Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Alienate Your Worldwide Audience

As a Jewish writer, I had always thought that any book I wrote could possibly have a worldwide audience - anywhere there were Jews there should be readers for me, right? Or, at the very least, in Israel, right? Ignoring my obvious concerns of whether anyone anywhere would ever want to read my book, I thought optimistically that it could always be translated into Hebrew.


Well, wrong. The first, absolute sinking feeling of my wrongness in this came during my recent trip to Israel. First let me explain: my book makes a bit of merciless fun of my parents for stuffing a family of nine in a three-bedroom house, for most likely potty-training their children under a tree, and for my mother always refusing to utilize dressing rooms when she could just as easily strip our clothes off in the middle of a store. 

So there I was in Israel with sudden culture shock.

First we were in H&M in Tel Aviv and I'm kind of moseying through the men's department with my son when I notice that all around me are men in various stages of deshabille. They're undressing at the sales racks and putting on clothes, in their boxers, completely absorbed, like they're in a Loehmann's dresssing room and I'm invisible. But really we're in the middle of the store near the window.

Next, the tinyness of the spaces there - the beds, the apartments, the streets. It turns out that families of nine readily live in three-bedroom apartments. Maybe even families of fourteen, fifteen.

I'll spare the nitty gritty details of how I found out that my speculation about being potty trained under a tree would fall flat in Israel, but suffice it to say that I had eyewitness evidence that it would.

So I was wrong. And I'm wondering, could this be handled by a translator? Instead of simply a language to language translation, is it possible? A culture to culture one?  

Have you ever traveled and found yourself not only out of your natural element with language, but with cultural rules that you thought were a given?