Cosmopolitan but Middle Eastern
Tel Avivians always keep an eye on its bigger sisters, such as London, New York or Berlin. It’s true that there’s an overall international and cosmopolitan feel to the city, but in spite its best intentions, and as much as it wants to be European or American, Tel Aviv is Middle Eastern, in the best possible sense of the word.
On the other hand, the most important thing you need to know about Tel Aviv’s vibe is that its most commonly nicknamed “the bubble”. The entire region might be perpetually on the brink of war, but Tel Avivians tune it all out and concentrate on all the leisurely activities available, be it wining, dining or beaching.
You might come to Tel Aviv expecting it to be part of the nationalistic and militaristic reality that is the Middle East, but you are more likely to encounter hippies, peace activists and liberals, than you are to run into uniformed soldiers.
Economic and Cultural Bubble
In the past few decades Israel has turned more free market. Around the Tel Aviv stock exchange, located on Ehad Ha’am 1 (corner of Rothschild Blvd.), big money has been made, as well as in hitech companies that have long put the bursting of the dot com bubble of 10 years ago behind them.
But, discounting the economists and traders, after spending a few days here you’ll wonder how in the world Tel Aviv has become such an economic and tech powerhouse, as it seems like every day is a holiday and nobody bothers to work.
Head On To the Beach
First and foremost, Tel Aviv is a beach city, in fact – one of the 10 beach cities in the world according to National Geographic. The 13km beach line feels as if it’s inside the city itself, since you can walk around a mall at one moment, and dip your body in the Mediterranean the very next. This proximity allows countless of beautiful young men and women to walk around in the middle of a business day along Bugrashov and Ben Yehuda Streets with nothing but their swimsuits on. That’s not a formal attire, they’re just walking to and from the beach.
Tel Aviv’s hot, humid and sunny weather is another reason for Tel Aviv’s casual and constant vacation-like feel. One cannot go to the office in a three-piece suit and tie when it’s 35C degrees (95 Fahrenheit) out, without dripping with sweat. At most, you may expect to see men in business pants and a buttoned shirt tucked in, but the most common attire consists of flip flops, shorts, a short sleeved shirt for men and a tan top for women, and trendy sunglasses.
Even though the vast majority of Tel Avivians are secular, there is respect for the sentiments religious Jews during Jewish holidays. For example, one would not walk down a street on the holy day of Yom Kippur eating, while others are fasting. But all in all, during Shabbat, Pesach and most other holidays, almost anything goes, within reason.
Tel Avivians, like all Israelis, like to speak their mind. So you can expect to engage in more than one conversation about regional and world politics. Though you might encounter passionate people speak from the heart about the need to end the occupation of the Palestinian Territories or the need to beef up security, there’s certainly no harm in asking a few questions and politely expressing your views.
Be it in conversation, in a public place or in a queue, it’s good to know that space isn’t as important as being sociable and friendly. So personal questions about work, family and home, as well as physical contact (even between strangers) – are a daily occurence. Don’t be shocked or offended when you are standing in a queue and people keep cutting into it, it’s done mostly in good nature and provides for some storytelling topics when you go back home.
If you go out dining with Israelis everyone is expected to pay for their own meal, but if you join a family dinner in a restaurant, your hosts will pay for it. Regarding tipping, you are expected to leave a 15 percent or more tip in restaurants and cafes, and never less than 5 NIS, even if you just had coffee. There is no need to tip taxi drivers unless they help you with your luggage or perform a service other than getting you to your destination.