March 27, 2009

Oh, The Humans

Posted in life, travel at 1:43 pm by Michael

I love traveling. I love observing the differences, the similarities, and everything in-between.

For the last week I’ve been working in our Microsoft office in Israel. One cool thing is that our badges work everywhere. It’s kind of odd to walk up to a building eight thousand miles away from home, swipe your badge: “Boop – Green Light”.

(On the subject of badges, here’s a story that I’ve heard about an old-school Microsoft manager. When told that they didn’t give enough positive feedback, they replied:

“Positive feedback? Positive feedback? I give you positive feedback every morning. Every morning, when you walk up to the door and swipe your badge, you get the green light. Isn’t that positive feedback enough?”)

I digress.

Israel is an interesting place. Service comes from a totally different frame. The customer is *absolutely* not always right.

The first night after arriving, we were looking for a place to eat. We went down to the concierge to ask for a recommendation. He asked what we’d like to eat – we told him “Meat, Hummous, Kebabs, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, you want to go to Benny the Fisherman – very good. They have meat too.”

We go to “Benny the Fisherman” – known for the finest of meats in all of Tel Aviv.

We walk in, sit down, and the waitress walks over after a bit.

“So, what do you want to eat?”

(Israel, even though it is an English speaking country, is fiercely, loyally, a country of Hebrew speakers. It is not uncommon for signs and menus to be only in Hebrew. This restaurant did not have English menus – this was the reason for the question.)

Thinking that we were going to a place featuring meat (oddly named after a fisherman), we said:

“Well, meat, kebabs, salad?”

“Eh? What, no fish? You come here, you don’t want fish?”

Eyeroll. Dismissive hand wave.

“We have fish. You want fish, I will bring it.”

Me: “Can I have some meat too?”

“After the fish. I will bring it. You will see. You will like it.”

What, is Sam I Am our server?

We were given meat after two fish courses, begrudgingly.

“The fish was good, no?”

I’m not sure they liked me.

It added insult to injury that as we were there, it started to pour. Biblically. (It is the land of the Bible after all). On the way out the door, while trying to run for the door, I planted my left foot, starting to run, and it slipped out from underneath me, dumping me unceremoniously on my meat-eating ass.

I’ll eat the fish next time, I promise.

While there, our local team had scheduled a team event which included a walking tour of Old Tel Aviv. We got to hear about how Tel Aviv came to be, built by five original families from the sand outside of Jaffa. Interesting…

There were less interesting bits. It turned out that a highlight of the trip was the stop in front of the tourguide’s childhood apartment house.

For fifteen minutes we got to hear about all of the neighbors, where they came from, where they are now. All the time, I was wondering, what the point was – who famous was there? How had this house played into the founding of Old Tel Aviv?

Not in the slightest. Really.

We did hear about the elderly neighbor from across the street. Her house was described as an exact replica of her childhood home in Poland, but with the addition of a Star of David over the door.  Invited over for Easter, she ignored the advice where to sit, and sat in the seat in front of the bowl of very hot horseradish. After sitting down, she asked what this dish was exactly, and was told it was very hot horseradish, and that it should only be eaten sparingly, and later with the main course. She blissfully ignored the advice, got a big spoonful, and took it in whole.

Her face was said to explode in a cataclysm of gagging and spitting. The party’s attempts at reviving her with water and matzo were not enough. The neighbor did not speak to them for five months. (Not four, not six – five. Seven would have been more locally appropriate).

Look, I was paying attention to this story. This story was a load of crap.

First off, it’s a Jewish neighborhood. Our tour guide was Jewish – she said as much.

Other problems with story:
– Invited over for Easter. Yes, Easter. Not Passover. Jews do not celebrate Easter. They celebrate Passover.
– Sitting places. Again, this is a Passover thing. See above.
– Horseradish. This is a *staple* of the Seder. I’ve been to two Seder meals in my life and I know this. How the neighbor from across the street did not know about this, given that she too was Jewish (Star of David on the house), is beyond me.
– Matzo. Another proof point of the non-Easterness. Does the Easter Bunny bring Matzo? NO! Unleavened bread… leave the house quickly…. It’s Passover!

Anyway, on our walking tour we stopped at a number of small food places, which was cool. We got to experience the oddly named “Hummous Sticks” – which are like potato sticks made out of dried mashed chickpea and tahini. I need to increment the Crappy Look Counter after going there though, the elderly lady at the front looked me up, down, up, down, and then went “Beah!”. I think I need to rename it the “Crappy Look and Beah! Counter”. We also had some fresh marzipan, which was melt-in-your-mouth yummy. No crappy looks.

