Imagine a lecture hall, a professor droning on, and the sudden, shrill interruption of a cell phone.

It’s always an awkward moment - everyone looking around, trying to determine the offender, rifling through bags to make sure it’s not them. Turns out it’s the speaker herself, who, rather than hurriedly shutting off her phone actually answers the thing to say, “I can’t talk right now, I’m teaching.”  

Such is one of the characteristics of Israeli cell phone etiquette: Israelis will answer most of the time, even if just to tell you they’ll call back later. The setting could even be at a wedding or funeral. Perhaps aside from a synagogue on Shabbat, when electronics should definitely be off, there’s no sacred space.

And while Americans, for example, tend to screen calls when an unfamiliar number pops up and let voicemail do the work, Israelis will answer any call that comes through to save the hassle (and the minutes off their cell phone plan) of having to log in to their voicemail system.  It’s a habit that makes Israelis uniquely and refreshingly accessible.

As a result, though, Israelis rarely bother to leave messages.  If you see a missed call on your phone – whether from someone you know or someone you don’t – and there’s no voice message waiting, you’re still supposed to call back. 

Text messaging is a good way to get someone’s attention, particularly someone who doesn’t have your number in their phone.  A good way to initiate a conversation is to send a quick text explaining who you are and following up with a call.

And when you do, feel free to leave a voicemail but don’t assume it will be heard. If your call isn’t returned, though, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean someone’s trying to send you a non-verbal message – it means you need to call again.