I want to share one more anecdote from our recent visit to the US that I think will highlight a funny but true difference between the two cultures.
While we were in the states I went to the Joint Mathematics Meetings. This is a very large math conference held once a year, jointly organized by the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). In general, the conference went well and I got to see many of my friends from Graduate school that are finishing their degrees this year. That, however, is beside the point. The short story I am going to tell you about regards losing my program guide and then getting a new one. Yes, this conference is so large that it has its own program guide book that is about an inch thick.
It was the first day of the conference, and I was having lunch with some friends/colleagues. We were talking about which talks we should go to and so I had my program book out. I lost track of time a little and before I knew it, I had to run to an interview. (Many schools do initial interviews at this conference too.) In my rush to get to the interview on time, I left my program book behind. I never recovered it. That was okay, though, since at the registration counter, they also did program replacement and badge replacement (for a fee of 5 dollars). After my interview concluded, I went to the registration desk and surveyed the situation. There was a decent sized line and there were three people manning the desk. Two people were helping conference participants and the third was shuffling some papers around but no one was standing in front of her. Having been in Israel for the last year and a half, my natural inclination was to walk up to the third person at the registration desk and ask her if I could quickly get a new program book. Then I remembered that I was in the US and this sort of behavior would have been frowned upon. So I resigned myself to waiting in line like everyone else. When I first got into line, I had a suspicion that nobody would approach this third person at the desk because she looked busy. Sure enough, as I moved forward in line, I watched as one after another refrained from even asking this woman if she could help them. When I got the front of the line, I said to myself, “okay, I’ve been American long enough, time be a little Israeli and get things done.” I walked right up to this woman and politely asked that if she wasn’t busy, could she help me get a new program book. She smiled and said she wasn’t busy at all and that of course she could help me. 🙂
One thing I’ve learned to appreciate about Israeli culture is being direct in both action and word and not “beating around the bush.” I think it would do us some good to bring a little of this Israeli directness back to the US and to mix it with our American sense of etiquette.