Casualness: A Critical Analysis of Israeli Culture


Seminar Paper

Andrew Smith
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Semester A, 2009-2010

Gad Yair,
Advanced Workshop

Culture is a number of differing things. It encompasses and involves the development of many intangible segments of life: language, the arts, aesthetics, values and morals. It also can be seen to extend to the ways in which people live their lives: how they act, how they think, how they value or devalue any object or occurrence. In short, “culture” affects the very way that we as people deal with life.
In order to understand cultures, it is important that one becomes aware of those characteristics of culture that are shared as well as those that are unique to each culture. As such, there are distinctive characteristics that exist within each culture that constitute the essence of that culture. “Many anthropologists note that an adequate understanding of another culture frequently hinges on comprehending the meaning of a few distinctive words or concepts.” [1] Additionally, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz explains one of his approaches saying,
I have been concerned, among other things, with attempting to determine how the people who live [within a culture] define themselves as persons…I have tried to get at this most intimate of notions…by searching out and analyzing the symbolic forms—words, images, institutions, behaviors—in terms of which, in each place, people actually represent themselves to themselves and to one another. [2]

These anthropologists suggest that in order to deeply understand a specific culture, one must come to grasp the certain themes, concepts, symbols, behaviors, traits or characteristics that make up that culture.
This paper is an attempt to understand and present one such trait within the culture of Israel: Casualness.

Issues of Method
The data and methodology of this paper stem directly from a graduate seminar [3] taught at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School by Gad Yair in the fall of 2009. The approach, outline and aim of the course were to come to an understanding of the cultural “deep codes” of Israeli society. These deep codes (as Professor Yair termed them) constituted the key concepts, themes or underlying cultural characteristics or traits that in large part determine the overall culture and behavior of Israelis.
As defined in the class, [4] the deep codes that were discussed were specific “persistent behaviors or traits which determine culture from generation to generation.” As well, they are characteristics that provide the patterns of behavioral tendencies or shape the behaviors of individuals within the cultural group or nation. These codes though run deeper and broader than simply noticeable tendencies or characteristics and provide an account for the behavioral actions and attitudes that distinguish one cultural group from another. In order for something to be considered a “deep code” it must exhibit a certain depth within the behaviors, attitudes and exhibitions of Israeli culture. The influence of such a trait must cover or range from a relatively shallow level of superficial cultural behavior to the deepest levels of interaction, layout and institutions, affecting all the intervening levels of cultural interaction. The generalized categorization or typology of these depths used within the course constituted 8 differing levels. They are, from shallowest to deepest: mode of thought, bodily hexis, behavior or practices, language use, feelings or emotional responses, interpersonal interactions, institutional arrangements, and physical design or layout. In order to qualify as a deep code, a noticeable behavioral trait must have demonstrable examples that fall within most if not each of these categories.
Within the context of the course, we discussed a number of deep codes within the Israeli cultural sphere. As we discussed the possibilities it became apparent that there was not a clear-cut distinction between them, thus one characteristic could very easily bleed into another. The main purpose of the course was to identify possible traits which could qualify as a deep code, debate their validity and provide personal qualitative evidence for their inclusion by means of observations and personal interviews to be conducted by the class participants throughout the semester. By the end of the semester the corpus of our data amounted to 32 distinct observations illustrating any number of characteristics per each experience and 10 personal interviews.
A note about this data is in order. As the class was composed mainly of international students (some of whom were new immigrants to Israel) from a small number of differing countries (the USA, Russia, Italy and South Africa), our observations were taken of necessity from the position of the “other” looking at Israeli society from the outside. Our consensus was that this would be utilized as a strength in that, as foreigners, we would be able to observe and notice with greater detail and more detachment the interactions and behavior of Israelis. This practice continued over to our interviews, which were subsequently conducted with a number of foreigners (or new immigrants) residing within Israel to obtain their personal observations, thoughts and feelings about the codes which we would ask about specifically.
The class settled upon seven behavioral traits or characteristics, which could be characterized as deep codes. These seven traits formed the backbone of the personal interviews as well as our observations over time. They are: Casualness; Ownership; Innovation, Improvisation, or Flexibility; Symmetry or Anti-hierarchy Stances; Collectivism; Upright Defiance; and Instant Intimacy.
This paper is an analysis of the data collected in an attempt to describe and understand the deep code of Casualness according to the outlined criteria above.

Casualness seems to be one of the most pervasive of all the deep codes that we classified. It more than qualified within the reasoning of having a major presence within most of the predefined categories discussed, and retained even a minor presence in the rest.
Casualness was defined as a general easy-going or lax outlook or behavioral pattern. It is characterized by a certain level of improvisation or flexibility (having much overlap with that characteristic as a separate code) on all levels of behavior, thinking, interaction and even planning. This laxness develops into an extreme level of pragmatism within the society leading to or reinforcing other codes such as instant intimacy, collectivism, and symmetry and anti-hierarchy. This code seems to have both negative and positive results as reported by both observers and interviewees. On one hand, it seems to act as a social lubricant, easing the necessary social interactions and allowing flexibility within the determined social order. It allows for easy innovation and change as people adapt more easily than in other more rigid societies. On the other hand, it also leads to higher instances of rule and/or law breaking because they (the laws or rules) are considered as merely casual guidelines for behavior or thought. It seems as well that there are certain aspects of the social order that fall outside of the casual sphere within Israeli society. Continued research would be necessary to come to conclusions as to where Israelis themselves would draw the line between allowing casual attitudes and rigid adherence to convention or law.

