Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | January 17, 2007

Of sardines and Israelis…

Welcome to my morning commute, which is taking place about 20 minutes later than usual. I just couldn’t be bothered to rush this morning, so I took a bit of extra time and decided to catch the later train. Being the first one at my stop to get on, finding a seat wasn’t difficult. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong one, and by the time I realized it, it was too late to do anything. I grabbed the first seat I saw, and have spent the duration of the ride so far half sitting on the purse of the woman next to me, as she’s clearly not too into being respectful of those around her, and has kept it in the space between us, where there really isn’t any space at all. I’m in a rather bad mood to begin with this morning (I even had a dream last night that I was depressed, which doesn’t really help when you’re trying to kick-start your day), and my mood is growing blacker by the moment, as I imagine the form my revenge might take, from running fingernails (damn – too short! Hmmm, apparently not…) or keys across her leather bag to the vicious parting sentence when getting off the train. No amount of pushing on the bag seems to help, as the woman is apparently that clueless (and a rather bad dresser to boot). Oh, and did I mention that her husband inadvertently stepped on my foot after he got up? We made eye contact, and he must have noticed that I was shooting bullets out of my eyes, because I actually got an apology.

Personal space and privacy in Israel is a non-concept. Among Israelis, it just doesn’t exist. You could be sitting in an almost empty movie theater, and the next patron to come in will undoubtedly come and sit right next to you. Not two or three seats down, but in the one next to yours, forcing you to move your coat and leaving you jostling for armrest space. The same goes for buses, trains, and so on. I spent one morning train ride last week standing by the door, packed in like a sardine, because the train had been so late that people who’d arrived early for the next train were able to get on as well, and when I tell you that it was a nightmare, you can safely assume that nightmare would be an understatement. Sardines probably have it better – they probably have more space in the can and they get to lay down, and given that they’re also no longer living, they’re probably not getting progressively more and more angry over the fact that they can’t even move their hands (fins?) enough to hold their newspapers in a readable position. Nor do they have to worry about the any of the other sardines making endless personal or work-related calls on their cell phones, or having their feet stepped on by other sardines who seem not to realize that the lump under their foot is actually someone else’s foot.

But I digress. Clearly I’m having a few issues these days, so please forgive the rather convoluted and incredibly bizarre sardine analogy. Where was I? Oh yes – personal space. I am not a touchy-feely person (while pregnant with the Little One, I freaked out whenever anyone besides my husband reached over to touch my stomach as though it had suddenly become public property), and tend to get a bit crazy whenever my personal space is invaded – an event that happens with a mind-boggling degree of regularity in these parts. It seems to be especially prevalent whenever public transport is involved, whether one is actually in transit or merely in an environment that lends itself to “transportational” pursuits, such as a train station. People have no qualms about standing right next to you (likethisclose), despite the vast quantities of open platform to be found, or those folks who bump into you while walking, even though you’re standing still, because they can’t be bothered to actually go around you, as they assume that you will move out of their way. I could go on and on, but I believe I covered these aspects of train commuting eons ago when I wrote this post.

In response to this utterly maddening phenomenon, I’ve been perfecting my evil glare, and in some instances, it even works. Private person that I am, though, I usually don’t go farther than the glare, and tend to go the route of inner seething, hoping that the glare will get the point across without me actually having to open my mouth. Or, I do what I did this morning, whipping out the laptop on the train (instead of the Hadassah Magazine that I’d planned to read) and begin typing furiously, hoping that my seat usurper would read over my shoulder (another charming trait that is frighteningly prevalent here) and be shamed into moving her bag. Alas, it was not to be, but if nothing else, it provided me with decent blog fodder, which is, of course, always welcome.

Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Jerusalem for the day, relying on multiple forms of public transport to reach my destination at the ungodly hour of 9 am (ungodly only because it forces me to leave the house before 6 am). I can hardly wait to see what this journey’s going to bring…


  1. Friends often act like I’m a bit loopy when I have a similar reaction to invasions of my personal space, so I was thrilled to read this blog. I am absolutely with you in that I abhor being sardined up against strangers and am convinced that most people could be more considerate in these situations than they typically are. Then again, I’m also slowly learning to turn it down a notch and not glare at people who have no choice but to stand close to me (I try to remember that they are probably thinking the same thing – wishing I could move over more, etc.) but I tend to come right out and say something when it is absolutely unecessary for someone to get That Close. One of these days I am bound to get a sock in the nose from one of these personal-space-invading strangers. You are far wiser than I to take the high road and seethe quietly.

  2. I’ve crossed over to the Dark Side…not only don’t I notice when people bump into me, but I’ve started bumping into others. I think. They didn’t react, so maybe I imagined it?

  3. Oh yeah, can totally relate. And even after all these years here, I still cannot stand it when I’m in line and the person behind me leaves barely 1 cm. of space between us. I’ve been known to turn around at ATM machines and say, “Excuse me, can I have some space?”

  4. Hey, got my Hadassah magazine this past week too! 🙂 Want to stop off in Mevasseret on your way home for a coffee? Where in J’lem will you be? Email me……..I’ll go drop you one too. would love to meet!

  5. you should check out personal space in sweden.. people try to get the farthest seat from anyone.. and even if there was an empty seat next to you, and the bus was full.. commuters would rather stand up than sit too close to a stranger..

    you really have to have a very good reason to start a conversation with a stranger.. otherwise.. its considered a weird thing to do..almost only drunks, weirdos and foreigners speak to strangers.. but normal sober people.. they seem to put personal space before anything..

    one day a man pulled a knife in a train, no body moved, they all gave him a ‘we look down on you’ look, until the security came… that’s how much personal space there is here..

    in jordan.. a stranger would have no problem showering you with kisses or speaking right in your face..

  6. LOL, can’t wait to read about it. 😉 Enjoy Jerusalem!

  7. Well, if you hate it THAT much, there is this thing called “makom shamur” and for and extra 2 NIS you can have a secured seat. You have to buy it from the paybooth in the train station, not from the machine.
    Usually the seats are located in the carriage right behind the locomotive. they have a guard asking for your “shamur” ticket, and all of that for a mere 2 NIS.

  8. So where are you going to be in Jerusalem? It is probably too late to catch you…but maybe we can actually see each other for the first time in 9 years….

  9. Jews are rude, pushy, arrogant, and obsessed with money and/or real estate (which is just another form of money). Of course not all Jews are like this, but enough of them are to be able to make the generalisation. Look what happens when we get our own country. I wonder whether you are aware of the connection between this post and the one immediately preceding it. miki

  10. OK, not immediately preceding it. The “I am not a radical” post.

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