Israel Stories

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

La salle de bains

The English have a long and well-documented love affair with the French. OK not so much love as mutual understanding. Actually, who am I fooling, it's been a disaster.

From the day William the Conqueror waltzed into London and said "I am you're new King and everyone has to eat frogs legs and soufflé", it's been downhill. Especially as most of Northern France was once part of England. Didn't know that, eh? Well read you're history books. Then came Waterloo, Trafalgar and many other battles, but we kicked their behinds every time. In fact the Brits have never lost a significant battle since. They have always bounced back. Today the wars take on different personas; instead of soldiers we have diplomats and French lorry drivers that burn sheep.

And no more has the French-English been felt than in our land:
This royal throne of Kings, this sort of sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Olmert,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by hi-tech for herself
Against infection and the hand of war?
This happy breed of men, all bringing home the same amount no matter what their salary actually is, this little world,
This precious stone set by the silver sea and tar and plastic bags,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands who would rather drive us into it;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Israel?

You see for all the wonders of Israel, it can still be a breeding ground for internal wars, I kid you not. And there you were thinking we all got along in blissful harmony. Well if it wasn't for the French, maybe we would.

That's painfully unfair, I hear you cry. Well you?re right because it's not really like that, but after years of indoctrination, it's hard to shake it off.

Aliyah is a wonderful chance to shake of your prejudices and enter a new land with an open mind. You are exposed to hundreds of different cultures and where as in London you could keep to yourself safely in the bosom of your snug Jewish community, in Israel everyone you deal with represents a different country or culture.

"Yes", I thought, time to heal wounds, so when I chose a new bathroom and was faced with dealing with a French immigrant I relished the chance. Now some things just aren't meant to be, some things should be left alone, but I was too naïve (to use a purely English word (?)).

"Hi I want to change my shower unit and cupboards".

"Why?"

"Because we moved into a new home and they are not our taste".

"OK."

"Erm, can you show me what you have?"

"They are all over there." He pointed to the back of the shop. My initial instinct was to have a quick look and leave. I mean he obviously doesn't care, so why should I?

But, I thought, I'll give him another chance. "Do these cupboards come in other colors?"

"No."

"Can I change the glass in the shower unit?"

"No."

"Can you help match colors, I have a floor tile to match the wood to."

"Whatever you think matches."

"Are you doing this on purpose?"

"What?"

"Being unhelpful, I mean do you want a sale?"

"You're English, yes?"

"So what?"

"Why are you so fussy, just choose something you like."

"What difference does it make if I'm English, I just need some expert help."

"You know this is a shop, not a law office, if you want something choose it or try somewhere else."

"Would it help if we spoke in French?" I actually know about five words in French and one of them probably has something to do with this guy's mother. "Can I ask you a question, why do we have to be so aggressive, I mean we are both Jews, immigrants, Israelis, we should throw off this intolerance."

"I suppose you're right."

"Good, should we start again?"

"No, we are closing, try somewhere else."

I tried, I really tried, but c'est la vie.

And so the French / English rift perpetuates itself through each generation. And as I stood outside the bathroom shop I thought "I will try harder even in the face of adversity, stiff upper lip and all that. He's obviously jealous, who wouldn't be, Britain created the modern world, gave the people TVs, telephones, trains and more. The Empire was the largest the modern world has ever seen. We are a royal nation, a nation of rulers. I mean we invented malt whisky for crying out loud, what more could you ask. And what did his ancestors present to the world; garlic and the guillotine, rich food and greasy hair. A great big tower and furniture with funny bandy legs."

No, I was going to try harder. He's a Jew, I'm a Jew, he's an Israeli, I'm an Israeli so as I turned my back on his shop I whispered, "au revoir but not goodbye".
La salle de bains

The English have a long and well-documented love affair with the French. OK not so much love as mutual understanding. Actually, who am I fooling, it's been a disaster.

From the day William the Conqueror waltzed into London and said "I am you're new King and everyone has to eat frogs legs and soufflé", it's been downhill. Especially as most of Northern France was once part of England. Didn't know that, eh? Well read you're history books. Then came Waterloo, Trafalgar and many other battles, but we kicked their behinds every time. In fact the Brits have never lost a significant battle since. They have always bounced back. Today the wars take on different personas; instead of soldiers we have diplomats and French lorry drivers that burn sheep.

And no more has the French-English been felt than in our land:
This royal throne of Kings, this sort of sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Olmert,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by hi-tech for herself
Against infection and the hand of war?
This happy breed of men, all bringing home the same amount no matter what their salary actually is, this little world,
This precious stone set by the silver sea and tar and plastic bags,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands who would rather drive us into it;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Israel?

You see for all the wonders of Israel, it can still be a breeding ground for internal wars, I kid you not. And there you were thinking we all got along in blissful harmony. Well if it wasn't for the French, maybe we would.

That's painfully unfair, I hear you cry. Well you?re right because it's not really like that, but after years of indoctrination, it's hard to shake it off.

Aliyah is a wonderful chance to shake of your prejudices and enter a new land with an open mind. You are exposed to hundreds of different cultures and where as in London you could keep to yourself safely in the bosom of your snug Jewish community, in Israel everyone you deal with represents a different country or culture.

"Yes", I thought, time to heal wounds, so when I chose a new bathroom and was faced with dealing with a French immigrant I relished the chance. Now some things just aren't meant to be, some things should be left alone, but I was too naïve (to use a purely English word (?)).

"Hi I want to change my shower unit and cupboards".

"Why?"

"Because we moved into a new home and they are not our taste".

"OK."

"Erm, can you show me what you have?"

"They are all over there." He pointed to the back of the shop. My initial instinct was to have a quick look and leave. I mean he obviously doesn't care, so why should I?

But, I thought, I'll give him another chance. "Do these cupboards come in other colors?"

"No."

"Can I change the glass in the shower unit?"

"No."

"Can you help match colors, I have a floor tile to match the wood to."

"Whatever you think matches."

"Are you doing this on purpose?"

"What?"

"Being unhelpful, I mean do you want a sale?"

"You're English, yes?"

"So what?"

"Why are you so fussy, just choose something you like."

"What difference does it make if I'm English, I just need some expert help."

"You know this is a shop, not a law office, if you want something choose it or try somewhere else."

"Would it help if we spoke in French?" I actually know about five words in French and one of them probably has something to do with this guy's mother. "Can I ask you a question, why do we have to be so aggressive, I mean we are both Jews, immigrants, Israelis, we should throw off this intolerance."

"I suppose you're right."

"Good, should we start again?"

"No, we are closing, try somewhere else."

I tried, I really tried, but c'est la vie.

And so the French / English rift perpetuates itself through each generation. And as I stood outside the bathroom shop I thought "I will try harder even in the face of adversity, stiff upper lip and all that. He's obviously jealous, who wouldn't be, Britain created the modern world, gave the people TVs, telephones, trains and more. The Empire was the largest the modern world has ever seen. We are a royal nation, a nation of rulers. I mean we invented malt whisky for crying out loud, what more could you ask. And what did his ancestors present to the world; garlic and the guillotine, rich food and greasy hair. A great big tower and furniture with funny bandy legs."

No, I was going to try harder. He's a Jew, I'm a Jew, he's an Israeli, I'm an Israeli so as I turned my back on his shop I whispered, "au revoir but not goodbye".

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