Criteria and Examples
From here, I will turn to specific examples of this phenomenon as well as their attribution within each of the depth criteria enumerated above. Each of these examples will be accompanied by commentary relating and specifying the casual approach and how it fits within the overall categories. As is natural with the generally small number of observations and interviews, some categories will contain more instances and examples than others.

Mode of Thought:
Mode of thought connotes in some way the manner in which Israelis think about life. As such, it is difficult to enumerate a number of examples directly related to the way that Israelis think, especially when asking foreigners simply to relate their observed experiences. This sort of thought process analysis would be better suited to a research involving quantitative methods. However, a few points or observations from the data set provide some clues as to the Israeli mode of thought with relation to casualness.
One respondent during an interview answered a question about flexibility within Israeli society by saying: “I think that the informality and the casualness within the culture, at its basest level, invites that flexibility…and even that [flexibility or improvisation] is a system within itself, because if you turn something in on time or early, it kind of throws everything off kilter.” [5] As a student, this respondent reacted greatly to the relaxed manner in which education and studies are handled in Israel. [6] Recognizing the fact that the casual manner in which the Israelis he [7] interacted with indicated something inherent in their thinking, he commented that not acting in the expected “casual” way would throw off their ability to deal with the situation.
Another interview brought to the fore the casualness between people, especially people with positions of authority. “I think there is also a lot of casualness between people. Status on one hand is very, very important in Israel, but the way that people accept each other is very casual. It’s very common to address to [sic] the professor by their first name here. It also reflects a kind of informality.” [8] Though this definitely falls within the category of interactions (to be discussed more below), it also reveals a certain amount of the way that Israelis think casually about authority and positions of power. This person acknowledges that even though it is necessary for one person to be the voice of authority (in this case a professor), Israelis perceive of that relationship very casually, especially in comparison to other cultures that perhaps much more rigidly celebrate the differences and placement of authority figures. As well, this overlaps with other codes such as the symmetry/anti-hierarchy code and the general thought behind the collectivist code. This same interviewee also responded by saying that it can be hard
to understand when the bureaucracy rules are important, and when they are not. In the US a rule is a rule, and you can’t get around it. In Israel, ‘no’ is not always ‘no’. But the trick is to know when the ‘no’ is not a ‘no’ and when it really is ‘no’. I feel like it is a casualness and informality. Rules and guidelines are not written in stone and so there is a sense that almost anything can happen…Another side to that is the fact that there is not much consistency. [9]

While this could well be represented below in the section on institutional arrangements, its place here is to show the apparent casualness of the Israeli thought process with regard to rules and guidelines. They apparently do not think that most rules (or even laws) [10] are so firmly established as to be inviolate.

Bodily Hexis
“Bodily Hexis” refers to the physical orientation and personal bodily expression of people. This can refer to the way people walk, dance, etc. In general, it refers to the way that people use their bodies to express or present themselves. Most visibly though, it is apparent in the way that people dress.
Nearly all of those interviewed mentioned in some way the casual manner of Israeli dress as their foremost thought regarding how Israelis exhibited casualness. [11] The ways and means that this was manifested and the examples given of where this was noticed were interesting as well. Specifically, those interviewed tended to notice the difference with regard to places where they normally would have expected non-casual attire. There was generally no mention of the everyday street clothes worn by Israelis. The difference was noticed solely when the interviewees and observers had interacted with Israelis in a forum that they (the interviewees or observers) felt that the dress should have been more formal but wasn’t.
One of the forums, which engendered much surprise among the responses because of the Israeli casualness, was at weddings. For example, one respondent said,
the best example [of casualness] I would say would be weddings, you know in the States or Europe you[‘re] used to being dressed up looking beautiful and elaborate, and you know the brides and the guests look almost the same, they both [are] all fluffy together and here [Israel] people go in jeans…, guys can go in jeans to a wedding. I think it’s nice in some ways that it makes it a much more relaxed atmosphere on a general basis that you don’t have to feel too posy or too bothered about your looks, but for certain things I think it’s necessary to have a better look. [12]

