I was a self-described Toxic Nice Girl for most of my life. A Conflict Avoiding Ninja. "It's okay" was emblazoned on my forehead. You know the deal.
If you are an American woman between the ages of 10 and 100, like me, you have been socialized to apologize for breathing, taking up space, not being pretty enough, being too pretty, being too opinionated, being too outspoken and god forbid, the sin of sins -- losing your composure. It comes from our Pilgrim ancestors or something, with the large buckles on their shoes and the stocks. Must. Not. Lose. Composure.
It's hard to be an American woman. One must be smart but not too smart, outspoken but only to a point, successful but only so successful. One must be NICE at all times and suffer the consequences; deep, simmering rage which only occasionally makes itself known in a sarcastic comment or, if you really go off the deep end, a public meltdown over a line jumper at the frozen yogurt place. All that rage, all that pent up niceness erupts inappropriately and results in being escorted out of the place by an adolescent employee named Jimmy who will be very embarrassed and also try to feel you up a little as he gets you out the door and into the parking lot. Of the yogurt place. Mind you -- all theoretical.
Then I moved to Israel. Imagine the culture shock.
To watch an Israeli have a slight disagreement with another Israeli is to witness a kind of kabuki performance, both balletic and intense, a kind of performance art, really.
Why, I just saw a good one today! How I admire the athleticism, the concentration, the ease with which Israelis slide in and out of conflict -- large and small. And not just the men. Oh no. Hell hath NO fury like an Israeli woman offended.
After much observation, these are the components of the Israeli disagreement:
-Volume. A lot of volume. This is crucial.
-Not giving a damn about stares. Not one damn. Stares don't matter in a fugue state.
-Emphatic gestures made emphatically usually quite close to the face of the opposing party.
-Turning around and walking away, turning around again swiftly, returning. More gestures.
-The defiant chin lift and eyebrow raise accompanied by NU?! (Well?!)
-The rapid return to normal -- like a flash mob melting back into the crowd.
I have reveled in this fantastic performance many times over the past 2 ½ years of living in Israel. Reveled and been jealous, really. It is a thing of beauty to watch someone go off the rails about something generally minor, and then moments later -- I mean SECONDS LATER -- reconstitute and carry on as if it never happened.
Can this be healthy? Is this normal? From whence this totally gender neutral Middle Eastern kabuki?
For a self-professed "nice girl," this is like watching some kind of voodoo. Could I do it? Can I try? What would happen if I just went off the mother effing RAILS at someone? Is it effective? Will it be embarrassing?
The best way to answer this question is to look at what happens when one does NOT invoke the Israeli Way. Some totally theoretical scenarios might include:
-One might wind up with, say, a product or service one distinctly did not want.
-One might wind up with a food item or some other purchase that is clearly completely defective.
-One might find oneself at the end of the line, with the short end of the stick, holding the bag, etc.
So -- just how does a lifelong Nice Girl/Conflict Avoider Ninja make it in a country where conflict is entrenched in every part of life? My friend Tiffanie wrote an article in the Daily Beast entitled Why are Israelis So Damn Happy and it's fairly accurate but I would argue with the use of the term "happy." Israelis are not necessarily happier than you are -- they just don't give a damn anymore.
When you live in a country in which the average year round temperature is HADES and every single neighboring country wants you dead and provides numerous reminders of this sentiment, when the bureaucracy in your country closely resembles that in cult film Brazil, you just -- you just lose it.
I know because it finally happened to me. In fact, it's happened to me so numerously now that I don't really remember the first time in detail.
But I do remember the feeling. The power! The rush! The VOLUME I never knew I was capable of.
It was probably at the immigration office though, where, in a scene straight out of Beetlejuice, my number was 238 and the number on the board was 003. It might have been some older Russian lady who joined me at the counter waving her number 199 and claiming she'd been in the bathroom when her number was called and that I needed to let her go first. I don't really remember what happened after that. I do remember the woman sort of floating into my peripheral vision, I got my turn, and everything went on as normal. That was just the first time. There have been many others.
I have never felt so Israeli, so empowered, so NOT NICE in my life. And I liked it. I liked it a lot.
Sarcasm? That's for amateurs. Stony glares? Please. No, this will not pass muster in the Middle East, where life or death hinges on who was in line first. It goes back to the rarity and value of the oasis or something Jared Diamond like that. I dunno.
The point is I am born again, really. Risen like Kali, the goddess of both creation and destruction, up from the ashes of "nice" and onto the shores of This is How I Honestly Feel: Deal With It.
I'm not really sure if I can reintegrate into polite society in America again; I might seem like a person with some kind of anger management issue or split personality. I think I might raise a few eyebrows in the land of Stuff It, Ladies.
But ladies -- I have been to this other shore and I have seen a new reality. I have discovered that voicing my displeasure or strongly felt opinion does not cause reality to collapse into a black hole. I do not die. Friends remain my friends. I don't have to carry impotent frustration and anger around all the time. Passive aggression is a heavy burden to carry and I have let it go. It's not "losing it" -- it's gaining it.
Now I feel freer, more honest, more -- well the long and short of it is that I am mulling putting together a Nice Girl Rehabilitation program right here in Israel.
Participants will fly coach, lose at least one bag, arrive and promptly deal with a rude taxi driver. From there, we will go straight to any government office where we will get in line and attempt to take care of some small but important matter. This is day one through three.
On day four, we will make our way to the grocery, where we will engage in Elderly Israeli Lady judo moves in the meat section. After a brief lunch of soggy falafel served to us rudely, we will attempt to buy something at the electronics store. At a fair price.
Participants still in the program will then take public transportation on one of the most popular and lively bus lines and disembark at one of the many beautiful beaches in Tel Aviv where they will try their hand at fending off handsome young Israeli men on the lookout for a good time and some quick cash.
Evening activities will include another public bus ride back to the over priced hostel, with bathing suit chafing and, of course, complimentary jelly fish burns for each participant. We'll stop briefly to consult with a pharmacist who will not take us seriously. At first.
Participants who graduate with success -- after a brief hospitalization for the jelly fish stings -- will return to their lives renewed, with a weird glint in their eye and an exceptionally low tolerance for being "nice" when they do not feel like it.
No expenses paid, and you're welcome, America.