Anyway… the actual walk was fun and the commentary while odd, was at least blog-fodder.

Our flight out was at 10:30pm, and keeping with the tradition of Israeli airport arrival, we planned to get there at about 7pm. (Really, you need to leave that much time). After spending a lovely hour and a half getting through the pre-security, bag security, checkin, passport control, and gate security lines, we were through.

At the airport we had a last Israeli meal of pita, hummous and schwarma at “Cumin”, which was a far better choice than Kosher McDonalds.

Traveling brings out interesting traits in people. I’ve seen some pretty selfless behavior, but also some super wacky behavior too. In my humble experience, elderly travelers can be *the worst*. We were in the passport check line, waiting, when an elderly eastern European woman and her husband got in the adjoining line. (I saw her passport cover). She quickly sidled over to half-cut in front of me. I saw it coming.

As the line moved forward, she inched forward – cutting further into line, while her husband proceeded in the adjoining line. Like no one was noticing.

As the lined moved to its conclusion, with a big kerfuffle, she tapped her husband on the shoulder, and dramatically moved fully in front of me. Look, we had been in this line and others for an hour and a half and I was done.

I tapped her on her shoulder….

“Excuse me. You were in that line with your husband. You cut in front of me. Move back to your line.”

Oh, the Crappy Looks….

Then, a grumble fest from the other line-standers “Yeah… no cutting….”

Shockingly, she complied.

Other line-standers turned around and smiled at me, like I had fought some silent injustice that they themselves had suffered silently.

Thirteen plus flight hours later, we arrived into Atlanta….

It’s fun to travel – love the food – but after that long of a flight, comfort food is needed. I found to my delight that in the Atlanta Airport, in Terminal A is a Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Large iced regular please….”

Welcome home…..



  1. Carolyn Ann said,

    Erm: Matzoh is unleavened bread.

    Jews know what Easter is. It often happens within a few weeks of Passover. It might be that she thought the people were Christian, or it might have been a gesture, a simple gesture. Having had her Seder, she might have said, “come on over, let’s celebrate Easter!”

    Horseradish is always at Seders; it comes in many varieties – some will knock your socks off, and others are quite mild. It’s often served with gefilte fish. The fish was often made from live fish (I’ve heard many a tale of fish swimming in the bathtub for a day or so. Before being turned into gefilte fish. (Transfish dining? Sorry – couldn’t resist.))

    Zabars, in NYC, has a wonderful red horseradish that goes wonderfully with its gefilte fish. You can buy it, fresh but prepackaged, opposite the fish counter. (Expect to pay about $8 to $10 for enough fish for 2, and a few more dollars for the horseradish.) There’s a place in Phillie that sells a horseradish that should be classified as a weapon, it’s so potent. It might be in Cherry Hill, NJ, come to think of it. If I remember, I’ll ask at the next Seder – it’s in a couple of weeks, I think.

    I don’t know where you got the whole “main course” thing from. Most main courses are brisket, turkey, potatoes and other kosher meats and veg. Lots of stuffing. Lots… The guests usually bring something toward the dinner, many opting to bring vast bowls of some wonderful (or dreadful) main course item. The horseradish and gefilte fish are appetizers, and often come as a course just before the matzoh-ball soup.

    Depending upon the hosts, the seder is either religious, or not. It’s always accompanied by recitings from the Haggadah (some recite an entire Haggadah, some don’t), and contains quite a few fun moments. Or at least every Seder I’ve attended over the last two decades has had them. (I’ve attended a Seder every year for the last couple of decades.)

    I don’t know about where you sit – in the Seder’s I’ve been to, it’s usually decided on where you’re standing when dinner is announced.

    Passover is an important family holiday.

    Just my thoughts on the subject 🙂
    Carolyn Ann

  2. Carolyn Ann said,

    Oh, sorry – I forgot.

    The bread was unleavened because the Jews had to leave Egypt in a hurry, and couldn’t take the time to let the bread rise. It comes from when Moses, in his quest to free the Jews from the being slaves of the Pharaoh, led them out into the desert on their forty year trek. The Egyptians were chasing them, which is why they didn’t have much time.

    I’m guessing it took 40 years because Moses had a thing about asking for directions… 🙂

    Carolyn Ann

  3. Jenny said,

    Megan the crappy looks counter can go in the trash you are Beautiful any c.l was just jealousy or someone sizing up a tourist …not a crappy look as in tg no one would ever know next time it happens throw thema c.l .heheh take care HUGS Jenny

  4. Carolyn Ann said,

    Have a good Passover! 🙂

    Carolyn Ann

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