Another of the interviewees responded that the participants at a wedding “were dressed like if they were going to a supermarket” [13] which was both a vivid description of how they were dressed, as well as a brilliant comparison highlighting the casualness of their attire and attitude.
The workplace was another forum in which the foreigners found their expectations about dress and clothing to be at odds with reality in Israel. Six out of the ten interviewees noted this within the workplace or at the university. [14] Most noted the lack of ties for men (“even if we meet government representatives, my boss does not even worry to wear a tie” [15]) and/or the prevalence of jeans in any work capacity. One respondent said, “I’ve never worked in a place before I moved to Israel where I could wear jeans to work. But that’s very common here, especially at the University…. I also worked at the Jewish Agency and at the World Zionist organization, and the dress code there was also very casual.” [16] To provide direct comparison, one interview related an experience of attending an international academic conference in New York where “all the professors, from around the world, dressed in suits. Only the Israelis were dressed very casual.” [17]
Very similar recollections occurred in other non-casual forums or events attended by the interviewers. Two of them recalled specific instances attending the orchestra and one of the participants in class had had a similar experience [18]: “It was a night at the orchestra, we dressed up with skirts, and pantyhose and nice shoes on. But people that were much older than us were in just polos and jeans. And it wasn’t just like a free orchestra at like 2 in the afternoon, it was a real orchestra in the evening presenting operatic things…it just didn’t seem like appropriate dress.” [19] However, this also extends to official governmental experiences where it is generally accepted that a dress code must be established. One respondent noted “I’ve seen crocs at the Bagatz [the Supreme Court]. Which I thought was a bit ridiculous, why would you wear crocs there?” [20] This type of casual apparel seems to be sanctioned though in official government circles. The Knesset website details a Knesset Dress Code: “One is not permitted to enter the Knesset wearing tank-tops, shorts, or jeans. “Crocs” shoes are not permitted unless they are black or navy. Men may not enter wearing sandals, and women are not permitted to enter wearing belly-shirts.” [21] Apparently, to Israeli sentiments, crocs are only casual if they are not colored black or navy.
Dress though is not the only component within Bodily Hexis. One interviewee, who worked for a foreign government, specifically noted that the casualness might also be involved in other areas, such as personal hygiene and grooming: “When I meet with Rabbis and government officials they are all dressed formally usually, and they act more formally. Although in many cases their hair or beards can be rather unkempt or scruffy.” [22]
The overall feeling though is that of a casual attitude with regard to physical self-representation. One interviewee stated as an attempted answer for why this was: “I guess it’s just the level of dress and people showing with that how much they value what they are participating in…” [23] However, this might not be a fully honest assumption. For example, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to argue that Israelis somehow take their politics more casually than other nations. It would be more plausible that this would just be a cultural manifestation of the way that Israelis approach everything.

Behavior or Practices
The Behavior or Practices category entails the general ways and means of behavior of Israelis within a public sphere. This will not cover specific interactions or relationships, but it should be recognized that there is much overlap between the two. This is separated in an effort to provide a generalized experience with Israelis without narrowing it down to specific instances.
The general behavior of Israelis is extremely casual when contrasted with other cultures. This especially seems to be the case with regard to things like societal rules and norms. Discussing Israelis in general, one interviewee noted, “I wouldn’t say casual in their personalities, because they know what they want and they will get things done. It’s just they [are] casual when it comes to…[um]..they don’t need to be straightforward in the sense of the rules in that they can play behind the rules and that there is no such thing as rules.” [24] This extremely casual attitude toward rules and/or laws as well as what are accepted as proper norms or courtesy permeates Israeli culture and behavior. This attitude (and the examples that follow) in many ways also falls into the deep code of ownership, and many were discussed in the interviews under that heading. However, the observations and experiences that are brought to bear reflect a definite sense of casualness as well, and perhaps may stem initially from it, as one interviewee noted that the entitlement or ownership expressed “comes from the feelings that rules are negotiable. It’s all connected.” [25]
One of the most common observances of foreigners in Israel is the difference in driving technique. Coming from somewhere such as the United States where people are generally rigid in their adherence to traffic laws, the driving in Israel can be unnerving at first. “Traffic regulations are the best example. It’s a very strict system of rules and signs, and Israelis behave like this [sic] rules do not exist, and they do what is convenient for them.” [26] Another responder relates: “people will just stop in the middle of the street, as if they own the whole thing, to have conversations, or whatever. I’ve seen two cars hold up a full two lanes worth of traffic because they pull up next to each other and have a full conversation through their windows. Or people will park in a traffic lane.” [27] This casual relationship with traffic rules and regulations illustrates the overall casual attitude and behavior of Israelis.
Still other examples of Israelis behaving casually within public settings that were similarly shared involved groups of boys in a museum deliberately tripping an alarm as a game and refusing to stop when asked, [28] talking loudly and simply yelling out questions at random during classes and lectures, [29] and talking on the cell phone anywhere and at any time-
I was on the bus from Malkha mall to the city center. The girl who sat behind me was on the phone with her friend, telling her how difficult her last driving lesson was. I guess she didn’t found the support she needed, so she called to another friend and told her the same story again. By the time we reached the Mashbir I’ve heard this story for the four times. Another thing that I also found only in Israel: people constantly talking on the phone while implementing their working duties. [A] clerk in the branch of Discount bank was checking her son’s homework while ordering a check-book for me and then explaining how this system with checks works. Same happens in the shops. When we went with a friend to the English bakery to by a desert, the sales girl was so busy with her phone conversation that she didn’t pay any attention to us. She didn’t stop talking while taking the money from other customer and packing the cakes he chose to the box. It was quite difficult because she could do it only with one hand (her left hand was holding the phone), but she managed to do it and continued the conversation. [30]

These last three examples illustrate the casual attitude of Israelis toward what many others consider common courtesy or rules of etiquette within the public sphere. This is manifested in general public areas and shows a cultural informal attitude with regard to that public space.

