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Social Etiquette

Fast-paced, cultured, spiritual, serene, fun. There are countless different ways to describe life in Israel, where daily life and culture are as diverse as its citizens.  A country of immigrants, Israel's population has grown more than eight-fold since its founding in 1948. Today more than 7 million inhabitants embrace a mixture of people with varied ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, religions, cultures and traditions. Despite the diversity of nationalities, a typical Israeli character type has emerged that is often compared to the national fruit, the prickly pear ("Sabre"): Hard and thorny on the outside, but soft and sweet inside.  

GREETINGS AND SPACE

  • The dress code is relatively informal both at meetings and social events (tie is used when visiting the Knesset or ministries. Visits to religious places should pay regard to local expectations (e.g. avoid bare shoulders and skirts above the knees).
  • Israelis are a very close, touchy, feely society - as in a close family. The paradox is that they are not used to shaking hands, although this is changing. Don't be offended if the Israeli does not offer you his hand - but do offer yours - physical contact with that initial smile is very important.
  • Address the Israeli by their first name. They may very likely use the title Mr. or Ms. when addressing you. Kindly invite him to address you by your first name and watch the communication and relationship process become more intimate and honest.
  • You can always expect a friendly and real invitation for sharing coffee as a meeting begins. If the Israeli is being hosted on your ground - always extend an invitation for coffee or a soft drink.

VERBALS

  • Israelis are a very passionate and expressive breed. As such, if they raise their voices, this is how many Israelis normally communicate with one another. 
  • Israelis are a curious people and not shy to ask how much your salary is, if you're married or other intimate questions. Respond in a general, kind and polite manner such as "not enough" or "comfortable". Israeli salaries are about fifty percent less than their counterparts in the States and Europe, taxes are very high and the cost of living is almost equal and sometimes higher than New York or London!
  • Israelis want things today - Now! As they come from a young and traumatic society where war has been the norm - trying to get the most out of today is the expected rule. If you are talking in terms of months and years - you may lose your Israeli partner's interest.
  • Punctuality is relaxed. Always allow up to 15-20 minutes before thinking that your party is late. Even here, things are rapidly changing, especially in the hi-tech environment where many Israelis pride themselves on being on time.
  • During a meeting the Israeli may take telephone calls and allow others into his office or the meeting room. Interruptions such as these are common in Israeli culture - do not take it as being rude, impolite or arrogant.

NEGOTIATIONS

  • Israeli businessmen are good - in many cases superb! When it comes to negotiating tactics - they wrote the book! Be prepared for tough and friendly negotiations.
  • Hiring a professional translator would prevent the Israeli from breaking into Hebrew and consulting with his associates - leaving you in the dark. Having a translator on site would be very powerful and positive, given that you will always be on the "same page" with your Israeli partners and the translator could also serve as a "cultural bridge" in regards to verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Get things in writing! No matter how warm and friendly your relationship may become - a handshake is good - but never good enough.