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The Trip to Germany

The only way to fly

A few weeks ago, I had to go on a business trip to Germany. I’m not really big on “seeing the world”. When I was six (or seven) my parents did the European vacation. I’ve been to Hawaii and I’ve been to the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico a few times. Otherwise, all my travels have been within the continental United States (which, admittedly is a pretty extensive place.)

Germany.  I’ve already been there and I wasn’t that interested in returning. Besides, Germany gives me the creeps. However, it was a business trip and sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

It actually was a nice and successful trip. It was a very quick trip.  I think I was away from Israel for only about 36 hours.

The initial security checkpoint

I was dropped off at the airport in Tel-Aviv at about 7 a.m. Airport security is taken very seriously. There is a security checkpoint that all vehicles must pass through to gain access to the airport grounds. The soldier at the checkpoint asked the taxi driver a few questions and then turned to me. Where are you going? How long are you going? Why are you traveling there? Where do you live? How long have you lived there?  Why can’t you speak Hebrew? I think he pretty much just made the questions up on the fly. I don’t think the questions matter. He watched me as I answered and then waved me on. I’m not the typical traveler.  I don’t look Israeli, I don’t speak Hebrew, and I’m traveling alone — I probably warrant a few extra questions (and profiling and investigator intuition are used as effective screening tools).

If I looked suspicious while in the taxi, it had to be worse when I got out. I wanted to bring a small carry-on suitcase, but I don’t own one (yet). As a result, I stuffed everything into my large, notebook-computer backpack. That includes two changes of clothing, tallit, tefillin, notebook computer, accessories, toiletries, etc.

As I approached the main airport entrance, I noticed a metal detector, a table, and a soldier situated about 30 feet from the entrance. It looked like something out of a Monty Python skit — a metal detector in the middle of nowhere. I really wanted to take a picture, but I’m not sure it would have been appreciated and I want to keep my camera.

As soon as I noticed the metal detector, I realized it was there for people just like me.  A guy with a big, overstuffed, backpack traveling alone. The soldier beckoned to me with a serious face and I couldn’t help feeling amused. He started with “the questions” and asked me to open the backpack. He lost interest when he saw the tefillin and didn’t bother checking the rest. A quick trip through the  metal detector and I was on my way…. to the next security checkpoint inside the airport.

Eventually I found myself on the plane. The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Frankfurt at around noon. I was traveling with a work associate named K’fir. We picked up a taxi and went straight to the customer’s facility which was located about a 20 minute drive away.

I’m pretty sure the taxi driver was an Arab. Why do I think this? Well, he just gave me that feeling from his general appearance. However, it was his driving that really convinced me. He drove as if he could become a martyr by taking out two Jews in an automobile accident. It is pretty established that “texting” while driving can be dangerous, but this was ridiculous. He must have been driving 70 miles an hour, weaving through traffic, and then took the off ramp at 50 mph — texting the whole time. We arrived at our destination considerably faster than I originally expected.

Arab driver "texting" at high speed

See the approaching off ramp on the GPS

Dude! Slow down and stop texting!

We stayed until about 7 pm and then headed to the hotel to check-in.  But first, I had to stop at a grocery store to buy some food (I had only brought a few snacks). I really thought finding kosher food at a grocery store (in Germany) would be easy. Aren’t all the products pretty much international? Apparently not. K’fir knew this; he brought his food supplies with him. Then again, I would not have had room in my backpack. Anyway, I bought a lot of fruit and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream — a great dinner combo!

The hotel was adequate.  The fact that my non-smoking room smelled like cigarettes was irritating, but I slept with the window open and the smoke kept the bugs out.

The next morning we left early for shul and then headed straight to the customer’s facility. I had a quick breakfast (more fruit, yum) and then had a few hours of meetings.

The best option when there is no chocolate spread available

Lunch time was the best part of the whole trip. K’fir was running low on food, but he had enough to make a sandwich — a chocolate sandwich. I started laughing at this sight and he didn’t realize why it was so funny to me.  He explained that he didn’t have any “spread”. I laughed even harder. When he said that he didn’t have any spread, he meant “chocolate spread.” The chocolate spread sandwich is a popular Israeli invention.

I told him that Americans don’t typically put chocolate spread on bread and he was shocked. He was shocked again when I said people put peanut butter and jelly on sandwiches. Quite dreadful sounding to the Israeli ear.

By 5 pm we were back in a taxi heading to the airport.  We made a quick hop to Vienna on Austria Airlines before heading home with El Al.

Categories: Food, Trips, Work Tags: , , , ,

The First Job – Episode II

Being fluent in English is a marketable skill in Israel.  Over the last few years, I have toyed with the idea of writing a novel, but I never expected I would work as a professional writer.  Fortunately, I’m not.

I am working as a software engineer in Jerusalem.  I’m primarily using good old-fashioned C with Java on an embedded platform.  The C and Java I’ve done for years, although I have never actually been directly involved with embedded systems. Also, for the first time in my career, I am not actually doing software development.  Instead, I am working as an integrator. I don’t think I want to do this long-term, but it is interesting in a hectic, convoluted, mind-numbing, head-spinning sort of way.