Language Use
The category of language use is rather self-explanatory: how people use speech. In this case, casualness would be indicated by word choice, inflection, or overall informality with regard to words or speech. This casualness of speech has many overlaps with other deep codes such as feelings of communalism, ownership and equality or anti-hierarchy.
In Israel, speech is treated very casually. Several of the interviews revealed a feeling among the foreigners that Israelis are much freer with their tongues than they are used to- “one of the things that stroked me most when working in Israeli environment or for Israelis (back in the States) is the freedom to say almost anything…There are limits, but these limits are much less from what they are in American society.” [31] . This might be seen as simply an extension of the freedom of speech. However, it would be much more than just the ability to say whatever one wishes, but the manner in which they say it (“the speech is much more informal” [32]) and the fact that this is acceptable to all other Israelis regardless of their positions. “In the beginning I was in shock, for example, how my NGO fellows talk to my boss. They said, ‘hey, Arie, kol tuv?’ I would never talk like this to my boss in Spain.” Israelis tolerate a much more casual professionalism from their employees and others than is allowed in other places and cultures.
The casual verbal treatment of bosses or other authority figures extends beyond the workplace though. Within the academic world, it is common practice for students to call their professors by their first name from the very first day (whereas this would only be accomplished with professors in other countries after many, many interactions, if done at all). “At the first lesson in my Spanish class the teacher said that her name is Emilia but we should call her ‘professora’ because that’s what students would do in Spain…No such thing. From the very first class all students call the teacher Emilia.” [33] Similarly, it is extended to the political realm: “last week Tzipi Livni [Head of the Kadima party] visited the Hebrew University. Many friends of mine told me: ‘did you hear that Tzipi is coming?’ They call their politicians Tzipi, Bibi, Buji, and so on.” [34] Referring to political leaders, and even Prime Ministers, not only casually by their first names but in some cases by nicknames as if they were good friends represents not only a level of societal symmetry between all citizens but also a casualness in speech and address beyond that of other cultural traditions.
This mode of speech extends even farther than just talking about or to authority figures or associates. It also applies to complete strangers. One interviewee noted “even asking for the bill [in a restaurant], I’m always embarrassed when I am with Israeli friends. Here it’s like ‘Hey, give me the bill!’ In the United States you really wait till they come to ask if you need anything.” [35] One of the class participants made this observation about interactions and speech while on a bus:
When the bus approached the stop at King George, one of the ladies said “Can you ring?”. In Hebrew it was אפשר לצלצל? There is no ‘you’ in such sentence, it’s not addressed to anyone in particular. At first I didn’t realize that she was asking me, partly because I was half-asleep, and partly because she didn’t look at me when saying this. Actually, she was looking at the window. In a moment she turned, gave me a heavy look and said again: אפשר לצלצל? Finally I realized what I was supposed to do, and pressed the button to stop the bus. It’s not the first time when I notice that Israelis, even if they want something from you are tending not to formulate it as a question or request. They are not asking but telling you what to do. Like when you’re standing at the bus stop and a new person comes and asks “קו 19 עבר?”. Without any ‘could you tell me?’ or something of that kind. I think it’s yet another example of casualness (why to waste time for all these formalities). [36]

Casualness permeates many, if not all, of the verbal interactions between Israelis in some way.

Feelings or Emotional Responses
Casualness with emotions or feelings can be very hard to pinpoint. In some ways, I would consider it akin to openness with emotions or open displays of emotionality. Again, this casualness can also be attributed to or overlapping with the deep codes of symmetry, collectivism or instant intimacy. Additional research or study should be extended in this area also.
Only one of the interviews specifically noted some sort of casualness in the sphere of emotions or expression of feelings. Contrasting Israel with the United States, this person declared, “the boundaries of social behavior here [Israel] are much freer. You can be very emotional and not be seen as totally crazy.” [37] From this perspective, it seems that Israelis are more open to emotionality within the public sphere than Americans. Another comment from that same interview is also interesting in this context:
You can feel free to say almost anything. There are limits, but these limits are much less from what they are in American society. There you have to be more careful; you have to keep your temper under control and in the environments I’ve worked here it was OK to express what you have to say even not in the most professional manner. You still have to be respectful, but maybe not in the way that Americans will consider to be ‘professional’. [38]

Emotionality (be that anger, fear, love, hate, etc) is considered largely inappropriate within the public sphere in many cultures, especially in areas that demand certain professionalism such as the workplace. However, and while more research should be done in this area, it can be postulated that Israelis by and large are more accepting of outbursts of emotionality in speech and behavior. It would be interesting to see if they are more prone to sharing emotional experiences or feelings more than others.

