Observations Abroad

Feb. 11, 2005 9:43 a.m.

In Egypt, people regularly drive at night with their lights OFF. Our fixer in Sharm el Sheik suggested it's because they don't want to blind the other drivers, but it didn't make much sense to me. It seemed counterproductive, to say the least.

Israel is quite possibly the most security-conscious country in the world. Most restaurants and big stores have private guards who frisk and wand you with a handheld metal detector before letting you in. At the shopping malls, guards check the trunks of every vehicle entering the parking lot, and they have airport-style metal detectors at every entrance. People are used to it and take it in stride. It's just the way it is here.
Israel is different from many foreign countries in that almost everyone speaks English, so communicating with locals is rarely a problem. Every student learns English in school, and since the U.S. is considered this country's best friend, Americans are typically treated very well.
Police in Israel almost always drive with their blue roof lights flashing. Unlike police in America, who only turn their light bars on in emergency situations, the cops here call attention to themselves constantly. The belief is that it gives people a greater sense of security, and could also be seen as a deterrent to crime or attacks.
It snows here. Not often, but at least once a winter on average in Jerusalem, and more often to the north. Snow is forecast for this weekend. They don't get a lot of accumulation, but even a little bit can shut the city down, kind of like Washington, D.C.
Military service is compulsory in Israel. Every teenage man and woman is automatically drafted at 18. Guys serve for three years, and girls for 21 months, and the men are reserves for 39 days a year until the age of 51. There are some exceptions — college deferments, or medical excuses — but the percentage of conscientious objectors is very low. Most see serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) as a civic duty and a matter of pride, helping to protect their homeland.
I wonder how a similar policy would be received in the U.S.?

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Dear Rick,

Hello to you from Cairo. When you have to share the roads with donkey carts and the occasional camel, it's a sort of organized chaos. Most foreign companies here have a definite rule: Absolutely no nighttime driving outside of Cairo city limits, mainly because of the crazy buses and trucks without headlights. It's a very dangerous thing to drive to Hurghada or Sharm in the dark, so most expats complete the journey during daylight hours. Keep well and safe.


Hay Rick,

Don't get down hearted about not getting to see our Sec. of State. You were with my son back in the push into Baghdad (1st Marines 3rd LAR). I have the picture that you took with them. John went back to Iraq last summer and should be coming home again soon. I follow your reports and enjoy all your work. Keep it up.

Lovin' ya from California!

Welcome to Israel. Happy to read that the Israeli barber gave you a great cut. Israel is a wonderful country. Even though we have 'problems,' I could never think of living anywhere else.

— Miriam (Netivot, Israel)

When I was a recruit at Paris Island, South Carolina the barber there asked me if I wanted to keep my hair. So he shaved it all off my head and said "here you are," as he placed my shaved-off hair in my cupped hands!

— Marv (Rome, NY)


Try Tokyo for an artistic and pleasurable experience that is meticulously hand cut to exacting standards.

— Richard


I wanted to let you know I am a big fan of yours. I certainly have been watching FOX since it came to the Detroit area. Israel... I don't think you can even think of that region without violence being associated with it. It would be nice if W or any President could spread the freedom.

— Lisa