Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Expat Wish Lists

This week's X-pat Blog Hop from Tales from Windmill Fields came with very specific instructions. Two lists:
A. What they don't have in this country that I wish they did, and
B. What they do have that I wish they didn't.

A...
1. Proper department stores like John Lewis. The sort of place I enter in London and whisper under my breath, 'everything please.' Of course I can hardly afford to buy anything, but I love walking around, looking, and dreaming...

2. Hard cheeses that don't require taking out an extra mortgage. I once bought a small brick of real cheddar from a local deli. The sort of quantity that would cost about 3.50 in the UK (less in a supermarket with special offers). I paid my 60 shekels without thinking and then almost had a fit on the way home when I realised that I'd handed over more than 10 pounds! All the cheese here is expensive and the sort we call 'yellow cheese' that you slice into a sandwich or grill, is actually semi-hard - like a soft gouda. And even that costs more than 2 shekels a slice (about 35p) in the cheapest packets!

Impressive Eucalyptus
3. The English countryside. Remember learning about Mediterranean scrub in geography lessons? Well a whole country of Med scrub has it's charms with dusky olive trees on the rocky mountains, but it's just not green enough. And even though we have impressively tall Eucalyptus trees (imported from Australia in the 1900s to drain the swamps), I miss the giant oak trees, weeping willows, and cedars of Lebanon (ironically). The sort of trees that Jane Austen might have sat under (although probably not in Harrow) and Robin Hood could have hidden in (ditto about Harrow). Obvioulsy olive trees have their own romance and Jesus himself, Kings David and Solomon, and even the Queen of Sheba probably did sit under some of the olive trees in my neighbourhood. But we each have our own sense of romance...

4. Four distinct seasons. I miss the Autumn and Spring which last for about two weeks each here. Winter in Jerusalem is harsh, not because it's so cold outside, but the houses are not built to withstand the cold and are freezing inside. Also they are not set up for rain and there's not enough drainage. We need rain and we love it, especailly after a relentlessly hot and dry Summer, but it's hard to get around when the roads turn into rivers.

B...
1. The Hebrew language. I can speak it, though not particularly well, and this limits my life. I certainly cannot blog in it. All the promotions and freebies that my British blogger friends enjoy are not applicable to a resident blogging in a foreign language. And my local readership is limited to people who are comfortable reading in English. In 1990 English almost became the third official language in Israel. All phone options offered Hebrew, Arabic, or English, and English media was becoming more popular. Then the iron curtain was drawn and over a million Russians arrived. Now the third option is Russian and the media money goes to maintain whole TV channels in Russian.

2. Hostile neighbours. In many ways Israel is an island. I've heard that Lebanon and Northern Syria are greener but they are not places we can visit. Actually I would prefer to be able to jump on a train and go to Europe. And other disadvantages and dangers....

3. Bad press. I felt this especially when I was seen by an Arab doctor in an Israeli hospital and sharing a hospital room with an Arab lady in the next bed (we looked out for each other). Meanwhile I was reading about Israeli Apartheid in the foreign papers.

4. Lack of consumer choice. Even Trinny and Susannah when they came, said that Israeli women are not bad dressers but there is hardly anything to buy. Truthfully, there is loads to buy but very little choice. That's the difference between a population of 7 million and one of 90 million. Also with other goods, you buy what there is. Added to this, everything is twice as expensive.

30 comments:

  1. Great post. Living in the Netherlands I eventually missed two things - John Lewis/Waitrose and proper tea bags.
    Things I could have done without - Dutch 'customer service'. Then I returned to the UK and discovered that English customer service had been out-sourced to India...

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  2. Great post, makes me so nostalgic for NYC! Ditto on the seasons, it makes me sad to think that our kids won't have as much snow as I grew up with.

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  3. @Keren - Hilarious. We have no customer service.

    @Shira - remember that magical winter wonderland out he window on the first day of heavy snow? Now remember falling over in the black slidge that it quickly became that covered the treaturous black ice... and the icey winds that went right through to your bones. Hard to remember isn't it? We just remember the magic.

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  4. I do miss autumn which is almost non-existent here although spring does make quite a decent appearance.
    The truth is that I have lived here for so long that there is very little that I miss from England. The internet and satellite TV provide me with most of what I left behind in Blighty especially as regards Football and telly.
    We can even buy Mars bars in the supermarket now for almost the price of an Egozi.

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  5. Well said. Having just been in London for two weeks, I couldn't agree more. And I brought home two nice blocks of "mature" English cheddar, which is very delicious and was reasonably priced, but it's almost gone. People think London is expensive, but when you're coming from Israel, it doesn't feel expensive at all, at least not in the food department. Many grocery items were actually much cheaper in London than they are anywhere in Israel. (Sad comment on the success of the cottage cheese protests!)