“Casual” definitively describes the interactions that Israelis have in many different ways. Mainly this refers to the interactions that Israelis have with other people, although there is room to expand that to include perhaps interactions with institutions, organizations, etc. Here we will discuss a bare minimum of examples of Israeli interaction simply as illustrations of the phenomenon. Rest assured that these types of interactions occur on a day-to-day, if not a minute-to-minute, basis.
Casualness with regard to speech interactions was reviewed earlier along lines of the language use. Specifically, I would recall the instance of the lady asking about ringing the bell on the bus. The casualness expressed in this interaction is highly typical of Israeli interaction. Interestingly enough, that observation was largely made possible because of the expression used (אפשר לצלצל? ) and the possibility of expressing the desire without any type of proper address. (An interesting linguistic study could include measuring the “casualness” of the Hebrew language to perhaps see if there is a level of casualness inherent within it in relation to other languages). However, the interaction was much more casual than if the equivalent was to happen in English for example- even saying, “Ring, please” or some equivalent phrase (trying hard to eliminate the term of address to match the exact phrase), I personally cannot see it happening without some sort of additional eye-contact or previous interaction that would render the casualness appropriate. For an initial or “opening” interaction, the experience definitely exudes casualness.
Israeli non-verbal interactions also exhibit a sort of casual air that foreigners can find irritating because of a different cultural sensibility. One respondent, when asked about different levels of casualness with social aspects of the society, responded:
like with people just walking on the street? Within my mind maybe, I just have these ideas of “sidewalk etiquette”, like you walk on the same side as you drive your car on sort of thing…but Israelis in particular will just stop in the middle and start conversing in like a group of twenty and they don t care that they are blocking traffic. It’s like whatever…it’s just very casual, “I really don’t care that I’m in everyone else’s way, I’m just gonna stand here and have my conversation about coffee…” Why don’t you take that elsewhere? There’s no compunction…fear of messing up someone else’s grove…that’s a very casual attitude to take towards other people. That happens every day; I really don’t need a specific instance of that. [39]

This kind of interaction indicates the level of casualness expressed by the Israelis (even subconsciously) about both the area and the people around them.
As well as within their interactions within a general public space, interactions in other places such as business or the workplace, which in other cultures are viewed as especially non-casual, Israelis also exhibit an extraordinarily high level of casualness. One interviewee said “In store interactions, there is no sense of upscaleness, even if it is a nice jewelry store or something they can treat you like a bum asking for money. They are very careless in their business type interactions that can be very casual.” That same person also noted a very casual Israeli restaurant owner:
This little lady has a café near our work that a lot of the people at work go to regularly. She’s very casual. She doesn’t give receipts. She is very casual with the way that she handles food. She doesn’t wear gloves, or if she does she doesn’t change them between handling food or money. A bunch of people made a survey of the place and a list of complaints about how she handles things to try and give her a sense of what needs to change to make the place both run better and be more sanitary, the glove thing was a major complaint because it can spread germs, etc. She refuses to make the changes suggested or even acknowledge things. [40]

This kind of careless business interaction is also exhibited by the art of haggling in the general Middle East. In other cultures, it would be considered rude or out of place to ask for a better price or comment on such things. However, in Israel people “go to the store and argue for the price even if it’s a high-end store. People are always asking for a discount.” [41] Business interactions are drenched in casualness.
This extends to other interactions such as with authority figures as well as strangers. Two examples will suffice. First, with authority figures: while at a bus station watching a number of police officers pulling people over and giving tickets I observed the following:
While I was sitting there, a young woman who looked to be a university student approached the bus stop. Upon seeing what was happening and the traffic that was subsequently piling up in the bus stop pull out lane. She approached an officer who was writing out a ticket for a person standing there. She immediately started berating the officer, telling him that what he was doing was causing a mess, and demanding, “What happens when a bus comes? How will it get through?” She stalked back and forth between the bus stops looking this way and that trying to get any police officer to resolve her concern about the busses being able to pick up passengers while cars were being ticketed in the pull out lane. Eventually, she stopped and contented herself with standing and taking part in the conversations with the officers and the drivers being given tickets…. There was an element of casualness from the police officers as they simply responded to her query saying that the bus will just stop in the street instead of pulling over. [42]

