A few weeks ago I’ve published a city report on Rotterdam, that I wrote for Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com). Well, I’ve been busy writing another one, on Tel Aviv, where I used to live, and where I am currently visiting. Allow me to introduce you to the city that never sleeps, “the bubble”, the one and only Tel Aviv.
An iconic view of Tel Aviv from the Jaffa promenade
What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
I came to Israel in 1991 (aged 12), with my family, in the big immigration wave from the Soviet Union, and lived there until 2003.
How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
As many young Israeli’s drawn to the big city, I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for a while, between 1999 and 2001.
Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
It was the first time I lived in another country.
Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Nowadays, my home base is in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I visit Israel regularly, as I have family and many friends there. Takes about 4.5 hours by plane.
What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The weather is great for at least 10 months. Its a unique opportunity to experience the place that gets so much attention, and see for yourself what the fuss is all about.
What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
This I’ll have to get back to in another post here – the topic is a bit too big for a short answer.
Just to give you an idea of the highlights – this is the Negev desert. Just two hours drive from Tel Aviv, and you’re not on the edge of it – no, right in the middle!
What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
Good, most of the time the breeze from the sea clears the pollution. When the wind is from the East, can get very bad, but it’s only a few days in a year.
What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
July-August are hot and sticky humid. December to March is the rainy season, but it almost never rains more than 2-3 days in a row.
What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Cockroaches. Big, flying ones.
Are there any special security concerns?
Uhm… Yes. Its Israel. BUT the crime rates are quite low compared to other Western countries, and besides – nowadays the chances of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack are higher in Paris, London or Brussels. The Israeli traffic is the most dangerous part, and even that is not as dangerous as it used to be.
Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
Depends on what one includes as “Tel Aviv”. The city itself is small and housing is also small, the outer rings of the metropolitan area contain many typical “sleeping neighborhoods” with more spacious accommodation, but the commute time is also larger.
Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles the city center is the place to be. If your can find a good house in the city and your family can handle the city life – go for it. But prices are high.
Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
One of the best, I hear.
Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Yes. But that’s the simple answer. Compared to the severity of these issues in the neighbouring countries, like Syria, there are none worth mentioning.
Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Challenging. Sidewalks are crowded with parked bicycles and motorcycles, public buildings are not necessarily fitted with ramps.
What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
The whole country is one big live museum of nature, culture and history. For Tel Aviv itself I’d suggest checking out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/telaviv/. As a former resident who has done his best to explore the city I can certify that the local “spotters” are doing a very good job unveiling spots that are usually under the radar.
Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Everything is available, from free public gym facilities at the beach to private teachers of every sport you can think of.
What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
The American fast-food chains are present but who needs them when local fast food is abundant. Every Israeli has a favorite falafel place, and Tel Aviv has a lively dining scene.
What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available but prices are ridiculously high.
What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are widely accepted.
What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
I’d suggest bringing a tank, but the fuel prices would kill you.
Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Reasonably affordable and safe. The national railways do have issues with the unions, so sudden strikes can be a plague.
How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Most of the local people know sufficient English to get by without knowing any Hebrew. Many signs are Hebrew-only, so learning the Hebrew alphabet is useful.
Size and morale of expat community:
That’s a difficult question, as it depends much on what is included in the “expat community”.There are millions of foreign-born Israeli’s, hundreds of thousands of (mostly Asian) foreign workers employed in construction, agriculture and nursing, tens of thousands of African infiltrators/refugees (depends on who you ask), a constant influx of volunteers working in the Kibbutzs and so on.
If “expats” include only Western diplomats and such, then its probably small, I can’t say much about the morale among them.
Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Without a job permit chances are probably low.
What volunteer opportunities are there?
Numerous. Not sure how diverse are the options without knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic.
What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The beach. Huge clubbing scene. Mountain biking is growing in popularity. Barbecuing.
What’s the dress code at work and in public?
At work – depends much on where you work, but usually “casual-plus”. In public “casual” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Believe it or not, this guy is actually at work. How’s that for “casual”?
Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Israel has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, so healthcare must be good.
You can leave behind your:
Anything you thought you knew about the place and anything anyone has ever told you about it. Its nothing like you thought it is, no matter what you thought. And don’t bring your politeness either, it will go unnoticed at best.
But don’t forget your:
Balls of steel, elephant skin, all the sarcasm and cynicism you can find. A huge supply of sense of humor. And, of course, your hiking boots. Israel is best explored by foot.
Can you save money?
Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
Recommended books related to this city (title, author):
- “The lover”, A. B. Yehoshua.
- Works of Bernard Lewis, such as “The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years”.
- “1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War”, Benny Morris.
Take them all with a huge pinch (better yet, a bag) of salt – everyone’s view is politically colored.
Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Lebanon” – OK, it takes place in Lebanon, but its set exclusively inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon.
An Israeli tank close to the Lebanese border
Any other comments:
Don’t be like the American presidents and Secretaries of State, who think that all it takes is for people to shake hands and stop being so childish. Its not up to you to bring peace, nor is it up to you to lecture the locals about how they should behave and think. Just try to enjoy the good parts, and ignore the bad ones – that’s what everyone else is doing.