Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Impressions of England - part one

I am on holiday at the moment, mainly visiting my relatives in England. This is the first time I've been abroad for 4 years, and it takes time to get used to being away from home. Visits to England always raise questions about my identity - how English and how Israeli am I? In what ways would I have been a different person if I hadn't immigrated to Israel at the age of 9? Could I live in England now?

The differences between England and Israel are obvious. First, the constant background tension in Israel is completely lacking here. I think people may have some tension regarding their jobs, but that's not an aspect I encounter, and they seem to keep it under control, unlike the stress that permeates every aspect of life in Israel. In general, people here seem to aspire to, and achieve, a tranquil life. They care about home, garden and family, enjoy the green English landscape (note: I have been mainly in the countryside so far), and talk about the weather.

Coming to England always gives me a vivid demonstration of the sort of considerate behaviour I was brought up on, which I feel is right, but which sometimes seems inappropriate in Israel. In their public interactions, English people go out of their way to show consideration to others, sometimes to the point of being self-effacing. If you accidentally bump into someone, they apologize to you. I have seen drivers signing to each other, "you first" / "no, you first", until one was willing to lose face by actually going first. It seems to me that this sort of considerateness shows a generosity of spirit. Even in Israeli slang, generous people are referred to as "large", meaning that they are confident enough of their own status to be able to give to others without feeling threatened. This comes naturally to the English.

At the same time, there is an insularity about England that I find uncomfortable. This works on two levels. First, English people seem to be naturally anti-intellectual to some extent. There is a lot of pride in expertise acquired as amateurs, and most people have hobbies. But the population as a whole doesn't seem to have the thirst for knowledge or the sense of shame when their ignorance is revealed that would encourage a culture of life-long learning. In Israel, most people are expected to stay in school until 18 (and then join the army, but that's another issue), while here it seems that many leave school at 16, and it is generally accepted that the standard of school qualifications (even for those who continue school until 18) has dropped significantly over the past 20 years or so. The bad spelling and misuse of apostrophes I see everywhere testifies to some combination of ignorance and apathy.

The second aspect of this narrow-minded approach is the way most people seem uninterested in, or even hostile to, world events or even anything beyond their own personal existence. The newspapers are full of what seems to me sensational gossip, and it's hard to find out what is happening around the world. This is a stark contrast to the Israeli media, where every major world event is reported, and its relevance to Israel discussed.

So, as in previous holidays, I am finding things I like and things I dislike about England. I must qualify these impressions. I am aware that being on holiday here is not the same as living here, and that in particular, I have never lived here as an adult and worked here. The people I meet here are mainly relatives and some of their friends, and they do not constitute a representative sample. I am sure that if I moved here and started doing the normal things like working and making friends, my perspective would change.

1 comment:

ariadne said...

I loved your article.I am sure your perspective would change if you lived permamnenlty in England but you are right in most things you say.Apathy is a general thing that we see in today's society and so is indifference against education but I suppose the political conflicts in your country and the war have given you in Israel more interest to face education and society.