Dear AmiLiving Magazine,
The signs that something was wrong with Dina Neuman were there all along, but I dismissed them as “Americanisms.”
When the Neuman family moved into our sleepy hilltop neighborhood in Jerusalem, I did not jump to conclusions right away. You can ask my husband, because I said to my husband, “Yes, they’re American. I know this because their moving truck delivered 400 boxes. What would you even put into 400 boxes? But not all Americans are that bad. Okay, so all Americans are that bad. But maybe they will be the exception to the rule.”
Oh, how I wish I was right.
It was small things in the beginning; like I said, I thought they were just typical American things. I am not the first person to say this, or the last, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Americans do not know the first thing about housekeeping. Knowing this, and only intending to help, I knocked on her door a few weeks after their arrival, sponja stick in hand. (What if she didn’t own one?)
She answered the door with a big smile on her face. Americans. What is there to smile about all the time? I think it is because their lives are very easy because they never, ever do things. Like, for example—from the looks of her floor—sponja.
I introduced myself and handed her a tray of cookies. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Oh, wow!” she said. “Wow, thank you so much! Wow, this is incredible, amazing, etc., etc., etc.,” because this is another thing Americans do—excessive thanking. It is so very strange. It makes you stand there with an awkward smile on your face. It makes you feel like maybe you have done too much for them and should therefore take something back.
I resisted the urge to grab my cookies back and instead looked at her floors. I could not help it. I tsked and shook my head. “Your floors,” I said.
“What? What’s wrong with my floors?” she asked, and my heart contracted with worry. How could she not see the dirt?
No matter. I was here to help, after all. “I am here,” I explained, “to teach you the art of the sponja. Also to ask if you need to borrow my sponja stick.”
“Oh!” She laughed. (See: Americans and smiling.) “Thank you, but I already have a sponja stick!”
I bit back the words Are you sure? Because it does not look like it.
“Anyway, this is so nice of you! Thank you, thank you!” (I had now counted nine thank-yous in the course of a three-minute conversation.) “But I’m okay, really. I do sponja before Shabbos, every Friday.”
“Yes, of course,” I told her, thinking maybe her Hebrew was so bad (and it is—it is so very bad) that she didn’t understand me. “Of course, you do sponja on Friday. And on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday.”
“And Wednesday and Thursday, too,” I explained.
She laughed. (See?) “I mean, I sweep all the time,” she said, as if sweeping and sponja were somehow interchangeable. “I feel like I’m always holding a broom, but sponja I do on Fridays. Or, oh!” Her eyes lit up. “I also do this thing I call a ‘spot sponja.’ I made it up! Where I just sort of spill a tiny bit of water and soap from a cup when there’s something sticky on the floor, and then I wipe at it with the sponja stick until it’s clean. It saves a ton of time!”
Dear readers of AmiLiving, she was beaming at me, as if this “spot sponja” was something to be proud of, when really it is anything but.
But let’s leave the sponja aside. That is not the point of this letter; I am merely trying to draw a picture for you.
Here’s the next part of the picture: Americans do not raise their children properly. They treat their teenagers like babies, and Dina Neuman is not the exception but the rule. By the age of five, my own children were babysitting the little ones, pushing them in the stroller to the supermarket and doing the weekly shopping and then taking the bags up the steps while cooking dinner and doing sponja at the same time. And their homework.
Dina’s girls, on the other hand (I can just make out their dining room if I stand to the far left of my window and crane my neck), feel as though they have done a great big deal if they set the table. And they spend hours designing the napkins so they look like exotic birds sitting in the glasses, which is wasteful both of time and of good napkins. It is mind-boggling, actually. It is abusive and neglectful; all of my friends agree. If you don’t prepare your children for the real world as soon as they are out of diapers, how will they ever be ready for it?