I have friends in Europe who can’t stand Israelis’ manners (or their lack of so), find them too rude and can’t deal with the daily battles for a spot in the queue for example. And I must admit that the complete absence of basic conversation such as “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Good bye” from clerks, cashiers and others got and still get on my nerves regularly. I know that the job of these people is not exciting, but I am absolutely sure that their day would be much better if they smiled and got smiles back instead of frowns and cold talks.
Sharing my feelings about the lack of politeness with Israeli friends made me realize that sometimes, they don’t even understand why it makes me angry: why does it bother me that someone I don’t know and will never see again did not thank me when I handed her my credit card? Why do I care that someone would eat the entirety of the bowl of snack if he’s hungry? It made me understand that politeness is entirely a social construct: we say thank you because we were trained to do so and expect it from other people even if by doing so it lost all its meaning. And I was the one being rude by judging the guy who kept the peanuts for himself: I could have just asked!
I understood that instead of getting offended by someone who didn’t use the appropriate wording, I should work on myself and question why I feel less valued when a person I don’t know didn’t thank me for something I am expected to do anyway. Furthermore, if I do something by pure generosity, then I should not expect anything back, not even a thank you.
They say that acts speak louder that words, and I get proofs everyday here. When the train station master does a “kombina” for me to avoid a sanction for forgetting my ticket, I forgive him and his colleagues for every morning I didn’t get an answer to my “Good morning”. When the cab driver doesn’t thank me when I hand him money, but wishes my cat a quick and full recovery, I know he’s really being sincere. When I yell at a driver for blocking the walkway while I’m on my bike and it’s pouring, and she offers me a ride, I simply understand that they mean no wrong. They honk, they shout, they cut lines, but you just need to shout back, and you’ll most likely get a smile and a friendly word eventually.