The casualness displayed towards an officer of the law astounded me as well as the officers displayed casualness for the flow of traffic and order that they were charged with upholding.
Secondly, another student in the class observed this about casualness between strangers (I cannot but quote the majority of it for the full effect it brings):
I feel all these things are often apparent in local Israeli restaurants and in particular a small, spherical shaped restaurant in Rachavia that I think is called ‘Sigmind’ but which my friends and I usually refer to as the ‘Mushroom’. This is because the restaurant itself looks like a mushroom, a free- standing structure on Rechov Azza, the appearance of the restaurant itself seems to symbolise the casual, innovative Israeli social codes we discuss in class. Pasted on the windows there are always random notices advertising concerts and other events and happenings in the area, in the corner there is a bookstand with an eclectic variety of book[s] and there [are] usually newspapers sprawled on the counter.
However it’s not only ‘the mushroom’s’ haphazard appearance that depicts this informal atmosphere, everything about this restaurant, the owner, menu and general atmosphere all give of this air of casualness and flexibility. There is a menu, but this in no way means you know what you getting, the same couscous or quinoa dish can come with any variety of vegetables each time depending on what the owner happened to find at the grocery store that morning. The waiter rarely brings your food to the table but rather you get up to fetch it yourself from the counter separating the seating area from the kitchen. There is no bill, when you done eating, you tell the waiter and he tells you how much you owe and the money is left on the counter. And if they ever run out of food ‘אין בעיה,’ ‘no problem’ there is a makolot down the road. A few weeks ago when my friend ordered a fruit salad, the waiter shouted something from the kitchen, which we assumed was something about cutting the fruit, however after 15 minutes waiting for her food, we began to wonder what was happening ( I had already received my Shakshuka ages ago as serving etiquette such as bringing dishes out at the same time just doesn’t exist in Israel), my friend noticed there was no one in the kitchen and sure enough 5 minutes later, the waiter returned carrying fresh fruit he had just bought from the Makolot nearby. Such innovation and flexibility anywhere else? Only in Israel...
Another time we noticed a man eating a delicious looking salad and we asked what it was, the man told us and proceeded to offer her a taste, ‘רוצא לטאום?, ‘do you want to taste? My friend smiled not sure if he was joking, but sure enough the waiter who was behind the counter at the time produced a fork and my friend tasted the stranger’s salad. The sense of family, community, casualness, or whatever you make of this experience is certainly something that I feel is particular to Israel. I guess the phobia the rest of the world is going through about Swine Flu just isn’t such a paramount concern in the Israeli psyche. [43]

While casualness of this sort may be noticed from time to time among other cultures, it would be hard to assert that it is as pervasive among them all as it is among interactions within the Israeli culture.

Institutional Arrangements
Institutional arrangements I have defined as dealing with interactions with or between institutions or organizations that have some sort of prestigious (and therefore, from the perspective of many other cultures, formal) aura about them. I would include governments or universities. [44] Foreigners who work with these institutions exhibit frustration and dismay sometimes about the level of casualness that the Israelis who work there exhibit.
The university is a completely different experience for those who come here for upper education after experiencing the formal education of other cultures, particularly the United States. As has been shared above, students and teachers/professors have an entirely different relationship in Israel as a reflection of the casualness of Israeli culture. Another casual aspect most commonly commented on is the matter of the casual relevance of deadlines within the system. Israelis “don’t really adhere to deadlines here- at work, at university or in the government.” [45] One student confessed “I still owe a few papers to a professor and one of them is from a class last fall. So there’s this idea of you turn it in whenever you want and I’ll grade it whenever I want, and eventually you’ll get a grade…” [46] This casualness extends beyond just the professors grading. With regard to the act of registering for classes, which in other places is taken very seriously because of the number of students and just the seriousness of the experience, this student also said
at the university, for example, when you’re registering for classes and filling out the tophes for classes and you put down “Hebrew”- it was like that paper didn’t even exists, that paper didn’t like stick in the system, so you would have to go an extra step and register yourself. All of that stuff was treated very casually and it shouldn’t be… Like the same thing with the tophes, you have to write all of this down and make sure you get all this done and turn it in; but in reality, and when it comes right down to it, they don’t really care, and you can go in the next week and just drop that class. [47]

This interviewee also expressed extreme frustration at the university’s handling of finances, something that, according to most cultures, should command a great deal of respect and formality. She describes the main financial officer and all the others that work with her saying, “She has all these assistants that should be taking care of things, but they…are very casual and informal with things. And I’m like, ‘we’re dealing with thousands of dollars here, why are you not treating me seriously? Or taking this seriously? And if you are taking me seriously, why aren’t you manifesting this in your interaction?’” [48] This institutional casualness can be very annoying and frustrating to those who culturally are used to a little more formality within interactions of this kind.
With regards to the government as an institution, one interaction has already been shared above about the police and their work as its representatives and another was shared about the habit of referring to political leadership positions in casual manner. Beyond that, casualness is also reflected within the inner workings of the government. One interviewee shared a story about the positive effects of this casualness:
For example even with me when I was applying for Aliya, the Jewish agency lost all my stuff, so I went directly through the Ministry of Interior and I did it within Israel, because they still had to contact the Jewish agency they needed like a another month to do it but I need them to do it quickly because I had already been waiting like three months so the woman was like don’t worry don’t worry the next day she called me up “I have your Teudat Zahut [Identity card] it will be sent to you in like two days.” Because if something needs to be done then it needs to be done, like ok you bend the rules yeah you meant to have another month but she got it done, she realized that someone was doing a bad job so she got it done. So that’s the good side of bending the rules. [49]

