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Sabra: Prickly on the outside, sweet inside

Updated: Aug 24, 2022


"Prickly Pear" "Cactus Fruit" or "Sabra" in Hebrew, is a tenacious desert plant, thorny on the outside yet delicate and sweet inside. Sabra is the affectionate term for a native Israeli. Check the list below for some observations about Israel and its people:

  • The native Israeli, the Sabra, is weary of strangers but will give the shirt off his/her/their back to a friend.

  • Walking down the street, greeting or making eye contact with a passerby is greeted with disdain. On the other hand, when talking with friends/acquaintances, direct eye contact is customarily expected and reflects a sense of interest and respect in the person. (Some women who are religiously observant may divert their gaze when speaking to someone of the opposite gender.)

  • The Sabra usually communicates in a direct, straightforward, honest way and make less use of subtle cues... Interests and desires are often expressed through direct phrases such as “I want...” or “I need…” as opposed to indirect phrases such as “would it be possible...”.

  • Sabras tend to communicate in an expressive manner, accompanied with many hand gestures. They often speak quite loudly and at a fast pace, which can give an impression that they are yelling or irritated. However, it is most likely their usual tone of communicating. Israelis also tend to have overlapping speech patterns, which means one person may speak over someone before they have finished their point. Therefore, interruptions during conversation are common.

  • Notwithstanding Covid-19 social distancing, personal space is much closer than in the States. Israelis usually stand less than an arm’s distance from one another while talking. It can be considered rude to back away from someone while they are speaking. (Among religiously observant men and women, it is more common to stand farther apart). However, it is common for people to stand very close together in public spaces, such as supermarket queues.

  • When paying for a meal with a credit card at a restaurant, the server will bring the device to the table rather than take your card. The charge is for the food and beverage only. Leave the 10% tip in cash in the provided tray. Instead of mints, toothpicks are usually on the tray with the check.

  • When invited to someone’s home, even if it’s an EatWith event, it is customary to bring a gift. If they are Jewish, a bottle of high-quality wine, flowers or fruits are appropriate. Avoid giving alcohol to a Muslim unless you have been assured that they drink.

  • One main Jewish dietary law is the separation of meat and dairy in the same meal. As such, Israel’s cuisine does not contain dishes with both meat and dairy mixed together. Walk into the McDonalds, you won't find cheeseburger on the menu.

  • When making purchases at the shuk (open air market) or anywhere there is no sales price on an item, the merchant expects for you to negotiate for the item. It’s part of the human interaction experience. Expect the first offer to be unreasonable as a way to begin the negotiations and barter the price down.

  • The Israeli working week starts on Sunday with most stores and services close early Friday afternoon in preparation for the Sabbath. As such, Friday and Saturday make up the weekend, and many cities come to a quiet standstill. The Tel Aviv Stock exchange is closed on Friday but open on Sunday.

  • English is widely spoken in Israel but learning a few Hebrew expressions and greetings is likely to be appreciated. Google translate is an excellent tool to learn a few words and phrases, or to actually communicate with non-English speakers.

  • While the US has had a profound cultural and gastronomic influence on Israel, the native Israeli Sabra brand Hummus has done its share to enhance our palatal preferences. Enjoy!


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Articles like this are invaluable to the first time visitor to Israel. it should be required reading.

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