Re-entry experiences on landing in the UK

I just landed in the UK for a few days and had two re-entry experiences in the course of leaving the airport.

Default Languages

Since moving to Israel I’ve tried to integrate with society and learn the language. This wasn’t easy, and after my first few months I realised that I’d have to do more. New immigrants to Israel receive five months’ free tuition in Hebrew, which I completed two weeks’ ago. I have those little Hebrew letter stickers on my keyboard, and the Language Bar in my system tray, and sometimes I get stuck in the wrong language and type gibberish fora while before I notice.

My keyboard with Hebrew stickers

I’ve spent significant time in Israel before – five months as a young teenager, ten months as a pre-University Gap Year – but both of those were continuous, with no trips home. But as Natasha Roth observed on Cartoon Kippa today, it’s different to actually be based in Israel and visit the UK or other places.

One difference is that, much like on my PC, it turns out that there’s a Language Bar in my head and it gets set to the wrong default language.

The Language Bar

Olim – Immigrants to Israel – joke that they lose their English faster than they learn Hebrew. I’m still too new for that to happen, though Hebrew makes a small vocabulary do a lot of work – for example, the word עגלה, which means “cart” but can be used for basically anything unpowered on wheels – a supermarket trolley, a pushchair (stroller) for children, one of those little things on wheels that kids put blocks in, or any number of other possibilities. This caused recently caused a problem for US/UK comedy Episodes. As Nathan Jeffay put it:

Hebrew, with a particularly high number of words with multiple meanings, and complex linguistic relationship between the ancient and modern language, poses particular problems. I recently bought a bottle of grape juice. Kosher laws require that fruit is only picked from a plant over four years old – pick it younger and the fruit is called orla and can’t be eaten. Seemingly an online translation threw up the more common meaning of orla: my bottle reassured me that I could drink it “without fear that it contains foreskin”.

That’s not my issue, yet. I can talk to people I know without any problem. Strangers, though, get the default language – and the default language is set to Hebrew. After running over the bus conductor’s foot with my luggage, I automatically said סליחה “slicha” rather than “sorry”, and I tried to buy a chocolate bar in Hebrew and stared at the guy behind the counter for a few seconds like he was the moron for not understanding me before realising my mistake and leaving (without the chocolate).

I doubt this is a Hebrew-specific issue and probably happens to anyone who’s based in a country that speaks a different language. But it makes trips back to the UK a little more challenging.

Crossing the Road

Another major difference was in crossing the road. In Israel, there are strictly-enforced jaywalking laws. Many people won’t cross the road on a red light even if there isn’t a single car visible on the road, and certainly people don’t cross in front of oncoming traffic, even if it’s safe to do so.

One effect of this is that Israeli drivers are freaked out by people who come from countries with no jaywalking laws (like the UK). When I cross perfectly safely, the oncoming car will often wildly honk at me despite the fact that I’ve already made it to the other side and have been there for five seconds or more by the time he passes.

Pedestrians and drivers seem to operate in separate worlds in Israel. A driver will either stop for you at a Zebra Crossing or she won’t, but she will almost never make eye contact.

In the UK, on the other hand, drivers and pedestrians are constantly communicating, with head-signals, hand-gestures and significant glances. Everyone knows that when a pedestrian raises a hand it means “thank you”, and that you’re supposed to say “thank you” to drivers who stop at a Zebra even though they legally have to.

Again, this all occurred to me while crossing the road on my way out of the airport. Lasting maybe two seconds, I had a meaningful gesture-based conversation with a van-driver who let me cross the road with all my bags.


3 thoughts to “Re-entry experiences on landing in the UK”

  1. I always liked what the hideous BBC hack Orla Guerin’s name meant…

  2. I don’t thnk it’s the law that makes Israeli drivers and pedestrians non-communicative; Israelis are just more wrapped up in themselves to notice others. One of your cousins was over from Israel recently and he said that he was freaked out when complete strangers shouted “good morning” to him while he was out jogging, while we take that for granted as good manners.

    Also, driving around Israel is much more a matter of life and death, so people are more likely to distrust their fellow road users/manslaughter victims/vehicular murderers. The number of Israeli traffic related deaths per vehicle, though falling over the years, is still over double what it is in the UK.

  3. I find I have less of a problem visiting the UK than I do other foreign countries – if people are not talking English I automatically talk to them in Turkish, if I can’t think of the word in Turkish I will then come up with it in French rather than English. I guess I have a default foreign-language brain rather than just a default-language. The thing that I and the kids actually find hardest is that everyone can understand us. Here in Turkey, even though we now live in quite a touristy area it is unusual for people to speak English well enough to understand it at full speed. When we go back to the UK I have to be a lot more on the ball about monitoring the children’s commentary on everything and everyone around them.

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