Before I begin, I’d like to give due credit to Diva for teaching me most of this. Without her, I’d still be wondering why men here assumed I was a fool and then were shocked when it became clear that I wasn’t. This isn’t about pretending you are something that you are not. It’s about making who you are and your real world and social status translatable to Israeli culture.
To the average American or European, Israel seems a very racist country. Between the Palestinian conflict, and the historically and recently bad treatment of Arabs, Druze, Mizrahi Jews, Russians, and others, one would be right. The difference though, between American racism and Israeli racism is that everybody gets their due licks in. The time when it was one larger group, mainly Ashkenazi, lording over others is well over. Mizrahi are the majority now, Ethiopians, though still unfairly persecuted by some exceptional psychos, are moving up in status, and using it with little real opposition due to the “Klingon” nature of this culture. Russians are dominating many fields to the point of de facto cartels in some technical/electronics. A significant proportion of doctors and other health professionals in this country are Arab, partly because the more popular streams of Christianity and Islam here stress service to humanity. They are also, in a few ways, the cultural measure of manhood and womanhood here. They don’t let anyone with half a brain forget that we are supposed to respect our elders, take care of our own children, and actually be useful human beings. A great many overly coddled Ashkenazim in the 20-something age range have decided to be slackers, and everyone else is tired of them. This last bit is very important to the topic of this article.
I’ll explain. One of the more jarring revelations many African American women will have here is the realization that the standard of beauty and signals of status are very Arab and African. Despite the popularity of many of the trappings of western culture, because the majority of people here come from very strong, very pro masculinity and pro femininity cultures, there is no room for the more “democratic” image aside of comfortable clothing.
So don’t let the lack of ties, strategically torn jeans, and yoga pants fool you. The clothes don’t make the woman here necessarily, but the attitude, grooming, and jewelry does.
To put it bluntly, out here, western is not the default. If you are a brown person, it is assumed that you are part of the eastern default. If you don’t dress and behave accordingly, the assumption is that you are disconnected from your family, from a bad family, and/or trying to be more western so that you can get away with being promiscuous. Europeans get a sort of a pass because of lower expectations in their behavior combined with higher presumed socioeconomic status.
For the African woman, beauty maintenance and fashion are a matter of physical safety. An unkempt European is assumed to be depressed. An unkempt African is assumed to be disposable/exploitable. You will dress and behave like a high status woman whose womanhood is valued and validated by your family and yourself, or you will be treated like a slave. You know you’re doing it wrong if strangers solicit you for domestic or manual labor. Well regarded domestic and manual laborers are hired through agencies and networking. It’s not about looking rich, but looking respectable.
Every time I have been in a physical fight with a man here, it has been while some crucial part of my appearance was out of step. I wasn’t wearing makeup, or my roots were showing, or I wasn’t wearing jewelry…I’m not victim blaming. I’m just saying that there are visual cues that warn people not to mess with you. To not use your good sense to keep you out of trouble is foolish. In my case, it was a false advertisement of vulnerabilty that lured less than worldly men into an injurious, bloody a couple of times, and potentially fatal trap. I am not a safe person to put one’s hands on without permission, but I gave the impression that I was…like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So I had to modify my appearance for both my sake and others’. One day, I might not be the one standing in the end, and even if I am, if it goes too far, I could end up in prison.
Because, despite whatever ideals, your appearance is what people see first, we’ll handle the outside first.
Your appearance should signal that you belong to someone here. So whoever your contacts here are should be your guide as far as style, but once you arrive, you should be aware that people from established families wear certain styles of jewelry. Every woman must own at least one chain of at least 14kt solid gold. This is especially important if you are of a beige or darker skin tone.
Chains are a thing here, and very much a status marker, even though many don’t know the origins of this. In many Jewish and other middle eastern cultures, a gold chain is part of the dowry that a husband gives to his wife. This gift is supposed to be passed down to one’s daughters and grand daughters, so this is how it got to be that all women are supposed to have at least one.
On the practical side, many people who came here from other countries had no other way of transporting their wealth but on their bodies. So jewelry was/is portable money.
Much like other eastern cultures though, it is considered women’s money. It is a sort of currency among women, so you will see gold worn by people who are basically otherwise dirt poor. It is there in case of an emergency, such as having to bug out quickly due to war, or feed the family when the men die or something. It is a suicidal level shame on the men if a woman has to sell her jewelry for less extreme reasons.
