i thought my first few months in israel were surprisingly easy — besides from a few things at my bank (an unusually terrible bank, even by israeli standards), everything in terms of the government and my absorption in general went exactly as it should have, or even better. i had to make only one trip to the office of absorption, got a really well priced cell phone plan, found a job without too much fuss, and have adapted pretty well to hebrew. (people now ask me only after a few minutes where my accent is from, instead of pegging me as an american right off the bat. one of my kids at the after-school even told me my accent was beautiful. really, though?)
so, when i heard horror stories about difficulties during the absorption process, i thought that for some reason, i just wasn’t going to have to deal with any of the typical “olim problems.” i have recently learned that this was, indeed, a rare moment of optimism for me, and that i have to suffer the same amount of red tape as everyone else.
i realized a few months ago that i couldn’t keep relying on busses. my commute was taking around two and a half hours a day for only four hours of work. what’s worse is that the city i work in is insanely close to justify such a commute, about 20 minutes by car. i decided that the only real solution was to buy a scooter. (need justification? you can park them just about anywhere, they’re incredibly fuel efficient, you sit in less traffic as you can ride between stopped cars, and they’re cheap, relatively speaking.)
this was around 3 months ago. i still do not have a scooter. this is why.
first i had to pick the scooter i wanted and find somewhere to buy it. this turned out to actually not be so difficult, as there are only two big companies that export scooters here, and there’s only one store for each brand. it came down to two options, and the scooter i eventually chose came with the clause that the scooter license was included in the cost. the catch was that the lessons had to be done with a specific teacher in holon. i, for some reason, decided that this didn’t sound sketchy or annoying, and paid the deposit.
it turned out that, like everywhere, it takes a really long time to get to holon. and that the teacher i was with didn’t actually do much teaching. the first day went something like this:
“here’s your helmet and vest. here’s a scooter. this is how you turn it on. go!”
i thought this might be some kind of daring sink-or-swim teaching method, but it turns out the guy is just lazy and expects you to more or less teach yourself. this was problematic because i obviously know less about driving in israel than the average israeli, so everything i learned, i learned through trial and error.
for example, it turns out that you have to ride on a certain side of the street depending on the turn you have just made or are about to make, and depending if the street is one- or two-way. all in all there are about seven different turning situations, and i guess you’re either expected to just intuit them or have them memorized before your lessons; you’re never formally taught. instead, when i made a wide turn onto the right side of a road (as opposed to a tight one, onto the left) it was followed by the teacher riding over to me and yelling at me in slang-filled, mizrachi-tinged hebrew. needless to say, i understood maybe every other word. maybe less. (an aside: it occurs to me that this might be how my kids at the after-school feel when i yell at them in english. duly noted.) if i said i didn’t understand, sometimes he would explain more clearly, sometimes he didn’t have the patience. one time i really almost got run over by a taxi — and yes, it was the taxi’s fault — and got yelled at for swerving out of the way. it’s frustrating to not be able to explain myself quickly.
additionally this guy was absolutely crazy, even according to other people. i really don’t understand why he had so many students; if i could have switched to a different teacher, i definitely would have. besides being terrible at his job, he is a total asshole and has no problem telling me, “you should go back to ulpan, your hebrew sucks” or asking “how is that an american is dating a russian?”
after i started the scooter lessons, i went through the process of car driver’s license conversion, a process that i thought would (and eventually, did) shorten the whole scooter licensing process. it marked my third(?) time at the licensing office, this terrible terrible place in holon that seems to be packed with people at all hours. there are literally something like six hours of the week and one location for license conversion, for everyone living in the central district. surprisingly, every time i find myself in the licensing office, someone is always nice enough to give me their number for the spot in line. (government offices here work the way deli counters work in america, very advanced stuff.)
to these mysterious israelis: thank you. i owe you one.
while you’re waiting in line to have the paperwork done, a hoard of driving instructors creepily mingle with the olim waiting in line, making small talk, confirming that you understand hebrew, and then throwing in, “oh hey, by the way, i do driving lessons so here’s my card.”
to convert your license, you only need to take one lesson and then a test. relatively speaking, the conversion process is UNBELIEVABLY easier and cheaper than getting an israeli license without conversion. after the paperwork was done, i did a lesson with one of these instructors (who was actually very helpful and sympathetic and even drew me pictures when i didn’t understand what he was saying), and then passed the driving test, which was unspeakably easy. i didn’t even have to park!
the whole process — even though i had only one lesson(!) cost around 1,000 shekels. i can’t believe people agree to pay this much for such a simple thing! but then, there’s no way around it.
i thought i was at the end of the road with the scooter license, now that i had my israeli car license to smooth the process. turns out that i’m terrible at driving the scooter and following traffic laws and so i had to do an unexpected 13 lessons. in the middle of this whole stretch, there were about two weeks of holidays and a week of rain, during which i couldn’t do lessons. last week, the teacher finally agreed to let me do a test, and i passed, miraculously! (i account this success not to my driving skills, but to the fact that my teacher worked the system for me and had me do my test with the easiest tester, and one who is sympathetic to olim hadashim. win!)
my scooter is on its way and i should have it in about a week or so. pictures are forthcoming! i’m a little tentative to say that these licensing problems are in the past — who knows what can still go wrong? however, right now i’m glad that all the lessons and tests are behind me, and i’m looking forward to being really mobile now. goodbye, busses!