My employer is NDS Israel.

Who?  You know…NDS…the world leader in digital pay-TV delivery services.  You can read about the company here: http://www.nds.com/about_nds/about_nds.php

At the moment, I’m working on an effort to bring a brand new IPTV service to the customers of Vodafone in Germany.

The effort is distributed among teams in Israel, France, and India. All the technical work is done in English and, obviously, English is used as the common language across the teams. However, that doesn’t make it easy for me. Normally, the Israeli team members speak in Hebrew and only use English when talking to non-Hebrew speakers.  With me around, everyone tries to speak in English, but it sometimes appears almost painful to watch because generally they cannot express themselves easily in English. Also, I am discovering that it is really difficult to communicate with someone in a precise manner when you cannot natively speak the same language.

So far, I have not had to do any traveling, but I’ve been warned.  Frequent trips to Paris may be necessary.

Paris? You’ve got to be kidding me.  Paris?

I think I would rather visit Tripoli then Paris.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags:

The First Job

I started working about a month ago.  It’s a bit weird — not the job… having a job. I spent the last six months goofing-off, waking up when I wanted, getting out of bed when I wanted, doing what I wanted, with no worries and no concerns.  Okay, that’s not quite true.  After all, I live in Ra’anana.

Here’s an old joke:  How do you make a million dollars in Israel?  Start with 10 million.

Here’s my New Age, 21st century version: How do you make a million dollars in Ra’anana?  Start with 50 million.

No joke.  It is expensive here in Ra’anana.

Here’s a true story: My wife and I were in Ma’ale Adumim (which is a settlement east of Jerusalem) and we decided to buy some coffee.  The coffee was half the price of a similar cup in Ra’anana, plus we also each received a danish.  My wife commented on how the coffee was inexpensive; hearing this, the guy selling the coffee asked where we live.  When he found out we live in Ra’anana, he rolled his eyes and said, “That’s where all the rich people live”.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, I had one real worry: money. We were burning through money fast, so I really needed a decent job.

I don’t know the language and I don’t know the culture, so you would think finding a decent job would take some time.  After all, back in the US, the official unemployment figure is around 10% and that doesn’t count the people who stopped looking for work and those who are underemployed. (I figure the real unemployment rate in the US is probably closer to 15% or 16%).

However, I found a nice job without much effort and I have my wife to thank for it.

It all started months and months ago when I was still in ulpan (yes, I quit ulpan months ago). My wife drove to a local bagel shop to buy some bagels. She was concerned that the car was parked too close to the curb and that the tires might get damaged.  She asked a woman who was walking by and the response was something like, “I don’t know, I don’t worry about that because my husband leases a car from work”.  They started talking about her husband’s work and  soon the word “Java” came up.  Not “java” as in coffee — Java as in programming.  By the end of the conversation, they agreed that I might be able to fill a position at her husband’s office.

It sounded like a long-shot to me; even so, I spoke to her husband on the phone that evening.  By the end of the conversation, it was clear that I might actually be a good candidate to fill an open position in the company.  At the time, I was still in ulpan and I didn’t really want to stop.  I was invited to visit the company — just to chat — to see if I was interested.  The chat was interesting and I decided to drop-out of ulpan to pursue employment.  I had a technical interview and a few days later I had three more interviews. A week (or two) later I had a meeting with HR and then an interview with the CTO (Chief Technical Officer).  During the interview with the CTO, I described the position as a “dream job” for me.  Really.  That good.

The company is in an office building that overlooks the beach.  It is a twenty-five minute drive by car and a forty-five minute ride by bike from my home.  Just perfect!

I was walking on the beach with my wife a couple of months after this process started when I received the phone call. They wanted to hire me! YES! AWESOME!

This is probably a good time to point out that I am not actually working there.

The employment offer was perfect in every way but one. That one little problem ended up being a show stopper.

During this whole process, my wife kept strongly suggesting that I should have a back-up plan.  I really didn’t see the need to bother (in this case) with a back-up plan because it was so obvious that I would get this “dream job.” After a while, though, I realized the “strong suggestion” might not be such a bad idea after all.  A friend in Ra’anana had previously submitted my resume to his employer.  He called to tell me that for some reason no one had looked at it. He was wondering if I was still looking for work. If so, he would stir the pot a bit. I almost told him that I was not interested, but I needed a back-up plan to make my wife happy.  I asked him to do a little stirring just in case.

I received a quick telephone interview that evening.  The next day a real interview.  Shortly after that, two more interviews.  Then I had to do some sort of psycho-analysis testing.  I think I may have blogged about that. Soon after that, I received a job offer.  Then I had to take a polygraph.

Finally, I had to let the “dream job” go.

So what is this “real job?” The details will have to wait for some future post.

However, I will say that it is located in Jerusalem.  That’s about an hour drive with no traffic.  The drive actually isn’t too bad.  I can listen to Hebrew language lessons, read the news,  e-mail on my iPhone, watch movies, play games, read books, and even sleep. I can do all these things because I’m not doing the driving.  The company provides transportation for their employees.

I will go into details about the work in some future post.

Even though this is not my “dream job”, it is a really nice job and I am thankful for having it.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags: , ,
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