Good “Fake” Gold vs. Bad “Fake” Gold
If there is a high risk of your chain being stolen, you get a similar gold filled or gold vermeil (silver plated with gold) chain to your serious chain to wear for everyday, and wear that. This is one reason it is easy to find very nice gold filled jewelry here. Many jewelers offer a warranty, and even after it’s over, will repair and clean damaged gold filled jewelry for a reasonable price. It’s very important. Mind you, gold filled jewelry still gets stolen because it’s at least 1/20 gold, but you’ll cry less from losing a 300 shekel necklace than a 5000 shekel necklace.
If you are considering a hollow chain, just don’t. You are better off getting a quality gold filled chain than a hollow chain that will dent or break just from breathing on it.
What style of chain you should wear depends on what you’re trying to say about yourself. Different styles go with different ethnicities and cliques. If you ask, someone will explain it to you.
Generally though, unless your boyfriend buys something else for you as a gift, African women wear mariner, rolo, Greek key/snail/scroll, round curb, creative (like hearts, stars, etc.), and sparkle rope chains and we wear them long. Your chain should hang to just above or within your cleavage.
If you are from a traditional or reclaimed African family from certain areas, you may have a torc. Whether or not you are taking risks by wearing this depends how “bohemian” it looks. If it is just gold, or looks intimidating, it’s not a problem, but if it doesn’t look a little scary, you run the risk of being presumed hippy. If you need it because of the protection symbols and status, then make sure that its enchantment is fresh. Contact me for help with this, if you need it.
If you are African American and your parents are Christian, you should own at least one genuine tri-color Valentino star chain of a minimum of 2mm. You should also have a few “fakes” in gold plated silver. This is one of the standard gifts given at a Catholic confirmation after-party or quinceanera. It is also one of those things people who may not be very religious buy because the important people around them are wearing them, and they are gorgeous. The tri-color chain in particular, matches the tri-color seminario bracelets and various medallions issued by the Catholic church and other Christian sects. Tri-color symbolizes the Holy Trinity. Three is also one of the sacred numbers of Orisha Eshu. Someone wearing them is showing in an obvious way that they have connections abroad, and people with an interest in their wellbeing who are firmly middle or working class enough to show up in person and end someone who molests their daughter.
If you are medium to pale complexioned, you should have a 3mm to 4mm beveled curb chain. It should be 20-24 inches, depending on your broadness. It should fit so that it hangs just above your cleavage. Curb chains are the standard for young Mizrahi people, and different styles go with different clans. The beveled curb chain is aesthetic enough to signal your status, but generic enough so that it’s not associated with any specific family.
If you have a Russian boyfriend, you know he really likes you when he buys you a long herringbone or flat snake chain. If he is Mizrahi, he will probably buy you a flat curb chain. If he doesn’t buy you a chain, he is probably not that serious about you.
As a sidenote, here in Israel, if a guy is not that serious about you, then you are free to date other men, as if you don’t even have a boyfriend, unless or until he has proven that he is serious. Serious means that even if he is relatively poor, he invests in you and sees himself as a provider. Even some Israeli women get caught in the “half” game. “Half” means that no matter what else he says, he will consider himself your room mate, not your husband or de facto husband. If he doesn’t actually buy you anything, he is not your man. This isn’t about materialism, but about real confirmation of your and his role. There are exceptions to this, but they are so rare that you shouldn’t count on them.
Even broke, cheap stereotypical Israeli men buy their serious girlfriends jewelry on anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and when defining the relationship. He should definitely give you something to wear when you are invited to a holiday at his parents’. If your male friend hasn’t bought you anything, he is a booty call trying to lock you down without being locked down himself. Americans should see this as a red flag for a “green card hoe”.
If you are a darker skinned person you should also have gold (or plated/filled) bangle bracelets. As a general rule, a woman over 30 should wear three. At least one of them should be a very nice filigree bangle of the “old school” Turkish style. A young American (incl. all the Americas) woman should wear a set of seven thin bangles. This is called a “seminario” set, a gift that is given at your coming out party, quinceanera, or debutante ball. If your parents are Catholic or devout Christians, this should be a tri-color set if you can find one that fits your tastes and burdget. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t have one of those rites of passage. You should look like you did. The reason why is that every girl here whose parents love them has a bat mitzvah. You should look like you had the Christian or hey, Pagan equivalent. It means your parents will be involved in your mate choices, so you are less likely to be exploited.
