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Op-eds

Taxi drivers in Israel giving more than a ride

  • BenitaLevin
There are many people the world over who offer unsolicited advice on a range of issues. In the life-coaching world, I often hear people complain about the interfering mother-in-law, the controlling relative or even the millennial colleague who freely offers his/her opinion without it being requested.
by BENITA LEVIN | May 31, 2018

Here in Israel, there have been numerous entertaining and sometimes hilarious times when unwanted advice has been offered to me by outspoken, confident and exuberant taxi drivers.

One of the reasons I enjoy taking taxis here is that it’s a great opportunity for any new olah (immigrant) to practise one’s Hebrew. I always know that the person I am talking to will usually correct my grammar and pronunciation as we keep chatting.

Notwithstanding that much can be lost in translation, the conversations can be very telling and enlightening. Coming from a far more conservative, polite and socially non-confrontational culture (South Africa), it never ceases to amaze me how natural it is for a stranger to engage, challenge and advise the client sitting in his car.

There is nothing more important than health

During a recent taxi ride, the driver started asking about my family and our aliya experience. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds for anyone here to pick up my “foreign” South African accent. They may not know straight away where I am from, but they certainly know I am not a local.

While chatting about the past year as new olim, I said that the most important focus for me is that our son and daughter are happy. I explained my thinking: “If your children are happy, it’s easy for the parents to be happy too.” The driver came back with a quick and assertive “that’s not true” reply. Surprised at the response, I looked quizzically at him. “There is nothing more important than health,” he explained.

Interesting point – I can’t argue with that, I thought. I had been corrected, or “schooled”, by a man I’d met 10 minutes before.

Just like a hunter, a man needs to provide for his family

During a taxi trip to the airport, my husband explained to the driver that he was travelling back to South Africa on a work trip. The driver then started explaining certain parts of the “Eshet Chayil (A woman of valour)” prayer, traditionally recited on Friday night, before the Shabbat meal. He went on to elaborate about the (arguably antiquated) concept that a man is still a hunter and needs to provide for his family, even if it involves travelling to make that happen. He clearly gave his stamp of approval.

Why aren’t you wearing a jacket?

As a child, I remember my grandmother used to always ask us if we had a jersey or cardigan with us when we left the house. This question was even asked during the hot, humid month of February in Durban. But we laughed out loud recently when a taxi driver in Tel Aviv asked a 45-year-old friend why he was outside without a jacket. The driver noted that our friend’s child was warmly dressed and berated the dad for not doing the same. He insisted that he go inside and fetch a jacket.

Dating tips

A friend was in a taxi on his way to a date. He shared his romance plans with his taxi driver, who then offered his own dating tips. These apparently included the fact that he needed to pick up the bill, be polite and make sure his date gets home safely. So, really… who needs Doctor Phil?

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New phrase of the week

“Ein Milim” – no words. When you’re so stunned, you have no words to respond!

Smile of the week

This was the warm feeling of doing a new first. We walked to a friend’s birthday party, about 15 minutes from our flat, in the evening. First, I walked to pick up a friend nearby – another ex-South African. We both marvelled at the fact that this was the first time we’d ever walked to and from a party in the evening. A lovely new normal…

  • As Benita Levin is now into her second year living in Israel, this will be the last of her Aliya columns, but look out for her in other sections of the newspaper.

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