The Culture of Business
Israel … where ancient culture has morphed into a high-tech culture. In spite of the fact that this history-laden land has made the transition from agriculture to the culture of innovation, it still holds many surprises for the international businessperson. What’s the “inside scoop” on Israeli business culture?
Five tips for the first-time visitor
When setting up any international business trip, it is helpful to have a general feel for the country you are visiting. The same goes for visiting Israel. Here are five tips that will make you smarter about Israel before you even get there:
Getting there: Many international and European airlines fly into Israel’s international airport (located just outside of Tel Aviv). Israel is 7 to 10 hours ahead of the United States. From points in Europe, only 1 to 2 hours ahead; from the Far East, 7 to 9 hours behind.
Speaking there: Israel’s official languages are Hebrew, Arabic, and English. English is the most common foreign language. Road signs and street signs usually appear in all three languages. Nearly everyone you meet speaks some amount of English.
Buying there: The currency is the new Israeli shekel (NIS). Hotels and many restaurants will take dollars. It s easy to exchange currency at “change” stores throughout the country, or at selected ATMs. Prices include the 15.5% value-added tax.
Wearing there: Israel climate is hot, dry, and sunny in the summer. (From about April to October it does not rain. Fortunately, these days, most offices are air conditioned.) Winters range from mild to rainy and cold. In most places, it rarely gets to freezing.
Noticing there: Army service for girls and boys 18 to 21 year old is mandatory, which accounts for the numbers of young people in uniform. Groups of soldiers can often be seen clustered at bus stops or traveling on the train. Because the country is so small, many soldiers spend the weekends at home, and take their weapons with them!
Israel is a true melting pot, with a diverse population comprised of people from all over the world. Leon Davids, Asia Pacific sales and marketing manager for Hanita Coatings, notes that Israel has a very “cosmopolitan population,” which often surprises foreign visitors.
You can learn more about Israel from the CIA Factbook. Read the English version of two of Israel’s popular daily newspapers, Haaretz or Ynetnews.
Surprise! Sunday Is a Work Day
While many elements of international business permeate the country, one unusual aspect of Israel’s business culture is its work week: Sunday to Thursday. If you arrive on Saturday, you can hit the ground running on Sunday! Mark Dollinger, president of Trendlines America, assists Israeli businesses with their U.S. marketing efforts and is a frequent visitor to Israel. “Considering the Israeli work week,” he explains, “there is only a four-day overlap between the work weeks [between Israel and the United States]. There is a very different holiday cycle too.”
- Government offices and a large number of businesses are closed on Friday and Saturday.
- Retailers, supermarkets, and many bank branches are open on Friday but close by early afternoon.
- Public transportation -- buses and trains – stops from mid-Friday afternoon to Saturday night (but taxis are usually available, especially from hotels).
The Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday at sundown and ends Saturday evening. Be mindful that observant Jews refrain from any doing any type of work on the Sabbath, including driving, using electricity, talking on the phone, or conducting business.
Be Bold … Be Direct … Be Casual … Be Israeli
“Israelis are very open and direct. In fact, they have a lot of chutzpah [nerve],” says Davids. “Don't be put off by the bold, aggressive attitude.” One thing that Dollinger has learned is that sometimes Israelis – not known for their patience -- become “frustrated” at the pace of the negotiation process. They are ready to forge ahead, but the U.S. company is more thoughtful and methodical. On the other hand, he observes, when the U.S. company has a request, the Israeli company may not “be sensitive to the sense of urgency to respond quickly and completely.”
“Israel’s very casual atmosphere,” according to Davids, “can also be surprising.” First names -- even at the C-level -- are de rigueur. This casualness extends to dress as well. In Israel, “business casual” means jeans, especially in start-ups and in the software/IT industries. Israelis enjoy talking about technology and innovations, but are equally as comfortable talking about their family, the last vacation they took, their “after the army trek,” and other interests.
Israelis “live” on their cell phones. They are connected wherever they go; in fact, the country has one of the highest rates of cell phone penetration in the world. It is not unusual for cell phones to ring during business meetings, but it is perfectly acceptable at the start of any meeting to request that cell phones be turned off.
Innovative ideas abound in Israel. Davids comments that many foreign visitors are bowled over by the “flexibility and wide variety of technologies.” Dollinger agrees: “The U.S. business community views Israelis and Israeli innovation in a very positive light. It is predisposed to believe that Israelis will bring innovation to the table.” There is deep respect for “the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit".