Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Israel Trip Part 1: "Israeli Peeps"

Recently I had the good fortune to make a business trip to Israel. Weeks before my departure most every American I know said “be careful & stay safe.” So naturally this has an effect. But as you will see from a series of blog posts I'll publish, that Israel is actually quite safe, and in fact some places I felt safer there than the USA. As an example, how often does every car's trunk get checked before entering into a crowded underground parking garage here in the USA? Almost never.

But let’s start with the people. From the moment I landed and was greeted by Eran my trusted driver, I had a great time interacting with Israelis in every capacity from the hotel staff, shop owners, co-workers and many others. Israelis remind me most of Italians. That’s not a far stretch for me as I am Italian and have spent considerable time in Italy. Like Italians, Israelis are direct, loud, argumentative, competitive, caring, very hospitable and intelligent. Some Americans don’t understand that disagreeing is like a sport in some countries. In Israel, it’s definitely a sport. This is how people like Israelis stay sharp because they are constantly trying to not get caught on the “short end of the stick.”

(TRAVEL TIP) - Do not drive in the right hand lane or you will be mistaken for a “friar” - and in Israel this is not admirable.

Pretty much everyone speaks English and is eager to communicate with foreigners. Those that have traveled before know that when the endemic people don’t care to speak English, the experience can be very different. As an example of Israel's strong connection to English, every road sign is written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

I also noticed a high level of sophistication in both men and women regarding fashion, design and decor. Drive through Tel-Aviv at 11PM and this is most obvious as the night clubs spill their denizens into the streets. One can see a mix of European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures coming together to form a handsome populace.

On the business side I met some great people, both inside our company and its affiliates. As many bloggers have already said, Israel is a hotbed for technology and it’s easy to see why. Israelis are tenacious, smart and have a healthy outlook on reward, risk and failure. This environment breeds creativity and the capital to underwrite the entrepreneurs who take the lead. I was especially impressed by the engineers on our team and their commitment to service and the customer. But hey - don’t take my word for it, do some research and see where Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP and others have created entire campuses.

Aside from all this, it's the mandatory military training in Israel that really binds the country. The time Israelis spend in the military results in the formation of a very strong and unique social network. All those “social media” mavens should look at this social model to see what real connection is made of. I felt this connection during many aspects of my trip, even down to quick glances I caught being exchanged between checkpoint guards and the people I was with. Seeing a twenty-something year old with a submachine gun in his grip may be unsettling for the first time Westerner in Israel, but after some time there one can see and feel the sense of strong camaraderie that binds the Israeli people together whether you are 20 or 95 years old.

Essentially the people of Israel are great to interact with. I recommend a trip there highly, especially if you want to understand the underpinnings of what is happening in that part of the world. If you go no need to worry about safety, instead be ready for lots of smart Israelis to welcome you with a smile, a sense of purpose and community and above all - a strong and positive spirit.