Monthly Archives: June 2010

That Old Double Standard

If it isn’t us, it isn’t on the front page: Afghanis killing Afghanis leads to no global outrage, eh?

Service without servility: One of the great myths about Israeli culture is our rudeness and poor service. Granted, you don’t get the groveling obsequiousness of a 1902 village greengrocer addressing Lord Mumbly Whosis. Then again, I’m not sure that kind of service exists anymore outside of the fond memories of a few aging snobs. I’ve had plenty of shoddy service in the US and Europe: snippy clerks, supercilious waiters, rude cabbies, and a host of others. I’ve been treated to large doses of ignorance and laziness (the former when I end up knowing more about a product than the person selling it, and the latter when I deal with someone who can’t be bothered to help at all). 

So here are a few raves for some locals who gave me something to smile about this past week:

  1. The guy who runs a little frame shop is unrelentingly cheerful and pleasant. After being told several times that my picture wasn’t ready, I ran him to earth in his messy rat hole of a workshop. He found the picture (still in the original bag), which was now missing one part of the frame. He is completely unapologetic about sitting on the damn thing for a year, yet he drops what he is doing, cuts a new frame piece, cuts the glass, and fixes the whole thing on the spot.
  2. A plastic clip on one of my ceiling lights broke. I took the pieces to Home Center. “We don’t carry replacement parts,” said the clerk, but he suggested that I try another supply place.  They also didn’t carry parts.  I then thought of the store that carries nothing but lights. “We don’t have replacement parts,” said the clerk, and she was fairly snotty about it.  I decided to wait for a few minutes and then tackled a different clerk. I asked for the manager and then explained the problem.  He took apart one of the lights in the store and handed me the clip! Voila!
  3. The guy who runs a little produce stand who sold me a watermellon with the promise, “If it isn’t wonderful, bring it back!”

Who are your retail heroes?

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Memory and Multitasking

More scary data: We only think that we are good at multitasking!  This article explains the latest data and has a link at the end for a test.  This applies to all of us, and it underscores our worries about the long-term effects of computer use. Very humbling, indeed.

Nice try, USA: The US is now out of the World Cup. Many of us felt that the refs were turning a blind eye to some of the fouls by Guana, while being awfully free with yellow cards for the US.  Hmmm. Linguistic trivia: rather than translate world cup (which would come out something like g’viat olami), Israel uses the French mondial to refer to this event.

Dog Days

Chillin’: What’s the best way to beat the heat? Position yourself so that the AC vent blows on your belly. 

What’s killing off all the hedgehogs? We’ve seen several dead hedgehogs over the past week.  I hope that it isn’t some terrible epidemic.

The Culture-Technology Convergence

High-tech, low-manners: The recent fascination with Israel’s astonishing aptitude for producing high-tech patents has generated some serious books, including Startup Nation. The Sloan boys even talk about how the “rude” Israeli culture may be one of the factors in this technological creativity. There  has been some discussion lately about how technology may be affecting culture.  For example, it is logical to assume that SMS abuse has led to a generation’s inability to spell.  And certainly we have all been subjected to that oh-so-private conversation being conducted at full volume on a cellphone.

Some say that these gadgets that we take for granted (and can’t live without) come at a high social price. Children are less physically active, more socially isolated, and less able to concentrate. 

The problem is that here in Israel, this is difficult to measure because the underlying culture has always been a bit rough around the edges.  I won’t go so far as to say rude, but it certainly lacking in the niceties that lubricate social interaction in most western cultures. Sometimes it isn’t so much what people say, as how they say it. (Trust me: there is a huge difference between saying, “I don’t agree with that approach” and “You’re wrong and you’re an idiot, and now you’ll probably get all upset, huh?”)

