If you’re staying over at an Israeli friend’s house this summer, and all you find on top of the bed so nicely laid out for you is another bedsheet, with no blanket in sight – fear not, it’s on purpose.
This and a myriad of other little details about local culture that are only revealed once you step into another person’s home can be a tad confusing.
So we’ve created a comprehensive list to help you prepare for your visit. Enjoy your stay and just remember to turn off the hot water heater.
You’ll likely be sleeping in a teenager’s room
Or on the couch in the living room. Israeli homes are often smaller than their American or European counterparts, and it’s rare to find a dedicated guest room. Instead, Israelis welcome overnight guests to stay in the most readily available bed – their teenage son’s, an empty bunk bed, a comfy couch or even a sleeping bag on a patch of unused floorspace.
Don’t worry about displacing anyone from their bed or taking up most of your hosts’ living space – we’re very informal about such things, and you’re likely not the first guest to be housed this way. Just make sure to keep your space tidy, and of course take off the bedsheets before you leave.
Your hosts will need to turn on the hot water for you
Many Israeli households don’t have hot water on tap. During the summer they rely on a rooftop solar water heater for showers. The electric water heater is reserved for cloudy days or times when household demand outstrips available sun-heated supply.
Since there might not be enough water from the solar heater to see you comfortably through your shower, your hosts will switch on what’s called the boiler in Hebrew for about half an hour before you plan to wash. Don’t forget to turn off this little light-switch-looking device when you exit the shower – running the boiler is expensive.
Windows have screens, shutters and bars
Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff on a window. Let’s go one by one.
Your Israeli hosts are likely to have sliding insect screens. Make sure that you slide them into place to cover the open part of the window at all times, or you may be kept awake by pesky summer mosquitoes and/or sand flies.
When you want to let in (or keep out) the sunlight you’ll need to operate the rolling metal shutters (trisim) that live in a box atop the window. Some are activated electrically with a simple up-down button. But many are the manual type where you have to pull on a long strap next to the window. Mastering this pulley system may require a demonstration and a couple of tries.
As for bars, you don’t have do anything to them but we mention them because they may look unfamiliar to you. On ground-floor windows they’re meant as a deterrent against burglars, while on upper floors or apartment buildings they serve as a safety measure. In any case, they are pretty unsightly, but considered an absolute fact of life over here.
The hall and stairs will be dark
In many apartment buildings in Israel, except skyscrapers, you’ll likely need to manually turn on the light in the staircase or hall. Yes, you read that right: as a cost-saving measure, the light isn’t always on.
There are little light switches at the entrance to the building and next to each apartment door, and each press get you about 30 seconds of light, so you may have to press more than one switch as you navigate to the door you’re seeking. Just make sure to hit the right switch, or you might end up ringing the doorbell to people’s homes in the middle of the night.
Bathroom doors have little windows
This might just be our favorite item on this list. In what must be the invention of the century, bathroom doors in Israel usually feature a little square window with opaque glass on their top half. This is so that you can see if the light is switched on inside and therefore whether someone is using the facilities. This is meant, of course, to prevent you from embarrassingly barging in. Why would such a thing happen? Well, Israeli bathrooms often have no locks.
The floor is cold, even in summer
Wooden flooring is not a staple here, but rather a downright luxury. Wall-to-wall carpets exist only in hotel rooms and conference halls. Most Israeli homes feature tile floors, even in bedrooms, keeping floors perpetually cool.
And while some houses have underfloor heating, don’t count on it. On steaming hot days it’s lovely to feel the chill under your feet but in cooler weather it’s less conducive to getting out of bed in the morning. Bring a pair of socks or slippers.
We believe in sheets in summer
Summer in Israel is ridiculously hot. And while some weirdos, this writer included, like to sleep under duvets year-round, many Israelis ditch the blankets in summer and use another bed sheet to cover themselves.
Honestly, there is something really nice about a cool, crisp sheet, especially when you turn on the ceiling fan, so our suggestion is to go with the flow and do like the locals. You can always ask where the spare blankets are kept.
Mornings start early
Unlike most civilized places, Israelis generally don’t start work or school at 9, but rather at 8. When you consider showers, breakfast (and we do like our breakfasts) and all the traffic that awaits us upon leaving the house, you realize that people are getting up pretty early.
Therefore, your chances of sleeping in on a weekday are slim, and we suggest that you pitch in and make some of the family sandwiches in the morning to do your part in the crush.
Expect salad at breakfast
Speaking of mornings, Israeli breakfasts are a sight to behold. While Israeli hotels really pull out all the stops with a dazzling array of food at breakfasts, Israeli homes are not far behind – especially on the weekend.
Expect omelettes, all kinds of bread, loads of cheese and, in what may look strange to overseas guests, mountains of salad. Yes, right next to that morning coffee. A nice, chopped salad is pretty much a must at any self-respecting breakfast, and if the thought of cucumbers first thing in the morning puts you off – well, get used to it.
There’s no drip coffee, luckily
Still at breakfast, we have coffee to discuss. One of the things Israelis like to say about their trips abroad is that the coffee everywhere, perhaps only with the exception of Italy, is absolutely appalling. We like our own coffee, and we’re very particular about it. Whether it’s simple instant or grainy black coffee, made on stovetop percolators or in coffee machines – we make a great coffee. But we don’t do drip. And we won’t apologize for that.