Some things they don’t tell you when you marry an Israeli. You cannot, I repeat: you cannot be a nice woman. You may be a kind woman…a benevolent queen, but you can’t be nice. Being nice to a man here can literally kill you.
There are many fights that, being a nice girl at the time I got married, I did not have because I just didn’t think it was important…until I caught a nasty staph infection. It was after fighting that horror for months and then finally having to be on apocalyptic antibiotics that gave me diabetic symptoms for half a year, that I realized just how much of American cleanliness and standards of living I had taken for granted.
If in the U.S. one lived in an upper middle class or moderately affluent neighborhood and found out that the construction company that built one’s building had cheaped out so they could steal materials for other projects they couldn’t really afford to built, or a neighbor’s stupidity caused damage to the building and health problems for others, someone would be getting sued. Here, that’s a Wednesday.
So our building has near constant water leakage from the top floor, and the whole thing is falling apart…but more relevant to this post, it is infected with a horrible fungus. Because we live in a seaside city, nearly every building has a bit of this. You either develop some degree of immunity, or you die of some strange pneumonia or lung cancer. That’s Haifa.
Being a wife and mother here, you will need to spend a significant proportion of your day cleaning. If you can’t do it all yourself, you get friends or relatives to help you, or you hire help. You must sweep and mop your floors at least once per week. You must dust everything at least once per week. You must wash dishes every day, and seriously every day during the hotter months. You must change your sheets weekly. Some of you southerners out there are feeling me. Well, it’s the same here only think back to the 1800’s when there was nothing that could save you if things got too far out of hand. You and/or your children could die a horrible death from house dirt.
Men are dirty creatures. For them, house dirt and outside dirt are the same. They tolerate both more easily, and are not as bothered by pimples, sores, or various other nasty results of too many microbes and parasites. They don’t mind paying the cost of a few scars here and there. When we want things clean, they think we’re being pushy and obsessive.
Well…fuck them. I mean, we love them dearly, but fuck them.
I think it is good that men do some chores if they are fortunate enough to have plenty of time. The rich-enough and the retired can take on chores that require strength and are not time sensitive, and that it helps that someone doesn’t mind nastiness, like taking out the trash, and doing laundry. The rest however, is up to us, and we must manage our homes with an iron palm.
On the one hand, you don’t want a guy to feel like a stranger in his own home. It’s his castle that he returns to each day to rest and spend time with the people who remind him why he’s working. On the other hand, you need to keep everyone healthy and comfortable. Each family finds their own balance, but for Israeli culture, you have to lean towards biting cruelty. Quietly smouldering does nothing here. You have to yell and you have to call stupid stupid.
Don’t ever call your man out of his name. That’s crossing the line into emotionally abusive. When he’s doing something dumb though, you just have to say it’s dumb. When he’s messing up your work overmuch, yell at him for it. You can’t let your home sink into sewage.
Speaking of sewage, because of rampant stupidity in this country, far too many people don’t understand what should and shouldn’t be put in a toilet. Constant flushing of diapers, wet wipes, and clothing means that able bodied residents occasionally have to clear the sewage pipes by hand. Make sure that when these things happen, your husband helps out. This experience will prevent him being toilet stupid or letting your kids become stupid when you’re not home.
He should have to see that infrastructure is important, and that maintaining it with his hands and his vote is part of his role as a provider. He needs to take an active role in maintaining hygiene, and if he doesn’t there will be hell in a housedress to pay. Have the fight. It’s worth having. He won’t leave you for being a harpy about housework so long as it’s making his life and health better.
One of the most important battles you will have is against clutter. This will lead you into many power struggles that have both to do with hygiene and your finances. I won’t get too deep into the latter, but suffice to say that in Israeli culture, the woman manages the money. Some go too far into, “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine,” but most do not. For the most part, people are used to all adult members of a family doing their share, but mom manages the money because men don’t usually think in in-case-of-emergency terms unless they’re cheapskates as a personality flaw. I’m sure some brain scientist probably knows the reason for this, but one should accept this as one of those differences that just is. Shopaholism is a masculine thing on this side of the world. Frugality is an important part of femininity. So just like with sex, men here try to get whatever they can, and women set the limits.
Back to the practical clutter though if you allow a man to, he will fill your home with all sorts of useless things you didn’t ask for, and don’t need. Nip that in the bud. A cluttered home is harder to clean. Most residences here are not very spacious, and the storage room you may get is often unusable, especially in Haifa, where it’s humid.
