Gefilte Fish Out of Water

I really do have 2 homes.
October 1, 2009, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Amerijones, Cultural Differences, Feelings, Identity


Like Sophia Petrillo without enough fiber, I am backed up.

Had a fantastic 2-week vacation to America (NY and Philly) – my first since making Aliyah 7 months ago.  There’s so much to write about it only now there’s all this pressure to be unbelievably entertaining since all these Big Time NY literary agents are reading G-Fish now.

Just a quick post to tell you about my first moments in the USA since last March.  I had taken the AirTrain from JFK to the NYC subway to get into Manhattan.  (This was a mistake.  I forgot it’s 1000 x quicker by going to Jamaica station and taking the LIRR.  That’s an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back.)

Anyway, I’m standing on the subway platform waiting for the next train to come, and I notice across the street a large American flag blowing in the wind.american_flag  And I was struck by how large and how, um, American it was.  This is only the flag I’ve grown up my whole life identifying as mine; I mean I’ve only been in Israel 7 months.  Yet, it looked kinda wrong.  Like, it looked kinda right, and it was setting off some comfortability and familiarity snapses, but it would’ve looked more right if were the Israeli flag.  Probably just like America, Israel is a little Flag Happy.  Those things are everywhere – big and small; people have multiple flags hanging off their balconies…parking lots have 20 billion of them blowing around the perimeter, etc.  I dunno, so this was the first thing.

The A train ride to Manhattan from Howard Beach is long – like 50 million stops.  And my eyes are tired, so I don’t wanna keep reading Official Book Club Selection or TIME magazine.  And I’m not feelin the iPod either.  So, I’m just kinda veggin’, staring straight ahead of me, like a dog might; you could call it open eye jamie loumeditation.  And without realizing it, I’m beginning to read the subway car’s dominant advertising – a campaign for Jameson’s whiskey.

If you’re not familiar with advertising inside a NYC subway car, sometimes there’s one big advertiser who buys up almost all the spaces available.  And there’ll be a whole mess of different ads throughout the entire car, including banner ads up top and poster-size ads on the walls.  Without even knowing it, I was reading a series of banner ads that made the following tag line when combined: “POUR. DRINK. ENJOY. JAMESON.”

Now, lemme explain.  There is plenty of English all over Israel.  Along with Arabic, it’s pretty much an official second language there.  No question, Hebrew is dominant.  But much like if you’ve ever visited Montreal,  below the main language (Hebrew, French, whatevs), you’ll see smaller font English.  Plus, it’s very chic to use English in advertsing in Israel.  “Israel thinks the sun shines out of America’s ass” (quoting a friend, here); it just has cool connotations, period.  And so it’s hip to use English in your ads – it’s probably going after an educated, affluent audience.  My point is – I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that I was reading English and not Hebrew.

But then I finished looking at all the Jameson ads, and – again, without subwaythinking about it – started reading the subway emergency evacuation instructions.  Then, I started to get it – and looked back at the small print on the Jameson ads, plus looked at the rest of the smaller advertisers in the car.

Holy crap! There’s so much English here !!!

Again, I’ve only been in Israel 7 months.  Besides some crap Hebrew and un pocito Español, English is pretty much the only language I’ve read and understood my entire life.  Yet intitally – it was such a shock to see so much of it, to have it be predominant again.

The third quickie, mind-effing adjustment to hit me like this was when I went to an ATM to get cash.  (I had jumped the turnstile to get into the AirTrain – naw silly, I used plastic.)  Anyway, even though Israeli shekels have splashy orange, blue and green colors all over them, it was the American greenbacks that looked like Monopoly money to me – really.  Dunno, man – they just looked fake.

This stuff all faded away pretty quickly, though.  Two steps on a Central Park West sidewalk after surfacing from the subway was all it took for me to feel in my bones – Oh, yeah – I remember this.

2 b continued


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