Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5766 - August 9, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
A Few Lessons from the British

by Chaim Walder

1. No Horns

I didn't hear a single car horn during my first two weeks in London. I don't mean the kind of long, irritated, insulting honks in Israel every time a red light turns green. I mean not even light honking. Not even a single staccato honk. That is not to say there are no traffic jams here. There are plenty. Neither does it mean the British always dash off the instant the light turns green. The British never dash off anywhere, nor are they ever in pursuit of anyone. And most of all they don't honk.

Even if you start to pull into a parking space and you're not good at parking (especially not on the left side of the street) and behind you is a young man who in Israel would not hesitate to honk if you blocked his exit — here he waits and waits and then smiles graciously as he drives on. Even if he just missed an important job interview.

But after two weeks I encountered my first long, irritated, insulting honk. It wasn't even while parking, but while waiting behind a red double-decker bus stopped at a bus stop — when suddenly that long honk sounded and the driver decided to pass in the lane for oncoming traffic, shouting, "Who are you waiting for?"

It took me exactly one second to realize the shout . . . was in Hebrew.

2. No Policemen

Perhaps it has something to do with the previous section but over the course of two weeks we did not see a single policeman, except for a few at the airport and the chocolate soldiers at Buckingham Palace and perhaps one in the Underground. When you arrive from a country where a patrol car is waiting on every corner and every two minutes police cars race by with sirens blaring, this is very noticeable. We were told there really aren't many policemen in England, although our local source could not say why. One suggested it was because the wages are poor while another said it was because there are no Englishmen . . .

No Englishmen

That's right, you read correctly. In London there are many Pakistanis, blacks, Arabs, Poles, Romanians and even Jews. From our first days in the city we felt something was missing from the cityscape: Englishmen.

The pharmacies belong to Pakistanis. In stores you see black and Arab sales assistants. Building sites are full of Polish construction workers (who may have come from Israel). In the Underground you hardly see any Englishmen. Looking at the benches you will spot Chinese, Japanese, a Pakistani, an Indian and a Jew (the latter in the reflection of the glass, i.e. me).

Here and there you may see an Englishman, easy to spot. So where have England's Englishmen gone?

Our sources assure us they have not vanished. True, London has been taken over by foreigners. But in the rest of England, so they assure us, Englishmen can be found—and plenty of them.

Furthermore, we are told, the Englishmen are too lazy to work. They work for fifteen minutes and then need half an hour to rest and relax and drink a cup of tea. We heard this remark several times from different people. This is why none of the workers, as a cursory glance reveals, are Englishmen.

Another explanation: The British do not mingle with the commoners. They work at more solid jobs (not as salespeople, etc.) and stick together, not spending time with the folks from the neighborhood.

4. The Police Have No Guns

Did I write above there are no policemen? Well, it turns out there are some. Not many but some, our sources say, and there is no reason not to believe them. And these policemen who our sources assure us do exist, do not carry firearms.

"So what do they carry?" I ask.


"Perhaps a club?"

I try to make sense of this using my powers of logic (which are indeed becoming a bit rusty).

"British policemen walk around in uniforms and that's it!"

"And if something happens? A thief? A burglar? What do they do?"

Then my source, with typical British humor, recalls the weapon the policemen are equipped with.

"They say, `Excuse me,' " he chirps, and for some reason finds this amusing. "Not the gentle `Excuse me' you are used to hearing in England everywhere you go, but a somewhat insulting `Excuse me.' "

"An `insulting excuse me?' "

"Yeah, like in Israel when you hear, `Slichah adoni, ata muchan lehitpanot mikan?' "


"Just like that, but with only the `Slichah adoni' part. Get it?"

Got it. Perhaps the British are not the fools in this case. Perhaps the rules of the game are different when the policemen don't carry guns. Everything is more relaxed, more British, more gentlemanly—and much less aggressive. Following some inquiries I find this is indeed the case. Not that England is free of crime, but everything is much less aggressive. The peace is kept with a smile much more than with a handgun.

England's next-door neighbor, France, also proved this to the whole world, which could not understand how it confronts rioters so light-handedly, for the riots last year cost the French only money and not bloodshed. They acted calmly, not shooting or shelling, and perhaps as a result the rules of the game remained at the level of rioting rather than killing.

Perhaps there is something to be learned here as well.


The above are a few things not found in England and it would certainly be nice if they were not found in other places.

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