Sunday, February 20, 2011

FTTN: A ballad for the Israeli complainer

A small sample:
- “Fuck these guides, they should let us climb at our own pace. What are we paying these fucking Chileans for?”
- “Do you think we’re going all the way up to the crater? It must be dangerous up there...”
- “What’s this shitty descent all about? They said it would be fun, sliding down on our ass and all that…”
- “Me, on the way down, every single Israeli I see, I’ll bum him out, tell him ‘it’s a really shitty climb’, ‘it’s super hard’, ‘it’s not worth it at all.’”
That’s the high-quality group of people with which I climbed the Villarica volcano.
It had it all: non-stop whining and complaining about having to do stuff they chose to do; complete lack of knowledge of where they are, what they are doing and what's the plan ahead; people who don’t like hiking, mountains, etc. and are completely uninterested in the view or their surroundings going out on a (fairly) hard volcano climbing tour because “you have to" and "it’s a must-see”; treating the local guides poorly, even though they were pretty cool (and not that local at that: two Chileans, a Russian and an Australian- but who notices anyway…); big-ass whining about how much it cost, as if somebody forced them into doing the tour; and a general attitude of “I deserve this”, “I want that”, and, what is worst of all, “if I’m not having fun, I’ll ruin it for everybody else”.
It’s funny (and in a way, quite amazing and even a bit disturbing) that in our tour group, a group of 18 people, there were 16 Israelis. And, discounting our cabin (cabin 6- respect), all of them but one seemed to be having a bad ol’ time, complaining and being bitter about it. And they were doing it very loudly, too. It will not surprise anyone that this situation ruined the experience for me, at least partly. I can only be grateful to the trip gods that this kind of people (whatever “this kind” means…) generally don’t have either the desire or the patience to go to most places I’ve been, or are simply not aware that they exist. That could have really ruined my trip, or forced me away from places I would’ve otherwise loved to see. This was, obviously, a particularly high-quality group (people who had done the exact same tour a day before had a nice enough group. I guess I was just lucky), but it gave me another lesson on how bad the Israeliada can be.
It’s sad but true: there were moments, while traveling, that I felt ashamed of being Israeli, ashamed of being bunched up in any category with the people that did the volcano ascent with me.  This is not about my desire to meet people from other countries and cultures, or about finding out stuff I didn’t know, or about not wanting to spend 6 months in a continent thousands of kilometers away from Israel speaking almost nothing but Hebrew. I’m talking real shame. It’s part of the reason why I tried really hard not to do anything that is not allowed in hostels, national parks, etc., even though normally I probably would- the impression people have about Israelis in Patagonia (and obviously other parts of South America; and I’m guessing South East Asia, where a bunch of people go, is not excluded, either) is bad enough, so why help the trend and make it even worse? During my trip in South America I heard so many horror stories about what Israeli backpackers had done in a hostel, a restaurant, or wherever. And I remember at least four times that people, on being told I’m Israeli, replied with something to the tune of “Really?? But you seem like a nice guy...”
I’ll add one last note on the subject: in many places, like restaurants or tourist offices, you see these signs, always with the same headline: lekol ha-israelim- “to all the Israelis”. Usually they are extolling the virtues of the pizza or the hot springs tour or the hostel, although I’ve seen some negative ones, too. Those signs always made me want to do the exact opposite of what they said. That’s probably just as stupid and bad as doing everything according to them, but what can I do? That was my instinctive reaction.

You might have noticed that the last two posts took on quite a negative tone. They were both written in Valparaiso(along with the ‘Trekkers Bubble’ one), where I was taking a much needed break from the Israeliada- for some obscure reason, Valpo, which is quite touristic, is not on the “usual” Israeliada path. I stand by most, if not all, of what is written in these posts, and thinking about it still makes me a bit angry and ashamed, even three years later. But there’s no doubt that that volcano ascent was the nadir of my “patriotic” feelings- and possibly of that trip (or even all of my trips). Some basic maxims, which I adhered to all along but were greatly reinforced up on the Villarica, helped me throughout the trip: avoid tours, if possible; avoid the “Israeli” hostels (you’d be surprised how many of those exist); do not, under any circumstances, visit Gringo (the very popular Hebrew site that serves as a tip-guide for Latin America); and, of course, choose your travel partners wisely.

Over time I've reached a theory on it, and I think it’s solid. [A word of warning: there’s massive generalizations ahead, but sometimes we need them to understand how things are (some people will argue that always, but I’m not getting into a debate about conceptualization and universality here).] Backpackers coming from most other countries are generally people from a certain kind. Which kind? Nothing very specific, but let’s say that if you left your job or took a year off school to travel, you’re most likely interested in the places and cultures you’re going to visit, you have some respect for them, and want to be around them and get to know people from abroad. I would venture and say that there’s also a certain openness and laid-backness that’s prevalent among backpackers. And, in most cases (exempting, to my knowledge, Israelis after the army and English “gap-year”-ers, even though I think it’s still much more common in Israel than in England), backpackers who take a few months "off" in the middle of their life are uncommon, not standard, even (gulp) special. I might venture even further and say they’re usually (and this is a really crazy word to be throwing around here, so I apologize in advance) good people. Nice. Cool.
In Israel going on such a trip is the fucking mainstream.
I don’t have real statistics, but I think it’s safe to say that more than 50% percent of secular Hebrew Israelis go either to Latin America or South East Asia (or somewhere else, but that’s less common) for at least 3 months between the ages of 20 and 24. It’s pretty nuts, and there are a lot of good things to say about it, too. But one of the worst effects is that you get the good with the bad, the shitty with the cool, the curious and open with the condescending and the “the whole world hates us” bunch. So it's not that Israelis as a nationality are "worse" (they very well might be, but I don't think so, from my personal experience), it's just that you're seeing a much broader slice of Israeli society than others.


  1. During my trip in South America I heard so many horror stories about what Israeli backpackers had done in a hostel, a restaurant, or wherever. And I remember at least four times that people, on being told I’m Israeli, replied with something to the tune of “Really?? But you seem like a nice guy...”

    As a (former) American, I definitely relate!! I am ever grateful to now be able to say I'm Canadian.

  2. Funny thing about that: I met a few USians that would lie and say that they're Canadian while in Latin America, and at some point clued me in to their dirty secret. And there's no way of knowing how many "Canadians" I met...