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  6. @David - Yes we can buy mars bars, so that's all right then ;)

    @Ilene - My mum also brough me two blocks of chedder which lasted about a week. I was thinking about the cottage cheese wars today. Remember they said it was a victory for the consumers and the cheese would now be reduced to 5 shekels. In Mega both makes are 5.99 - let's see how long it stays there.

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  7. Super Post!:) Thank you for linking up. I remember buying cheddar in Gran Canaria and then realising I had paid a small fortune. Seasons and greenery are actually something I missed when I lived in GC but actually now in NL I could do with out the last!! especially the winter!

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  8. @Windmill Tales - I once tried to decide where in the wrold I would spend each month of the year if money were no object. It didn't work as I wanted to be everywhere in September and nowhere in February.

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  9. In my first years in Israel, I had this recurring dream that I was in the M&S food hall, trying to buy some of those yummy chipsticks and a vegetarian cheddar cheese sandwich, but I did not have the right currency and they wouldn't sell it to me, so it turned into a nightmare, and I would wake up all upset.

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  10. Great post, I can relate to several of those. I found you through the expat blog hop.

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  11. @Janice - M&S food hall definitely features in my 'things to do' when I'm in England. I used to dream that I was in my childhood bedroom and then be totally disorientated (and a bit disappointed) when I woke up.

    @Emma - I checke out your blog. Love your Day Zero List, I'm doing it too!

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  12. Salt'n'vinegar crisps, alcoholic cider and M&S because I don't like to spend my holidays buying underwear. I used to miss Radio 4; now I have the Internet.

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  13. Hahaha Miriam Drori - they once had a few boxes of Salt'n'vinigar crisps at Mega and the English were phoning each other ti rush down and buy themn up. It was hilarious. Real cider would be goos too - I never thought of that.

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  14. What we don’t have – picalilli, walkers s&v crisps, chipsticks, decent cheddar, drivers who stop for people on zebra crossings

    What we have but don’t want – terrible drivers, impatience, neighbours who want to destroy us

    I’m going to add a third:

    What we have now that we didn’t before
    - going into supermarkets and being able to buy everything because it’s all kosher
    - kosher hamburger/pizza/fast food joints
    - restaurants that are open at midnight
    - no licensing hours
    - not feeling strange/out of place/threatened by walking around with a kippa (skullcap)

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  15. ok, all you people who are bring cheddar back to israel - what's the best way to do it - hand luggage, suitcase, with or without freezer packs? instructions please :-)

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  16. Nicole, in the summer we freeze a packet of cheese and put the frozen cheese in the suitcase. In the winter you don't even need to freeze it. After freezing, the cheese is a bit more crumbly than usual but tastes the same.

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  17. Just making sure you buy your cheese at the cheese counter. Much cheaper than buying the pre-packaged. Not sure if it is also cheaper to buy a block of it rather than having them slice it. Do you know?

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    1. Yes of course and Gilboa is about 2 shekels less than Emek. In Mega they don't charge extra to slice or grate it but I buy a 1kg block and then I can slice it for sandwiches or grate it for pasta.

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    2. Kosher English cheddar is now available here (in Beit Shemesh at least) for around 20 NIS a block. Same price as England, more or less...:-)

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    3. Kosher English cheddar is now available here (in Beit Shemesh at least) for around 20 NIS a block. Same price as England, more or less...:-)

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    4. You can now get kosher English cheddar here (in Beit Shemesh at least) for under 20 NIS a block. That is the same price as England...:-)

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    5. Thanks Lisa x3 ;) I've seen these - they are still twice the price of Gilboa or Emek though. But you are right that they are the same price as in the UK.

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  18. Excellent post Rachel . I do not know about cheddar but all other things you said are just exactly my thoughts.. But you gave me idea now, maybe I should simply start smuggling cheddar from England :)

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    1. Ooh is it smuggling? I know people who brought over smoked salmon for years.

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  19. You can get alcoholic cider here: http://www.isra-ale.com/ https://www.facebook.com/BustersAppleCider

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  20. I miss English gardens ,rambling patchwork countryside, thatched roofs and really old buildings and M&S and John Lewis.

    What I wish was different - quantity beats quality here .Socks wear out after a few months. clothes are cheaply made and holes appear very quickly.Hundreds of TV channels with very little to watch.-
    Where we live I have to drive everywhere by car. I would love to be able to walk easily to the stores or a park.

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    1. English gardens - yes. I have a passion for European parks, the likes of which we don not have here. *Sigh*

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