The best place to buy quality gold filled jewelry that I’ve found is the Rego stand. You can find them in the mall. They make gold filled replicas of the same sort of jewelry you find in solid gold. The best places to buy solid gold jewelry in modern designs is from Russian artisans. They are usually found in the “merchant district” of whatever town you’re in. If you prefer a more old school Turkish look, then go straight to the Turkish jewelers. Mind that a good heavy gold plated over 925 sterling silver or gold filled piece in the old Turkish filigree style gets almost the same respect as the same in solid gold. Because the good Turkish filigree is hard to find, the next best is Indian wedding bangles. Some are made to imitate the Turkish style, and are pretty good. It’s just that they’re going to be gold over brass instead of gold over silver. Avoid “laser cut” generic type styles even though you see other women wearing them. Your ethnic piece should look like it was carefully made from soldering wire, or using the lost wax method.
We wear large hoop earrings, large dangling, filigree earrings, and gem hoop earrings. We do not wear small studs unless we have to because hoops or dangles would be a work hazard or something. When we have to wear small studs, some of us opt to wear a clove instead. Yes, I mean clove the spice. It keeps the hole while preventing infections.
Jewelry That May Be Misinterpreted
White or cream pearls. White or cream colored pearls signal a sort of easily exploited innocence that African women can’t get away with here. We can wear black pearls though.
We should also avoid or brace yourself when wearing any “hippie” or “shanti” jewelry. People here are generally not yet aware enough of the reality of eastern religions to understand that there is a difference between an African woman who is as comfortable with Kali as with Krisna, and a pothead who will shag dudes for a joint.
Unfortunately because of the lack of awareness, some Vodun jewelry is also mistaken for “shanti” here. So if you’re wearing your everyday elekes, don’t forget to wear your gold too. You can also opt for styles that look more aggressive than the normal American diaspora string of e sized beads.
Heart shaped pendants or other jewelry should only be worn when they are a gift from a boyfriend or husband. If the relationship ends, you should stop wearing the heart jewelry they gave you.
Avoid all cute animal, cartoon, or other “kid” styles. No rave jewelry either. No rubber bracelets, pacifiers, Hello Kitty, etc. If you wear anything in the fantasy/sci-fi genres, make it aggressive like xenomorphs, yautja, dragons, etc. You can also go heavy metal, but they need to be quality items.
Your fingernails and toenails should always be done, winter or summer. Get a regular pedicure. Well maintained feet are a thing. If a woman is dressed in rags, but her grooming is tight, she will still get respect. If she is wearing designer dresses but her feet look bad, they will disrespect her.
Though in the U.S. and many other places, visible roots and frayed braids are not a big deal, here in Israel, a woman is supposed to keep her hair well maintained. Do your color no less often than every 8 weeks. If a woman has more than a half centimeter of her roots showing, she is said to have “divorced woman hair”.
You should also wear makeup, but not foundation unless you have blotchy skin. African women don’t need much, just some eyeliner, brow pencil if needed, and lipstick usually. Stark eyebrows are important, and a sign that you are a woman with a backbone…not an easy target.
Watch the trends of the Mizrahi women, and wear the equivalent that suits your complexion. This year, this toxic oleander pink is trending for lighter skinned women, so we darker skinned women wear toxic purples.
Update for 2017: Since the trending looks are military or goth for us, nails should be black or black-oilslick since black is the standard nail color allowed for the IDF and police. If you’re going for the goth look, you can dress it up a bit.
I’ll be honest. Israeli women dress kind of ratched. You will have to fight your classic training to look assertive here. Dress for your figure, but don’t be afraid of the bold colors and designs. This is your chance to wear all the stuff your mom told you not to. If your bra straps peek from under your tank shirt, let it fly.
Things African women should avoid however, are any sort of “hippie” styles or regular blue jeans. They make you look too approachable, and here approachable = whore. So long as everything else is tight, you can get away with jeans in the winter, but these should be paired with some fierce boots…either stylish boots or hiking or combat boots.
Animal print is very popular here, and waxes and wanes from year to year, season to season. African women should wear predator prints, never any prey animal prints. Even white tiger print is iffy if it doesn’t actually have a tiger face in the design because it might look like zebra print.
Robberies happen here, but they are very unlikely to happen in broad daylight or in groups. So you can keep your essentials in your front pocket or cleavage, but keep your momentary spending cash in a nice billfold or small clutch inside your bigger bag. Don’t worry that it will slow things down. Nobody around cares for your convenience, so you shouldn’t care too much about theirs.
