Sunday, April 20, 2008

language acquisition

Most people I meet in Israel speak English well. However, I have noticed that once there is 4 or more people to the conversation, it can never be continued for more than a few seconds in English. For example the other night we went to a housewarming with 12 or so people, all people I have met before and spoken with in English. Everyone there has been friends with Eyal since High School and everyone had a lot to catch up on.

After the initial 'hellos', I realised I was in for a long evening, as Hebrew was the only language being spoken. After an hour or so, listening in and paying attention became exhausting. I was surprised by lonely I felt despite being surrounded by friendly people I knew. The isolation was really quite overwhelming.

It was a very good chance for me to remember what it must feel like when your language has little or no status. The isolation ( that I remember from the first few months of High School in Costa Rica) makes it hard to feel like you have a sense of identity in the context.

One of the hardest things as the evening wore on, was watching a joke form and everyone start to laugh. The problem with laughter is that even if one can't understand to not look amused makes you look grumpy!

There were a few brave souls who would risk English in front of all their peers (risk sounding silly) and made conversation with me. We were all sitting around a big circle so unless there was a devoted few to keep the English alive it quickly disappeared. Of course, everyone speaking English for my sake was also uncomfortable [what to do!]... It reminded me that to learn a new language properly means enduring many such evenings - it is much harder as an adult!

(p.s. Eyal was a constant translator where possible- but the conversation was so quick and often drew on many years of shared experiences- at some point I thought it best to just let things pass...)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Love and Marriage

So yesterday we went to the 'Rabbanut' so that Eyal could act as a witness for a some friends who are getting married. The Rabbanut is where a Jewish couple register their intent to marry. In Israel there are no civil marriage ceremonies, and so only couples of the same faith can marry (either Jewish, Muslim of Christian). As a result Eyal and I can not legally marry in Israel, although they will recognize our marriage if it is performed elsewhere.

Of course many Jewish people in Israel are not religious, they are secular. However they still MUSt get married in a religious ceremony, performed by a Rabbi who determines most of the content of the ceremony.

There is a strange kind of mix between 'civil' and 'religious' at the Rabbanut. Eyal assured me it was not any kind of religious ceremony- just a registry office- but that I should dress cover my shoulders and my knees...

When we arrived it felt very much like a little registry office, but with framed pictures of famous Rabbis and religious paraphernalia adorning the walls. We waited for half an hour observing the Rabbi (looking!) men walking about busily and the plastic plants. The Bride and Groom to be were joking about how much he should 'buy' her for. Which was a joking allusion to a contract ( non-legally binding) both parties sign before the wedding somewhat like a pre-nup stipulating how she will be recompensed in the case of a divorce. This contract is in a currency from ancient Babylon, I think it was called 'zus'.

When we finally entered the office we were all surprised to find a (very) secular woman behind the desk. She was very friendly and joked a lot ( I don't know what about- I barely understood a word).

Eyal and another friend testified that neither bride nor groom had been married before. Apparently this is an issue because it is relatively easy to marry in Judaism. A man says in Hebrew to a woman a line about her being 'consecrated to him under the law of Jacob' ( or something - sorry I cant remember). If there are two (male, Jewish) witnesses and he gives her something worth more than 'a penny' they are married. Yes thats right she doesn't need to make a peep! Apparently there are some strict rules about women re-marrying if they have been married in this way already ( i.e. they can't marry someone from the Cohen family).

Anyway, she went through various paperwork, dates, times, names etc. it was over quickly and we went for a coffee.

Later I realised something else I found sinister and Eyal confirmed it- both bride and groom to-be showed their parents' marriage certificates... turns our if your parents were not married you will have a lot of trouble getting married.

Whew! That is two strikes for me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Yesterday was an end of an era. My Israeli nephew ( now three years old) realised for the first time that I don't speak Hebrew. We have spent quite a few fun evenings together in the past. I could say enough to get by ( juice, apples, nose, where are you?, good night, hello, how cute etc.). But this time his language skills way way outstripped mine.

Dressed in a lion suit he was running about telling everyone to to 'be scared' and to cry out 'mummy' ( immale) when he roared. Noticing that I was not doing what he said but just smiling at him, he asked his mum to "tell Sophie what to do". And then a bit later he said "I want to talk like Sophie" and asked "why doesn't Sophie speak (normally)?". The cat was out of the bag, his mum explained that I grew up in a country where they speak English. So I couldn't speak Hebrew. Then we made a game where I asked him how to say something in Hebrew and then told him how to say it in English.

This lead to him fabricating significant parts of a new language "English". Suddenly you ask him how to say anything in English and he had a confident reply ready, he joined in our English conversation with gibberish. When his mum told him to say "Shalom"( good bye), instead he corrected her, solemnly stating that in English you don't say Shalom, you say "Shalem"!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In Rainbows

As I walk to uni these days, all the leaves are turning colours. Brilliant yellow and red and rusty coloured, ochres, hundreds of different colours against a very bright blue sky. I really enjoy my walk to uni. Lately I have been listening to Radiohead's "In Rainbows" album. There is a particular song- called "nude" ... I think it is about living in suburbia or something - I don't really know.

At the moment I find the lyrics very soothing.. "don't get any big ideas, it's not gonna happen". The reason I like it is because it reminds me that I just have to do baby steps to get through my thesis. No "big ideas"- I don't have to do one monumental task.. just lots of small little ones. And in the end it will be done!

(by the way - I just read the rest of the lyrics and they don't really apply.... I had only noticed the lyrics that applied to me).

Now I just have to go and read a paper.