Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Aliyah memories: “But in America…”

NOTE: Although I try to keep this blog politics-free, I couldn’t let Election Day in the States go by completely unacknowledged, and so hence a post with the word “America” in the title.

Even before s/he arrives in Israel, every new oleh is strictly cautioned against committing that most dreaded of cultural faux pas - using the phrase, “But in America, they do X.

Israelis hate this phrase, the oleh is told; they find it to be very offensive. It makes you sound stuck-up and superior, the oleh is clearly enjoined. If you attempt to use it, the oleh is warned, Israelis will respond by saying, “Then go back to America!”

Like any good oleh, I got the message. From day one, I was determined to refrain from [vocally] comparing the Israeli way of doing things with the American way. I had memorized the party line: “The two cultures are different; one is not better than the other.”

And, indeed, most of the time, I obeyed this sacrosanct unwritten law.

But, את חטאי אני מזכיר היום – true confession time: There was one time when I deliberately and intentionally used this phrase.

::Hangs head in shame::

In a moment of weakness and against my better judgment, I had let the nurse at Tipat Chalav (the well-baby clinic) convince me to take one of the kids to a dietitian. The nurse felt that TBIQ (the baby in question) wasn’t gaining enough weight and that the dietitian would give me some useful suggestions.

As soon as I met the dietitian, however, I was sorry that I had listened to the nurse. First of all, the dietitian was herself very, very thin – too thin, it seemed to me, to be talking about fattening babies up. Second (and most significantly), she was completely clueless about nursing and wanted me to cut back. And finally, she kept suggesting the most inane ideas.

For example, she insisted that I put unprocessed tehina paste into TBIQ’s vegetables to add calories. (Result: TBIQ stopped eating vegetables.) Also, she wanted me to melt butter into TBIQ’s baby cereal. (Result: None, because I ignored this suggestion.)

But the final straw came when she told me to feed TBIQ a certain type of high-calorie artificially-flavored and -sweetened pudding instead of yogurt. She told me that the pudding came in two flavors: banana and strawberry.

By that point, I couldn’t take any more of her ridiculous suggestions, and so I lightly replied, “Oh? Really? Because don’t doctors in America recommend that babies under 12 months not be given strawberries, because of potential allergies?”

She obviously had no idea what I was talking about, because she just mumbled an incoherent response. The appointment ended soon after that, and she didn’t even try to convince me to return for a follow-up appointment.

And I went home and felt incredibly guilty that I had knowingly and willfully transgressed the Oleh Code of Conduct…


Hat tip: Leora, who explained the difference between dietitians and nutritionists.


  1. I will link to this post sometime later this week.

    Suggestion for one of those future times anyone has to deal with nutty Israeli dietitians, there are plenty in America who aren't so smart too. I think you should of just left out the "in America" part and walked right out. Or do you have the same problem we have here of 'it's in network', so that's what you get? Sigh. We do have the same problem here, one size fits all health care. Though this dietitian sounded exceptionally ignorant.

  2. I think the dietitian's main problem was that she was very young and particularly inexperienced.

    However, to be perfectly fair, our kupah (health fund) has a fairly extensive list of doctors, specialists, and assorted therapists. If I had thought that going to another dietitian would've helped, I certainly could have asked around for recommendations. Instead, I decided to continue trusting my own instincts. After all, this wasn't exactly my first baby B"AH...

  3. Sounds like maternal instincts took good care of you and baby!

    I'm working on my own post on this topic, with a piece of your post as the entry.

  4. I'm looking forward to reading your post!

  5. This is kind of common, unfortunately - there are two kinds of babies in Israel: too fat or too thin.

    My personal opinion is that if your baby looks healthy, they probably are.

    I go to a pediatrician who is British and studied some complementary medicine. When I told him that tipat chalav had said my baby was overweight, he basically said not to worry - just keep feeding her healthy food and everything will work out.

    If your baby's body looks thin, otoh, there are things you can do to help, including putting canola oil on veggies, giving the child yellow cheese, and feeding dark meat chicken or red meat frequently.

    The only reason bottle-fed babies tend to gain more quickly than breastfed is because it's easier to drink from a bottle.

    If your baby isn't eating well from the breast, you might want to express sometimes and feed it from a bottle - breastmilk has more calories ounce per ounce than formula, so it's better (even discounting all the other advantages)

  6. TrilCat - Welcome to this blog.

    there are two kinds of babies in Israel: too fat or too thin.
    This is a great line!

    Fortunately, although we were still fairly new olim back when this incident occurred, TBIQ (the baby in question)- who B"AH is definitely not a baby any more! - is not my oldest, and so I didn't get too intimidated by the Tipat Chalav nurse.

  7. Those Tipat Chalave nurses are missing some basic math. "Average" means that half are above and half are below.

    Trust your instincts and your baby's. The most important thing to teach your kids is to know when they have had enough.

  8. Trust your instincts and your baby's.
    I think this is very important advice for new - and even not so new - mothers.


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