Though the style is generally half ratched and casual here, a working woman over 30 should mix it up with a few pieces that show she has some sense of style. Professionals in the more brain-heavy fields such as teaching, high tech, etc. should shop at at least a little at Goldbarry.
Things should match. You should also have a few classic sets for serving guests. You will need tea service and coffee service. Bonus if you have some vintage branded pieces from the old days when it was practical and affordable to have a LaVazza machine at home.
Of course, your home should be clean. Dust is a problem in most places here, so don’t wait for dust to happen. Dust, sweep, and do your floors weekly.
Africans of status are also very hospitable. You should always have something to serve guests that is special. Your host family will help you to develop a plan.
Manners and Body Language
Your good American posture and manners will come in handy, but remember that you are in a different place. Two things you will have to stop saying so often are, “Excuse me,” and, “I’m sorry.”
“Slicha (Excuse me)!” Should be said mainly as a command to move out of the way, or pay attention to you, and only used as an apology if you actually cause an accident. You do not say this at any other time.
Never say that you are sorry for any body function such as burping, pooting, or hiccuping as you would in the States. You should cover your mouth when you burp or cough and do your best to avoid pooting around others, but don’t apologize if something happens.
Sorry should be saved for extreme situations. When you say sorry too much, people treat you like a slave.
Do not hurry to keep up with people. If you are slower, be slower. The faster people are supposed to slow down. If they don’t then let them be fast. Don’t struggle.
Even if you feel like you are not looking very good or not very pretty, nobody around you should have a hint of this. You should behave as if you think you were spit directly from the lips of the Goddess onto this world. You will hear stories eventually of the arrogance and aggressiveness of Moroccan women. You should be that plus two clicks above.
This doesn’t mean that you should show your ass and act crazy. This just means that you don’t allow anyone to disrespect you without an answer. Sometimes this may mean throwing something at a guy or hitting him with a blunt object, or smacking him clean across the face. As long as you don’t cause any grievous injury, you will not get arrested unless he is a police officer on duty. When men act a fool here, they expect to get slapped by Israeli women. If they thought you would be different and find out they were wrong, then they literally take it on the chin and learn an important life lesson.
Sometimes though, verbally crazy is the only way to go. If your boyfriend says something off, you tear him a new ass hole the first time. Here, you should never try to be understanding, or let someone get away with saying disrespectful things to you, not even once. If you have given them a pass once, you basically invite them to try it again.
You should worry if a man ever tells you that he likes you because you’re so much nicer than most Israeli women. This is an insult. It is an unintended one, but this should not go without an answer. Your answer should be something along the lines of, “I’m more of a do-er than a talker…” and put a little murder in your eyes. That will set him straight.
From then on though, you should prove it.
Common Mistakes African and Other American Women Make
You do not need to explain yourself. If someone is creeping you out, or has said something inappropriate to you, then get up and leave or stop talking to him. If he presses you for an explanation, say, “It [just] doesn’t suit me.” “Lo mat’im li.”
If that isn’t enough, and you have the energy, let him have it honestly and without any flowery language or euphemisms. Just spit it out. Say exactly what’s on your mind and then end the conversation.
There are cases when the initial reaction should be cursing him out and then shutting it down, but if you don’t feel like it, don’t bother.
Not knowing who’s a bitch in Israel.
This is a harder one because it requires a little Hebrew and coaching from Israeli women about the life path of dudes who are not bitches. You will need to know what are the typical styles, tactics, and excuses of slackers, chronic losers, and overly coddled mama’s boys who don’t know how to take care of other living beings.
In fact, if a guy has never had to care for another living being in the practical ways, he is not a man, and you should stay far away from him. This type of guy in Israel is crazy and will make you miserable in many ways.
Almost all guys here play macho, but they’re not all men…and this is a bad place for a man to not be a man. Some openly Gay men here serve in combat in the IDF. Transexuals endure a crucible of harassment growing up, partly because of legit homophobia, partly because of radical feminist belief that they are “stealing” womanhood, and partly because women here are generally hard on one another. This is a culture where harsh language and harsh treatment is normal. So a Straight male who is not functioning as a man will be eaten alive in this place, and you don’t want to be around to watch his decline. He will blame and take it out on you.
A bitch will never be satisfied with you. You will never be able to do anything right enough. They appreciate nothing because they never really had to work hard for anything, or face any real hardship that wasn’t smothered by their doting parents. Just avoid at all costs.
