I was 29 when I moved to Israel. I didn’t know the language and though I’d taken a few Hebrew lessons, was still unable to complete a full sentence.
The move from wherever you live to an entirely different place in language and culture is an exercise in intentional dislocation. Culture shock is the name of the game. I wanted it. Dislocation and unfamiliarity are what makes vacations special. If you go away, you don’t want everything to be “just like home.” If that’s how you feel, why leave home? If nothing is different, there would be little point in traveling. I know some people refuse to even consider travel abroad because they are afraid of trying to communicate in another language or (heaven forbid) eat strange food.
When you move to another country where language and culture are different, you’re going to bang into a wall of culture shock which exceeds anything you might experience on vacation, but that’s what I wanted. Needed. the planetary change the move would bring was my goal. I wanted to be surprised by everything. I wanted to look out my window and see a world I could explore.
I expected I’d master the language. In this, I was unsuccessful. My son 9-year-old son learned more Hebrew in six months than I learned in all 9-1/2-years I lived there. He loved the country. It was, he says, the best years of his childhood. I don’t know how I’d summarize what it meant to me. It was wonderful, terrible, exalting, and humbling. It was everything I wanted and nothing I expected.
Once you’ve taken the leap from your native land to another land, you want to succeed in whatever drove you to make that move. I’m sure it’s different for every person who does it. In my case, I wanted to be as far away as I could from my father — for a whole pile of reasons — and from my ex-husband for completely different reasons. I didn’t speak the language or “get” the culture, but I wanted to. I also needed to communicate with people who knew me and would understand how I felt. In this, I was unsuccessful.
I needed to tell my store. Blogging had not been invented and computers were work items. They didn’t begin to appear in most homes until the 1990s. So I typed letters and mailed them. I was surprised at how little my American friends understood. What I found curious, amusing, and interesting, they found incomprehensible and frightening. While for me, the dislocation and subsequent confusion was the experience I sought, they found it terrifying.
I badly needed to communicate. In the end, it turned out to be Garry to whom I wrote. Slowly at first, but ultimately, I wrote him every day. He wrote back every day. I told him everything. What we ate and how I’d learned to love coffee. How easy it was to find work, but how hard to find work that paid a living wage. We were undergoing the world’s worst inflation at the time. It hit 180% while I lived there and this was impossible to explain to anyone not living through it.
When I came back “home” in August 1987, I discovered Garry had saved all the letters I’d written him. Neither of us has written a letter since then. I wish I’d saved the letters. They weren’t written on a computer, so there’s no record of them. Computers were things you used at work in those days. It would be a few more years before they began appearing in homes. So these were all “typewritten.” Never saved to disc.
I threw the letters away during our move from Boston to here. It was one of my more insane “when in doubt, throw it out” periods and I think I was mad at Garry for not helping me with the packing. I tossed so much material I wish I had today. This is a cautionary tale for all of you who are trying to “minimize” your possessions. Some things which appear to have no value are worth more than those officially “valuable” items. I should have saved the letters and tossed the dresser. The letters contained nine and a half years of memories that are a little mistier with each passing day.
Throw out your stuff. Save your memories.