Travel tips for Israel
When traveling to a foreign country with a different or complex culture the weary traveler sometimes forgets about the unique customs of the land, frequently with hilarious results, or in rare cases unpleasant situations. Israel is a wonderful place to visit, with its vast riches of natural wonders and lively cosmopolitan cities, but that does not mean that the traveler should not read up on the local customs and etiquette! In this article we give a few tips to avoid faux pas or cultural misunderstandings.
First things first, clothing. Israel is a westernized country with a large number of holy or religious sites requiring modest dress. When in Rome, do, or more importantly dress as the Romans dress to avoid being insensitive. The dressing etiquette is generally non-existent in the cosmopolitan areas of the major cities, but what is completely ok on street, could be a major offence a few blocks away. Be aware of your surroundings, as walking into a Haredi neighborhood (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) in your favorite T-shirt will probably raise a few protests. Handshakes are big no-no between religious persons of the opposite sex, so try to avoid such situations.
Furthermore, if you know in the morning that you have some synagogue visiting planned try to avoid dressing up in shorts and short sleeved shirts. Do not be too worried though; the Haredi streets are not that easy to wonder into as most of them are closed off on religious days. Again, in religious areas refrain from expressing affection, and please note that unfortunately same-sex affection is also not received well. Rule of thumb is that if you dress modestly you will probably never have any issues.
Be aware that time runs in a different fashion in many foreign places, and Israel is one of those countries where the people do tend to be in a rush. As with other major cities, the pace is fast and it takes a bit of an effort to get someone’s attention to ask for directions. Queuing is known in Israel, but do not be surprised if someone cuts the line to just ‘ask questions’ – in such an event, just exercise the same level of polite patience as you would at home.
As for driving, well, that is a completely different animal. Road safety can be an issue in Israel. Similar to pedestrians, drivers are often in a rush and can be aggressive drivers in some areas. Practice the same level of caution as you would at home, look both ways, follow the street lights (no jaywalking) and you will be golden!
Tipping is always a sensitive issue, and it is good advice to read up on the local rate. In Israel it is customary to tip about 10 to 12%, depending on how pleased were you with the services. This applies to cafes and restaurants. However, taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped. Waiters and servers usually expect to be tipped in cash, so do not add your tip to a credit card bill; try to keep a little cash with you all the time.