Word of the Day / Freier פראייר

Many of the stereotypes that foreigners love to level against Israelis may derive from a national fear of being taken for a sucker.

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The urge not to be a freier may well be one of the most basic drives of the average Israeli. The sense of horror at the thought of being a sucker – which encompasses not just falling prey to a scam, but getting a rawer deal than someone else in just about any situation – can be said to contribute to a wide range of stereotypically Israeli behavior.

Why do Israelis crowd around the doors of a bus, elbows flailing, instead of lining up neatly and politely one behind the other? Well, yes, it's partly because they've never been taught to do so, but it's also because if they don't get the chance to shove their way to the front or sneak their way in from the side, that might make them (cue impending sense of dread) freierim, to use the plural form of this Yiddish word.

And why do Israelis who are buying just a few items at the supermarket feel compelled to ask the person before them in line if they can cut in front? In part, at least, it's because they don't want to be the freier who waits an eon just to buy a bag of milk and loaf of bread. (Whether letting that person cut in front makes the other consumer a freier is up for debate.) Some have even attributed Israeli recalcitrance in Mideast peacemaking to the desperate desire to receive at least as much as one gives, which lies at the root of freier fear.

One protest group turned the concept on its head last year, embracing the label of freier (the movement was known as meha'at hafreierim, "the freierim protest") to highlight its point that by exempting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service, the country was turning just about everyone else – the law-abiding citizens who enlist as required –into freierim who are being bested by the Haredim.

Given their lifetime of training in how not to be freiers, Israelis seem to grasp this skill better than most immigrants. This imbalance has given rise to an attempt to give English-speaking immigrants a leg up, through a website with features like a guide to this month's election and notices like one about a new guideline requiring certain customer service calls to be answered within three minutes (or else the company is supposed to call you back) and an app that tells you where the closest public bomb shelter in the south of the country is located. The site's name, not surprisingly: No Fryers.

The sense of horror at the thought of being a sucker contributes to a wide range of stereotypically Israeli behavior.Credit: Shay Even

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