Friday, June 11, 2010

The Visit

This week, one of my Israeli nieces came to visit. She's 20 and was traveling with a 21-year-old friend. They've been in New York for a couple of weeks and I was on their touring itinerary. They were supposed to stay two nights but only stayed one night and that was sufficiently exhausting. The tired me out in several ways. First, in advance of their visit, my niece asked me how to get to DC via Hershey Park. We'd actually been over this a month or so ago, before she got to the US. I've never been there and didn't know much beyond that it was in Pennsylvania. Some intrepid internet searching lead me to discover that if you want to go to Hershey Park and you don't have a car, you go to Harrisburg. We have family friends in Harrisburg.

So, on Friday, my day included: a phone call to our family friends making sure they could accommodate the two girls for an overnight stay. A visit to the Amtrak website to buy two train tickets from New York to Harrisburg. An internet search to determine the best way to get from Harrisburg to DC. (Answer: bus.) A visit to the Greyhound website to see if tickets needed to be purchased in advance (they didn't) and to find out the departure schedule. A call to Pele to arrange a tour of the Capitol on Tuesday (my rep never answered my email request for a tour even though I sent it in a month ago).

On Friday, I talked on the phone twice to the friends in Harrisburg and thrice to my niece. I talked to everybody again on Sunday. On Monday, the girls went to Hershey Park. On Tuesday afternoon, they arrived in DC. I picked them up at the Greyhound Station and drove them to my place. We only had a few minutes before we had to leave for our Capitol Tour. That was really fun (for me). I know they didn't "get" a lot of what we saw, but I'm sure they appreciated the pretty building. Also, the young man who gave us the tour was sweet as pie and he was a perfect gentleman.

When we got home, I tried to help my niece's friend buy a pair of shoes via the internet for her fiancé. Right, the friend is getting married two weeks after they return to Israel. Wow. So, eventually, I ended up putting the shoes on my credit card and she gave me cash. This was after half an hour on the phone with the sales rep, giving an Israel address (not for shipping, but for the charge), etc. Then her card was declined. Sigh. I should have just offered to buy them in the first place.

That night, since they'd already decided just to spend one night instead of two, I decided to take them to dinner at one of the Glatt Kosher restaurants in the Rockville/Wheaton area. We went to a Chinese place and it was very traditional-American style Chinese food. One waiter was Chinese. The other folks working there seemed to be Israeli—at least they spoke some Hebrew and they were also Orthodox. The girls thought it was "fancy," due to table cloths. They loved the very salty food. It was ok but not great. We only ordered two entrees and it was a HUGE amount of food. That was good, since they had plenty for lunch the next day.

One of the best parts of the visit was the chatting we did in the car. We talked about "dating." When we left the restaurant, my niece said, "How can you go to dinner on a date? You can't eat. You're too nervous." I laughed and she asked what was funny. I said, "People do it all the time! That's really what you do."

She said, "But how do you eat? You can't enjoy the food. And I don't want him to see me eat."

I said, "It depends on how much you like the person, but you're right, you don't focus on the food. But I don't care if he sees me eat. And he's going to have to see that anyway if you marry him."

See, because in their world a date is, almost literally, a marriage audition. In three to ten meetings they decide if they want to marry that person. I said, "But here, I could go on ten dates and still have no clue if I'd ever want to marry the guy." Now, it's not that I never think about such things. I've sometimes wondered whether I need to do a better screening job and only date guys who I know right up front I could possibly marry (or "marry"-- it's not about a wedding). I actually try to do this and it hasn't helped much. Oh well.

I told a couple of funny dating/boyfriend stories. They seemed appreciative rather than shocked. I wondered what their assumptions were about sex but I didn't ask. No judgment, please!

I also told my niece some stories about her father and his childhood. I wondered if it was appropriate. I mean, everyone knows these stories—at least in my generation. My brother told them to me, my other brother told me and I told him. I told my parents and they told me. This is the story we tell to each other about our family. I've also told countless friends and strangers. Yet, I realized, I'd never told the story to my nephew or any of my nieces. Why? Because they were too young or didn't speak much English? Because it's inappropriate to talk about their father's troubled past? No, I think it's more because I assumed they knew. After all, he told the story to me at least once. Would he not have told his children? I think he has but possibly a different version. I didn't get into it too much but it seemed pretty clear that she hadn't heard quite this version before. I hope no harm was done.

When we got home we went to sleep pretty quickly. I was exhausted from all the driving around and the walking around and the talking. In the morning, I got on the bus with them and sent them to view the White House. I went to work. They toured around on their own in the morning, hitting the Peacock Room at the Freer (on my recommendation) and the Natural History Museum. I met them at Air & Space. We saw a terrible 3D-Imax movie about the new Boeing 777. Damn thing was like an advertisement for the plane—which isn't flying yet and may never. And, what, we're going to buy one? Or select a particular flight because it's flying that plane—someday? Whatever. Too bad "To Fly" wasn't playing at a convenient time. Not that I love it but it's a good IMAX experience at least.

Then it was walk to metro to home. A little packing and I took them to the bus and they were off. They were sweet and grateful for all I'd done. They could tell I was tired. I do think they knew how much work and planning it took to help them. My niece even said, "It was so much easier to visit you! You drive us and get the tickets and we didn't have to plan anything." Damn straight. But, maybe, somehow, I could have done a little less? We will never know.

Oh, and the cat terror. That was crazy. The friend was totally terrified by the cat. So much so that after the first time she came in the house, she would wait outside until I put Tabitha (the cat) in the bathroom or the bedroom. Poor kitty had to spend the entire night in my room and wasn't too happy about it. She normally sleeps in my room, so that wasn't a problem. But being in there earlier was not to her liking and she also wanted out around 5am, her usual roaming time, so I didn't get much sleep after she woke up. Oh well. My niece wasn't crazy about the cat but wasn't so scared. I think she might have eventually worked up the nerve to pet her if it weren't for her friend.

What was going on here? Basically, the very religious folks (at least in Israel) don't keep house pets. But they do see cats—there are a lot of feral cats in Israel—that all hang around the dumpsters. Many people are a little scared of cats. But, still, this was extreme. The friend was very apologetic and I didn't make a fuss about it. I wasn't going to try and force her to get over her phobia, we both knew it was extreme, but there's no curing a phobia in 24 hours. Plus, she also clearly had an allergic reaction to the cat. Sigh.

This particular niece is a lot of fun. She's probably the most outgoing and curious one of the Israeli bunch. I like answering her questions and trying to explain my life. I like to try and understand hers too. I think I would have liked her to stay another night despite the exhaustion but it was good to see her for any amount of time. Next time I see her it will probably be at her wedding so it was good to have a chance to connect a bit before she goes on to the next phase of her life.

Grateful for: family.


  1. Sounds exhausting! What a whirlwind visit. I had no idea that Israeli women don't date frequently. I thought they were more progressive that way, so I learned quite a bit from your post. I love when I can get insight into someone's life and also learn a little somethin' somethin'.
    I'm with you on the family stories. My sisters and I can tell three versions of the EXACT same story. And we are all sure ours is correct!

  2. Tiia: these women are "ultra-orthodox," which means ultra religious. Their practices are not typical of the average "secular" Israeli woman!


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