In the connection between technology and manners (or lack thereof), I think that technology is simply making it easier or more acceptable for people to slide into increasingly rude behavior:

  • In a meeting with a potential new client, the CEO showed up late and unprepared. He had not looked at the materials in advance. “No need,” he said, “because we can just put them up on the screen now and look at them.” The meeting room technology made it easy for him to justify his boorish behavior.
  • A friend never announces herself when she calls.  She assumes that my cellphone displays who is calling, so she feels entitled to dive into a conversation with no preamble. Technically, she is correct, yet I still find the lack of basic civility somewhat jarring.
  • Another client has automated a big part of their sales to web-based forms.  They have made it virtually impossible to deal with a real human being.  The online purchasing works well for 90% of their customers, but it is fairly common that someone wants to do something that the automated system does not support (or doesn’t handle very gracefully).  The technology barrier between the customer and the people at the company may be saving them some money in personnel overhead, but is undoubtedly costing them some money in lost sales.
  • A colleague showed up very late for meeting because he had relied on his GPS navigation system, rather than do any homework before leaving his house.  With all the road construction in the area, the directions were faulty.  As a result, four people had the choice of either waiting for him or starting the meeting without him, and then having to repeat all the critical information once he arrived.
  • One project features an engineer who wants us to interact through an online, virtual office.  I find the sound quality terrible and find the interactions more burdensome than helpful. The engineer, however, is so enamoured of the technology that he wants to use it despite it being worse than a plain old telephone call or email message.

Perhaps there is a place for teaching etiquette within the framework of a high-tech world.

The Science of Happiness

From Harvard, no less: Very cool stuffHat tip to my mom.

Hell cat: Terri can’t stop herself from chasing cats.  The instinct is so hard-wired that virtually no amount of training can overcome it. However, she seems to consider cats some sort of super fun outdoor toy: she gets into a play mode, bouncing, barking, wagging her tail, and generally having a grand old time.  I have never seen her actually try to do anything to a cat, other than chase it.  On our walk this morning, she barked happily at a little black kitten.  The kitten held its ground, hissing.  Terri was perfectly happy to bounce around in front of the kitten, barking.  No harm, no foul.

However, on our way back home, Terri stuck her nose into a bush, and a little calico cat flew out after her, spitting, hissing, and scratching. Not only did she attack Terri, but she would not stop attacking.  She attached itself to Terri’s head, biting and scratching.  I tried to pull Terri away, and the cat attacked me.  I was finally forced to kick her (I’ve never before kicked a cat or a dog in my life!), giving me time to scoop Terri up in my arms and get away.  Terri was scratched and bleeding around the nose and mouth. I ended up with ripped pants and a bleeding leg!  What a hell cat! I have to assume that the cat had a litter of kittens under that bush, and was desperately trying to defend them.

Godzilla Flotilla

Now it makes sense: I finally figured it out—Turkey is behind the flotilla because they are pissed off at Israel for not giving them a single vote in Eurovision.  Hmmm.  Meanwhile, a song we can all sing. Hat tip to my sister Tracy.

A Cargo of Lies

Peaceful flotilla or armed weapons transport? Every new piece of info makes gives lie to the Turkish outrage.  Released footage shows the Israeli Navy hailing the vessel and shows the “peaceful” activists attacking the soldiers with lead pipes and trying to wrest their guns from them. Here’s one piece worth reading from Canada (despite the typo in the photo caption).  Hat tip to Central LS. And here’s more… plus an opinion piece that is interesting (though please don’t ask me why Ynet is selling ad space to Scientology knuckleheads!).

Meanwhile, there were several pro-IDF rallies today at most of the major universities and even some major intersections.  On the flip side, MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) is under police protection after an uproar in the Knesset, with hotheads calling her a traitor over her participation in the flotilla.  (Balad is an Arab party, BTW.)

Technophobe alert: I ran into three scary cases of the technologically-challenged over the past few days.

  • The first was when I faxed a document to someone. During the phone follow-up, he asked me if I needed the document back, because he could “fax it back to me.” 
  • The second was told to me by a friend who claims that her brother was so clueless that he would periodically confuse the cellphone and TV remote. She would get a call at an odd hour and hear the TV.  (Someone had obligingly programmed in her phone number as a speed dial, and that was the button that her brother would push, while aiming the phone at the TV.)
  • The third occurred during a meeting with a prospective client. They told me that they had met with another contractor who didn’t know what “hi-tech” meant. Had never heard the term. Aaaauuuuggghhh!!!!

Echos of Eurovision: Walking Terri the other night, we pass two young girls strolling along, playing music on a cellphone.  The song? Milan Stanković’s Ovo Je Balkan (Serbia’s entry in Eurovision).