The casual manner in which the woman circumvented “official” protocol illustrates how informal the entire system is despite the formality originally set up within it.
This casual application of the institutional rules and laws is surprising for a foreigner when seen within the inner workings of the government buildings; But even more so when experienced with regard to governmental security. One observation from the class described a standard crossing [50] from the Palestinian controlled Bethlehem into Israel for a foreigner:
Then I crossed a parking lot, entered the building, came to another turnstile, and waited. This one was electronically controlled and I had to wait for the guard to buzz me into the next chamber. The next chamber existed of basically a cage with a metal detector and x-ray machine in it. So, they buzz me in. Behind a bulletproof glass window is a guard, talking on her cell-phone and paying absolutely no attention to the number of people who are in the cage. I put all my stuff through the x-ray, walk through the metal detector and it beeps alarmingly. I look through the window to the guard who continues to ignore me and talk on her phone. I look up at the guard who is strolling the catwalk above us all with his assault rifle and his steely gaze- he doesn’t blink, nor make any move to even recognize that the metal detector just went off. I gather my things and then wait, with a number of other people for the guard to stop talking on the phone long enough to buzz us out of cage through another turnstile. Then we get to the other side, where we have to go through another identification check before being released to the outside. At this check though, there is only one guard at a booth who has a long line of people trying to go the opposite way- (it is the same guard that waved me through without a glance when I came through the first time). But since it is the only booth with a guard, everyone must wait while that line goes through. It takes forever, and finally, a couple of Ethiopians who are trying to get back into Israel just loose their patience and go through another stile without showing their IDs or getting clearance. I followed them. As I looked back, I saw the same guard on the catwalk, who watched us all go through without blinking again. [51]

Now, I am sure that this casualness with regard to security does not happen everywhere or at all times. However, it has happened enough to me personally and to others I have known that it can be seen that even the incredibly important security apparatus is affected by the general Israeli informality and casualness.

Physical Design or Layout
The category of physical design and/or layout within this study is concerned with describing the physical architecture, manufacturing or general setup of events or the like along the same lines of casualness or informality that have been discussed. Whereas I am not fully qualified to make that sort of architectural or manufacturing analysis of design, [52] I can offer merely two observations about two other aspects related to layout.
The first observation has already been used within the category of interactions, while being used as a description of the interactions between strangers, i.e. within the setting of the restaurant and the stranger sharing his salad. However, once again but focusing only on the part relating to physical layout, the class participant observed:
I feel all these things are often apparent in local Israeli restaurants and in particular a small, spherical shaped restaurant in Rachavia that I think is called ‘Sigmind’ but which my friends and I usually refer to as the ‘Mushroom’. This is because the restaurant itself looks like a mushroom, a free- standing structure on Rechov Azza, the appearance of the restaurant itself seems to symbolise the casual, innovative Israeli social codes we discuss in class. Pasted on the windows there are always random notices advertising concerts and other events and happenings in the area, in the corner there is a bookstand with an eclectic variety of book[s] and there [are] usually newspapers sprawled on the counter. [53]

While observing the general casual architecture of the building, the class member also made the connection that many restaurants and other establishments within Israel are designed within the same casual cultural feel. The fact that this restaurant is located in Rehaviya, one of the more upscale or well to do neighborhoods in Jerusalem, seems to indicate as well the prevalence of the casual attitude within all socio-economic levels of the society.
The second is about an event that was observed in Jerusalem one day. Many times during the year there are different craft fairs or farmers market type events that take place on the pedestrian streets around the center of the city.
I was going past a side street recently and noticed that in this little street (near Ben Yehuda and Hillel street) there was an outdoor market going. The whole street, from top to bottom, was roped off- police barrier and other means of demarcation were used to ensure that people could only get into the market from two sides, one at the top and one at the bottom. At the bottom of the street there was a giant sign clearly marked- ENTRANCE – while at the top of the street there was another giant sign – EXIT—to direct those who where milling around looking at the books, clothes, veggies and all the other things that were being sold. At each entrance stood a security guard with a “magic wand” to search bags and people for potential hazards. As I watched, just in the moment that I was going by, a number of people left out of the entrance and a number of people entered from the exit.
Just seeing this made me wonder about the casualness exhibited by the crowd. But more than that, it struck me as curious that, even though the organizers had desired to keep some measure of control over the crowd and how the flow of traffic would move (they had made the giant signs and hung them carefully), they recognized that they would have no real control over this and provided guards at all sides armed with metal detectors to sniff out threats. It really makes me wonder, if Israelis sort of wish that they weren’t so casual, but understand it as a non-changing part of their society. [54]

This observation plainly points out the casualness that marked the attempted layout of the market. It is understood that this type of forum is significantly informal as it is (any farmers’ market anywhere in the world would show similar levels of informality). However, in Israel, the informality stands in stark contrast to the security and crowd control measures that are put in place to deter potential terror or other threats. This highlights and indeed shows that the casualness attained in the layout is above and beyond that of other places.

