Thursday, August 26, 2010

Call me Shmulik (8/26/2010)

I have been called “Shmu” since at least the age of 10. Well, either Shmu or Big Shmu, depending on who you were. When I was a little kid, my family used to call me Mully (that leads to another story—but not today). Both nicknames are incredibly American versions of my name.

Israelis who I am friendlier with tend to call me Shmulik, the Hebrew variant. It is a cultural thing. Similarly, here, only chareidim or true Anglos say “Good Shabbos”; everyone else says “Shabbat Shalom.” So, I accepted it as just another quirk of how we interact with them.

This past week, I felt a bit more like a Shmulik and a bit less of a Shmu.

After four years here, we passed another milestone this past week. For the first time, we had an entire family of Hebrew-speakers for a meal. Menachem and Oshrit Alfasi were not simply guests whom we invited on a whim. We had wanted to invite them for quite some time but were too uncomfortable with our communication skills. However, over the past few months, the kids (especially Chaya) had been pushing us to make the plunge.

The Alfasis live a block away from us and we daven together in Rabbi Rosner’s shul. Their second son is Moshe’s age and they have loved playing together for the past couple of years. Menachem is a rav in the army, stationed in the Chevron area. He only comes home a couple of nights a week, which we cannot relate to. They are a terrific family and we have gotten friendlier as time goes by, which led to the invitation for a meal.

In the end, while there were definitely a couple of awkward moments because Goldie and I were struggling to express ourselves, a good time was had by all. For a first start, they were a great choice—people we already know and like. Hopefully they will be the first of many. Our new location offers more potential invites among the neighbors and we are excited to continue our growth (in fitting in with native Hebrew speakers).

A couple of weeks ago, I related a story about our first time in Ikea. Goldie and I were trying to find a specific street and a restaurant there and stopped to ask a bus driver for directions. Although the bus driver did not know the answer, a man at the stop shouted out, “I know the street. Give me a ride and I will take you there!” And we did.

Well, earlier this week I had to go copy some keys for the shul. While I had gotten a ride to the hardware store, I had to make the mile-and-a-half return trip on foot; Goldie and the kids had the car in Modi’in for the day. On the way home, a car pulled over and the driver asked me if I knew where a certain road was.

My response? “Sure do. And if you give me a ride, I will take you halfway there and you will be on the right road for the rest of the way!”

There is no way I would have been so aggressive about getting a ride from a stranger before we came here. It is simply another thing I have learned from being here and a clear adjustment that my subconscious has made in helping me fit in.

Yet, there are still the maddening difficulties that crop up from time to time. One of the hardest things is to figure out the car. Of course, that means that the car ends up constantly needing attention.

Our car battery had been dying over Shabbat the past couple of weeks, so I took the car in to the dealer. After inspection, he showed me some meter and talked about loads and signals and monitors, finishing by adding that the meter clearly shows that the alarm is causing the problem. With the warranty due to expire in a matter of days, I rushed to get the car serviced by the alarm company.

They did their own tests. Their tests showed nothing wrong with the alarm, but that the battery was the problem. So I went back to the dealer and got a replacement battery (I paid a 5% premium at the dealer, but I wanted his warranty in case there was a problem). The dealer was astounded and asked me why I did not explain what I was told.

I actually had explained it, but here is the issue: when dealing with technicians of any sort, my weak Hebrew vocabulary inevitably leads me to be unclear in what I am saying. The technicians don’t understand me and I don’t understand them. I often feel stupid and embarrassed and I am not as successful in getting what I need because of the inability to express myself.

So I have a new (warrantied) battery and I am waiting for the inevitable. When the battery dies again and I go back to the alarm company, I hope that this will be enough proof to them that it is indeed the alarm that is malfunctioning. Unless, of course, it turns out that they were right and it is the dealer whom I need to trust a bit less. In either case, it is frustrating and annoying.

Hopefully, the growing pains will continue to be fewer and fewer as time goes on. While we may never be able to deal with repairs and technical stuff as well as we would like, our social circle and sphere of comfort continues to increase, which definitely has to be a good thing.

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