quickly develop into a nightmare if both parties are unable to communicate successfully. Speaking even the smallest amount of Hebrew would help tremendously in such situations. Having some knowledge of Hebrew will also give expats an advantage in the workplace.