What Do Greeks and Israelis Have in Common? For Starters, Flirting

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Doni Karapanagiosis at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Doni Karapanagiosis at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Doni Karapanagiosis, 38, lives in Athens and arriving from there

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I’m here for business. We’ll stay two days and then it’s back home. But what exactly would you like to talk about?

Whatever you want to talk about.

I want to talk about leisure activities. You’re talking to a Greek, and for us leisure is in the top spot. Even when we do business we want to combine it with pleasure. I think that in the Greek conception, everything we do is done with pleasure: We hate with pleasure, we do business with pleasure, we love with pleasure.

Sounds like we could take a page from your book. Yasou!

On the contrary: That’s the reason I love Israel and the Israelis. There is a lot of interaction with you. For Europe, Israel is part of the Middle East; we have a lot in common in terms of temperature and temperament, we listen to the same music, we flirt and there are a great many other similar habits. It’s very nice that there aren’t rigid barriers between Greece and Israel; you don’t have to speak or behave in a particular way to get along.

How many times have you been here?

This is the second time. The first time, what really surprised me was the leisure culture. In Greece we like to play paddle ball, especially in Athens. When I went to the beach in Tel Aviv, it bowled me over to see so many people playing paddle ball (matkot). In Greece, people complained that the players were taking over the beaches, so there are designated sites for playing paddle ball. I was delighted to see that in Israel people play freely everywhere – the players seem to be running the show!

Sounds like you like going to the beach.

I grew up in an Athens suburb where people go to the beach a lot and like to surf. To this day, being in the mountains feels strange to me. I still live near the sea. My father has a boat and we sail together in the summer. The weather is always friendly from May to September. I spend my free time at the sea, I work in a business related to the sea. The only thing I don’t like is fishing, which is boring.

What business are you in?

I sell safety equipment for ships – lifejackets, lifeboats, things that have to do with safety and emergency situations. We’ve just given refugees thousands of life jackets for free, and I’m sure they are saving lives. I travel a lot, 70 days a year. I sell products, supervise distribution, renew contracts. Our clients range from owners of small boats to people with fleets of six vessels. We sell in 120 countries, of which 22 are under my jurisdiction.

What do you discover on those frequent trips?

What strikes me is mainly the “marriage” between politics and economics. There’s never any connection between what you see when you visit a place and what you’ve heard about it, or what you may see in the news. There are socialist economies and capitalist economies, places where there are protective economic barriers and places where there are no limitations. In Dubai, there is no income tax and there is a king, and we’ve learned that kings and queens “devour” the incomes of their people. But from what I see, it seems that the people are protected. In Europe, where you have democracy and not monarchies, the taxes are worse than in a dictatorship. It’s all completely disconnected from the theories we were taught in university; it’s a whole other ball game. This is a very complex subject, but my personal conclusion is that it’s important to travel. If you don’t travel, you are poor in terms of your opinions. You can have a PhD, but there are things you can’t learn from books. You have to see the place and the people.

Do you think your travels have changed you?

Definitely. I was in the tree, but now I see the forest.

Bianca Gomes at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Bianca Gomes, 36, lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and flying there

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

Yes. I came here to work. I’m a professional volleyball player. I played with a Hadera team for seven months, and now the season is over.

How was it?

Perfect. We finished in fourth place, which is what they wanted – to be in the top four. It’s nice, because this is the first year the team has been in the top league.

Was it your first year in Israel?

The Hadera people saw clips of me playing and liked what they saw. Their manager contacted me and asked whether I’d like to come to Israel. I said yes, they offered me a contract and I came. They gave me everything: an apartment, food, the good life.

Is life in Israel good?

For me, it was sometimes normal and sometimes hard. Everything is so expensive, and there’s also – how to put it – this Friday-Saturday thing, when nothing is operating, everything is closed and you pretty much have to stay home. I know it’s different in Tel Aviv, but usually when you come to a different country you don’t wander around everywhere by yourself, you need to know who you’re going with, and on Saturday you also have to be careful where you go. And you don’t always have enough energy to go to Tel Aviv after practices and games. But I had good moments with the team, the girls were very nice to me, and there’s nothing more important than that when you’re far from home and family.

Do you think you’ll come back?

Maybe. The season starts in September. If they liked my game, we’ll talk.

Sounds like a hard life – the loneliness, the uncertainty.

For me it’s the good life. It’s true that I usually travel alone, but I can talk to my family with Skype or on the phone. Years ago it was harder, there were barely text messages; now you can see who you’re talking to. It’s perfect.

Where else have you played?

Greece, Italy, Turkey, Dubai and Spain. When I started playing, no one knew what volleyball was. Now everyone knows, it’s a much bigger sport. I’ve been playing for 21 years as an outside hitter/spiker, on the front line.

Is that usually a position for someone who’s so tall?

It depends on what the team wants. A technical player doesn’t have to be tall, but if they want a strong spiker, it’s generally better if she’s tall.

Did you never consider basketball?

I started to play basketball in school. The sports teacher called my mother and said, “She’s really good, get her into some club, she can play for years, it could be a profession.” My mother asked me whether I wanted to play. I said I did and we went to a basketball club. I did tryouts and the coach liked me, but I told my mother I wanted to play volleyball. I was 14.

What did you have against basketball?

I don’t like the game so much. I don’t like it when people start to push me, it bugs me.

What do you play for fun, beach volleyball?

I don’t know how to play beach volleyball. It’s a completely different game. I try sometimes, for the fun of it, but it doesn’t work for me. I can’t jump. I have a lot of friends who play volleyball professionally, and sometimes they ask me to play on the beach with them. But I always say, “No thanks.”

How many years have you been traveling the world?

The first time I played outside Brazil was in 2004, when I played with Olympiacos in Greece.

Are they a good team?

Brazil is a volleyball powerhouse, but when it comes to other places, Olympiacos is a strong team that plays a tough game in an aggressive league. You have to work more, concentrate more. But in the end, the ball is the same ball and the net is the same net.

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