1. Nobody will ever be impressed with your Hebrew.
Three months in Ulpan and you still won’t be able to order a kos mayim at a restaurant before being asked how your Birthright is going. This applies even to folks who made Aliyah and went through three years of military service — if you look foreign, then get ready for English.
2. Tel Aviv is the New York of Israel.
This means two things: one, you can find literally anything you can think of (including clubs open until 8AM and bomb food from every corner of the planet); two, you can find anything, but the price of a night out drinking will surprise you. I recommend sticking to Goldstar and Arak (a cheap anise spirit usually served in a shot).
3. Everybody smokes. EVERYbody smokes.
And they smoke everywhere. In bars (despite being illegal), on sidewalks, in their car on the way to Shabbat with their in-laws in Ashdod (especially then). Part of this is thanks to the army, where smoking is one of the few luxuries a soldier has. The other part might have something to do with Tel Aviv’s favorite drug.
4. And it’s weed.
The stink of cannabis wafts in virtually every 20-something’s living room in Tel Aviv, which is bananas considering how expensive it is. And just like cigarettes, people smoke it in bars and nightclubs like it’s going out of style (it isn’t).
5. Buses are a (plentiful) joke.
Although there are lots of buses that go pretty much anywhere, traffic in Tel Aviv means that a 30-minute ride can jump to 60 in the middle of the day. This can be infuriating when you realize that you can walk the length of the inner city in about that time. Another challenge is that there are no maps at any of the bus stops, so picking the right alternative if your bus doesn’t show up might require badgering someone (who will give you directions even if they don’t know themselves). If you are in a rush, consider downloading Gettaxi or Moovit, which many locals use. There are also the Sherut, or minibuses, that go a lot faster for a few more shekels.
6. Electric bicycles might kill you.
Because of the nuisances of owning a car in a city that is actively trying to get people to use public transit and bike more, lots of folks are switching to these handy half-way points. Problem is that these little bastards can go up to 30 MPH and will obey whatever lane laws they choose — be they for bikes or cars. This led to a new ticketing crackdown last spring to the rising number of collisions. Still, if you can’t afford a car and are sick of standing still in a cramped bus for two hours everyday, an electric bike is the way to go.
7. There are four phases of youth in Tel Aviv.
First, the army phase, which starts at 18 and typically ends around 21-22. Most Israelis still live at home during this time, but will come to Tel Aviv on the weekends to go clubbing or to go to the beach. Second, the India phase, where the hordes of army graduates travel Southeast Asia for up to a year (and yes, hordes. There are literally signs in Hebrew as far as Thailand because of the sheer number of Israeli travellers). Third, the broke-ass artist/techie/bartender/intern/birthright guide who just got back from Asia and is still waiting for the army paycheck to arrive (there are 25+ bars just so this crowd doesn’t have to listen to 22-year olds talk about their plans for India). Lastly, the student crowd. It is far from unusual to start college at 26 in Israel, and some would just as soon move to Berlin so they don’t have to listen to their parents rag them about it anymore. They are also debating having their own start up or opening a dive bar in Florentin or Yafo.
8. Those are not the strip clubs you are looking for.
Allenby is the Sunset Strip or Bowery of Tel Aviv, meaning it has dive bars, nightclubs, late-night eats and a handful of notorious strip clubs. Word around the campfire is that these clubs are owned by the mob, who do not the best bosses make, and accusations of human trafficking are common in a country with an estimated 15,000 female victims. So it is perhaps best to move along.
9. Hidden nightclubs are the only nightclubs.10. Tel Aviv is not Jerusalem.
Meaning that it is far more secular. So bare those shoulders ladies (and armpits, and calves and thighs and backs and stomachs and butts), because Tel Aviv’s sixteen beaches are full of in-shape Israelis who are not shy about showing skin. Be aware of which beach you are on, however, because there are certain religious beaches that require gender segregation.
11. Tel Aviv is also NOT the settlements.
This is important to note because, like everywhere else, Israel has diverse opinions about Palestine. Being in the liberal capital of the country means it is not hard to find someone who will criticize the increasingly right-wing government. Since everybody was in the army, it also means that you will get first hand accounts of life on the other side of the Green Line. Because openness and curiosity are a huge part of Israeli culture, and nobody will hold back from interrogating you about what you are doing in Israel, feel free to ask questions of your own. You might get answers that surprise you.