Culture consists of a number of markers, themes or specific details, concepts or traits that determine in large part how people will react to and deal with life. As an analysis of Israeli culture, our class determined seven distinct “deep codes” which act as culturally cohesive elemental traits to describe Israelis. These seven codes are 1) casualness, 2) ownership, 3) innovation, improvisation and/or flexibility, 4) symmetry or anti-hierarchy stances, 5) collectivism, 6) upright defiance and 7) instant intimacy. This paper has shown that casualness as a deep code permeates and acts as a distinctive marker of Israeli culture. This has been shown by numerous qualitative examples gleaned from a number of personal experiences by those in a graduate seminar as well as from the personal qualitative interviews that they performed with others familiar with and interacting with the culture on a daily basis. These examples have been presented according to a set of criteria developed to delineate differing levels of cultural influence ranging from the superficial to the subconscious and deeply influential. These criteria are 1) mode of thought, 2) bodily hexis, 3) behavior or practices, 4) language use, 5) feelings or emotional responses, 6) interactions, 7) institutional arrangements, and 8) physical layout.
From the evidence presented above and by means of the typological criteria presented it can be stated that casualness as a cultural trait pervades the Israeli cultural experience and acts as a deep code operating as a determinant for the behaviors and attitudes of Israelis by running deeply and with great breadth throughout all forms of interactions, behaviors, attitudes and actions. Thus, as has been shown by the evidence above, casualness is a key marker and distinguisher of the Israeli culture as its influence covers a range of cultural behavior from a relatively shallow or superficial level to the deepest levels of interaction, layout and institutions, affecting all the intervening levels of cultural interaction.

[1]Introduction to Sherry B. Ortner, “On Key Symbols,” (1979) in Lessa and E.Z. Vogt, Reader in Comparative Religion, 92-98.
[2] Geertz, Clifford, Local Knowledge, (New York: Basic Books, 1983). Ch. 3, “From the Native’s Point of View”: On the nature of anthropological understanding, pp. 55-70.
[3]Selected Topics in Israeli Society and Politics: Advanced Workshop, Autumn Semester 2009-2010, 01900 - GRSP504
[4] All of the terms, definitions and discussions that will follow occurred during the instruction and discussion of the course listed above.
[5] Interview- Andrew Smith, Interview #1
[6] It should be noted as well that all of the observers would experience Israel from their specific perspectives and be colored thereby. Hence, this observer being a student would mention experiences directly related to such activity. A greater number of interviews with an expanded pool of interviewees would facilitate greater information about all of these categories.
[7] As all interviews were conducted anonymously, the gender of all respondents is not always known. Some interviewers included that information within their general biographic information for the interview, others did not. If the gender is not known, the interviewee will simply be assigned the male gender.
[8] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro, Interview #1
[9] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro, Interview #1
[10] This again would be an interesting area of further research- what rules and laws are considered sacrosanct enough that they would not ever be violated.
[11] Only 1 out of the 10 interviews failed to use this as an example.
[12] Interview- Caylee Talpert #1
[13] Interview- Lorenzo Kamel #1
[14] As most of the interviewees were in some way students as well as the fact that most made the observation about people working at the university this will be included as the same forum.
[15] Interview- Lorenzo Kamel #2
[16] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[17] Interview- Lorenzo Kamel #1
[18] Observation- Lorenzo Kamel #4
[19] Interview- Andrew Smith #1, the other not quoted interview was Lorenzo Kamel #1
[20] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[21] The Knesset, from, Internet, retrieved 13 Apr 2010. (Emphasis mine)
[22] Interview- Andrew Smith #2
[23] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[24] Interview- Caylee Talpert #1
[25] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[26] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[27] Interview- Andrew Smith #2
[28] Observation- Alisa Vladimiro #2
[29] Observation- Alisa Vladimiro #3
[30] Observation- Alisa Vladimiro #7
[31] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[32] Interview- Kim Gross #1
[33] Observation- Alisa Vladimiro #3
[34] Interview- Lorenzo Kamel #1
[35] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #2
[36] Observation- Alisa Vladimiro #5
[37] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[38] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #1
[39] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[40] Interview- Andrew Smith #2
[41] Interview- Alisa Vladimiro #2
[42] Observation- Andrew Smith #3
[43] Observation- Caylee Talpert, Restaurant
[44] One could easily include in this category any type of institution, be it a store, gym, library, etc. I have simply chosen to limit it to university and the government for the purposes of this paper.
[45] Interview- Kim Gross #1
[46] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[47] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[48] Interview- Andrew Smith #1
[49] Interview- Caylee Talpert #1
[50] It should be noted however that the observer is on an American passport. It would be assumed that standard protocols would subject other nationalities, especially Palestinians, to greater security checks. Although, personally, I have also seen similar experiences happen to Arabs passing through the same checkpoint.
[51] Observation- Andrew Smith #7
[52] Again, another good research or study to be done.
[53] Observation- Caylee Talpert, Restaurant
[54] Observation- Andrew Smith #6