One overly clutter tolerant wife in a building can cause problems for everyone. Bomb shelters become storage rooms for these kinds of people. Whoever’s living closest to where your building’s shelter entrance is, hope that home has a good strong mama in it, because if it doesn’t, your building has no shelter. If a bomb falls on it, you are toast…or shredded depending what type of bomb it is.
So because one or two women in your building had an overly tolerant wife who didn’t care to maintain hygiene, you could be without any extra storage or shelter, and you could be responsible for overtaxing the immune systems of your family and neighbors. Think about that…and don’t be that woman.
Wash your ass.
Clean your home.
Don’t let your man discourage you or mess that up by being a shopaholic or pack-rat.
Dish some shame out to neighbors who make life harder for others.
How to Keep a Clean Home in Israel
As usual, I don’t like to complain about a problem without providing a solution. This is what worked for me.
First, it starts with you. You’ve probably already read my guide to washing yo ass, so we don’t need to go there. For those in Israel, the next important thing about your appearance is choosing a look that is bitchy, but not repellent to your specific man. Miliage varies. Do what you must. The point is that you need to look plausible, and make your desire to not look like a homeless person match your desire not to live in what looks like a crack house.
I made the mistake for many years of letting it all hang out at home. It’s the place I relax right? Well, find a way to relax that looks good. Caftans and house dresses in the summer; matching track suits in winter. When you look like a person who shouldn’t have a streak of dust across her leg from leaning on a table, it helps your man and your kids to understand the standards they are maintaining.
Second, there are chores that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly, etc. These will differ somewhat in summer and winter. Your big fight against germs will be in the summers, and this is 50% a fight against lethargy from the heat.
Understand that during the summers, you will wake up at about 0500 to do certain chores before it gets too hot to do anything.
- Washing dishes
- Taking out kitchen trash
- Cleaning litter boxes if you have cats
- Wiping down toilet seats
- Dusting surfaces
- Sweeping and mopping the floors
- Vacuuming rugs
- Taking out the house trash
- Thoroughly cleaning bathrooms/toilets
- Cleaning shades and windows
- Clutter control, getting rid of stuff
- Wash furniture covers. Yes, you will need them because this is a sweaty place, and butt sweat residue will accumulate. If you do not use covers, your livingroom will eventually smell like ass.
- Preparing for the coming season, storing things for last season, and getting out things for the new season. This is stuff like cleaning and storing duvets and the like, and bringing out the bedspreads and other things for summer.
- Cleaning seasonal appliances, such as fans or heaters. It’s also a good time to wash the curtains.
…and these are just the city folks’ chores.
If you live someplace a little less urban than Haifa, Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, you’ve got serious issues with ants, roaches, and an assortment of exotic bugs and beetles, not to mention wasps. The whole country has a moth and other grain bugs problem that is so bad that even plastic bags will not protect your food.
You can’t leave clothes on the floor. That is a good way to get stung by a scorpion or something else that likes to hide in dark places. Never put a pack of toilet paper on the floor. It is a nice home for many local bugs.
It will be very helpful for you to get used to the local schedules for things. Because most kitchens here do not have air conditioning, it will be too hot to do a lot of complicated cooking every day. The way Israeli women get through without blowing the budget on convenience foods is to have a big cooking effort Thursday night to Friday morning. The rest of the week is all about schnitzel and ptitim or some other carbs, and salad.
Because my family gets tired of eating the same thing all the time, I borrow from another culture to keep the mess at a minimum, and stay within the budget: Koreans. The first cuisine I learned to cook as a youngster was Korean, from a friend of the family who let me help and watch until Mom would let me cook at home.
So our variation is a weekly batch of pickles of whatever’s in season, cabbage, carrots, and daikon when it’s available, and a bit of grilled meat, and noodles made in the leftover drippings.
Staying healthy is an important part of maintaining good hygiene here. Most places are not very accessible, so you will want to keep your mobility for as long as you can. Avoid any “snake oil” health schemes. Many of them have played out in the U.S. and are now trending here. Eat like your great grandparents, and walk anyplace less than 5km. away.
If you ever have any problems with your legs or joints, do not wait for them to get really bad. Go to your doctor and get them taken care of. If they blow you off, pester them until they take care of you. Being nice and polite is not normal here, and you should feel free to make a scene if doctors don’t give you what you need. If you are really not aggressive enough, bring a friend with you who is.
In short, hygiene is a big deal, and you can’t afford to let it slip. You will need the help and cooperation of your family, and you should get it even if it means a lot of yelling and threatening. It is a matter of life and death, even if they don’t understand it.