Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's None Of My Business, But…

While living in the US we became accustomed to the notion of individual privacy. What you do, what you own, what you earn - are your business and nobody else’s (credit rating companies notwithstanding…). Vendors, neighbors, and friends don’t pry you for details and certainly don’t offer “advice” without being asked. Not so in Israel…

Living in Israel means being part of the national commune. What you do, what you own and what you earn is everybody’s business… And you certainly get “advice” whether you ask for it or not.

Take the building contractor we invited to bid on a remodeling project. We handed him a list of items and asked for a cost estimate. After walking through the house he said, “I know this is none of my business, but I wouldn’t do this remodeling”. Then added: “You should rent the house as is and move elsewhere”. He never came back with an estimate. As far as he was concerned, our decision has been made - by him.

Where do the different attitudes towards “privacy” come from? The roots might be traced back to the time each state was formed. The US Declaration of Independence emphasizes that each person has natural Rights for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Israel Declaration of Independence emphasize the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. Focus on Individual vs. focus on People…. Makes you wonder.

So which approach is better? It depends of course. If you want to feel part of a larger group and constantly inter-relate to people around you -  live in Israel. If you want to guard your privacy and avoid any meddling with your affairs - live in the US. 

I know, I know. These are generalizations. And there are special cases and exceptions in each place. But lets face it – if your hairdresser advises you where to live, what to do about your kids, and what car you should be driving, he’s probably speaking Hebrew…


  1. Baruch,
    I can relate to your experience since this is how the society operates in India also. People just long to be connected with each other - not sure if it's true in Israel but in India everyone is trying to find how they are related to each other. In US, people connect through the sports teams they support or the schools they went to.
    Hope you are enjoying a public life.

  2. I think this shows the disconnect between those living in the major cities of America, and small town America. Most people never visit small town America. We are considered fly over country. I can tell you that where I live it is much like what you describe. We are a community. Living on the coasts of of the US is pretty much like living in a foriegn land. Not inidicative of the rest of America at all. I would never live in the big cities just for this reason. But then again most visitors to the US never get beyond New York or LA. They don't ever see "real" America. They think WA DC and Hollywood is how people here really live or think!

    Very sad because those places are pretty disgusting all and all!