In America, we take for granted that things are pretty standard. Having never been out of the country before, I’ve always assumed businesses in other countries are very similar to our own. I recently took a trip with a college group to Israel, where things are indeed very different from here. Sightseeing in Israel opened my eyes to the fact that not only are some businesses very diverse, but they reflect the host culture they operate in.
Upon arrival, we exchanged our U.S. dollars for the local currency: Israeli shekels. Before I left the country, the exchange rate I looked up was 1 USD=3.34 NIS. Inside the airport, they offered our group a rate of about 1 USD=3 NIS, and yet another man outside of the airport gave us about 3.2 shekels for each dollar. The exchange rate fluctuated throughout various parts of the country, but most store owners settled on 3.5 as a common rate when dealing with American currency. Israel is known for being a technologically advanced country; however, in many remote places we traveled to, they didn’t have credit card capabilities and accepted cash only. Finding an ATM that accepted American debit cards was also an issue at times, since many people in the group ran out of Israeli cash.
One tourist attraction we visited let us journey down the Jordan River. As my 3 man raft drifted down the river, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no lifeguards. In America, I’d imagine that there would be lifeguards stationed every so often, but the staff basically just threw us paddles and dragged us into the water. The only person on the riverbank that was employed by the company was taking our pictures as we went over some small rapids. The pictures were sent digitally to a booth where the riders exited and were available for purchase, much like an American amusement park. One must wonder if the apparent lack of regulation is across all areas, such as taxes, employment, and health codes. The attraction was in a relatively rural location, and laws may differ in other parts of the country.
City life is also different. In America, we’re used to large chains operating just about everywhere we go. In Israel, there is an extremely strong American presence in retail, with companies such as Coca-Cola and Hershey’s being prominent examples. In some areas we visted, almost every store we stopped at in a market was family or individually operated. There aren’t price tags on most things in stores because owners expect you to make an offer on prices, and are willing to negotiate. The group wasn’t taken to these areas so often, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to bargain with a shop owner. Our group saw mostly tourist-oriented shops, where goods are priced with American tourists in mind who tend to spend money. Many shop owners love seeing Americans, because they tend not to be street savvy and are less accustomed to the cultural differences in business.
Americans are also warmly greeted by Israeli night life, with special incentives like free shots to get them into bars. Smart bar owners recognize that Americans between the ages of 18 and 21 have a tendency to drop an absurd amount of money on alcohol (the drinking age is 18). They lure American customers in with promises of free shots, only to later charge 25 shekels (about $8) for a beer. The good news about this is that the standard draft size is half a liter (about 17 ounces), and there are a wide variety of imports that are all around the same price. Cigarettes are also extremely common. It seemed like everyone you met on the street had a cigarette, and it was much cheaper (about $4 for a pack of Marlboros), so there were people on my trip that bought in bulk to take back to the U.S.
Business in Israel is much more personal and unregulated compared to America. The country as a whole isn’t particularly less expensive, but you have a better chance of finding a good deal in a tucked away store or striking a deal with a shop owner than in America. New York could have been very similar to Jerusalem marketplaces at one time. The trip as a whole was incredible, and I can’t wait to experience another culture.
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