Having miserable friends.
Do not hang out with unhappy people. Hang out with strong people with a mission who have beaten whatever odds they were up against here. There are many to choose from. For the same reason you don’t want to date a loser, you don’t want to be friends with losers either. Your friends should have a strong work ethic, a positive attitude that isn’t fake-positive denial, and more to do with their day than drone in your ear about how miserable they are.
Mind you, melancholy is a fairly normal style of discourse here. Don’t mistake someone being blunt and real for being negative. You will note though, that the somewhat cynical tone will be broken with intermittent searching and discussion of solutions.
Miserable friends also downgrade you by association. They are rude and over entitled above and beyond even the local standards, and will make you look bad as well as making enemies of people who could have been your friends or helped you to get ahead here.
Giving relationship status on good faith.
When chivalry died for men, so did good faith for women. I will reiterate that regardless of your level of feminism or actual real world ability to pay for things and do for yourself, if an Israeli man does not pay for dates and eventually buy you gifts, he is not that into you. The only allowance you should make for his relative poverty is the cost of dates and gifts.
You should still obey the “one cock rule” and not wave other dicks in a guy’s face, but you should never explicitly promise an Israeli man any sort of exclusivity or right to your attention until he has earned it. If you look and ask around, you will see that for Israeli women, even those who you wouldn’t class as “hot”, this takes a lot.
In the States, this might seem creepy or stalker-ish, but the way it happens is that the guy gradually takes over more and more of a woman’s life until the commitment speech is just validation of what’s already going on. Unfortunately, a lot of guys get burned, but no sob story about his past should ever be an excuse for not being the man. He shouldn’t expect less from you just because you’ve been burned, so you shouldn’t expect less from him. Remember, this is a harsh place, and people are used to that. Nobody is coddling you, so don’t coddle anyone else.
The reason this is on the list even though it would seem like something that wouldn’t come up until later, is because having too much good faith is something the losers will pick up on very early in your conversations. If you behave too interested because you’re being polite, or give passes because you have good manners, this will be interpreted as willingness to put up with more and settle for less. You can get downgraded in the first 10 minutes.
Being too guarded about surface values in personal space, but not guarded enough about real personal boundaries.
In the States, we are used to people being relatively polite, and giving one another a wide berth as far as touching and physical ribbing. Here in Israel, there is very little concern for personal space on the bus, in crowded places, etc. Expect people to push and shove, hover, and move you along physically a bit.
This is normal and doesn’t mean what it does in the U.S. Just be where you are, stand your ground when needed, and give way when needed. Do not put yourself at risk to make others comfortable, but don’t be overly cruel about it either. You will notice that many do go too far, and show no caring at all, but those people are considered low people. Though it may not seem obvious, there are some behavioral status markers, and people are treated accordingly.
Also, it is normal for friends and relatives to be very physical with one another. Two dudes holding hands doesn’t mean they are Gay. Sons may still sit on their fathers’ lap in their 20’s, or get hugs and kisses from their mom even with an assault rifle strapped on. Friends hold hands and smack each other on the back of the head. Your best friend may get so upset with you for doing something stupid that they beat your ass a little. You may beat your best friend’s ass a bit because they called their horrible ex boyfriend.
When lovers here quarrel, as long as the woman doesn’t pick up a knife, or the guy doesn’t strike with a closed fist or more than once, little will be done about it legally.
This does not mean that you should be a pushover or allow physical expressions more than your personal limits allow. There are no specific rules, and limits are very personal. Each person has them.
Corporal punishment is not popular on kids, but friends deliver it to one another regularly in Israel. So don’t freak out when your friend punches you in the arm for being too stupid. It just means you’re becoming more a part of the culture here. Hit them back lightly at the moment to say, “Message received,” and punch them when they’re being stupid. Don’t just start this out of the blue though. Your invitation to the physical phase is when they strike first.
Where you should have very strict limits is in your time and attention. You can walk away if someone is digging your brain or delaying you. If politely doesn’t work, do it coldly.
Having friends with whom you are physical though, shows people that you are part of the culture, and have protectors. The same way they may smack or punch you on the arm for being an idiot, they will deliver a merciless beatdown to someone who tries to harm you…and you’re expected to do the same for them.
In summary, you are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
For a more general and intellectual perspective on fashion and how your style affects how people treat you, read this article by Jeanne Carstensen, Dress for Evolutionary Success.