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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Method to their madness

When we first moved to Israel I knew that if I ever needed a good laugh, all I had to do was watch a typical Israeli trying to pull an electrical plug out of a wall outlet. You see, without exception, if someone has lived here for any significant length of time, they will ALWAYS brace their thumb and forefinger against the wall outlet before pulling out the plug.

I used to ask myself what the heck they expected to happen... that the outlet would come away with the plug???

Well, yes... it turns out that's exactly what they expect to happen. And with good reason.

You see, unlike in the rest of the civilized world where electrical outlets and light fixtures are attached to studs, joists or other solid building members, here in Israel they can (and often are) attached only to the surrounding plasterboard (gevess in Hebrew). This wouldn't be so bad if Israeli gevess were as solid as its foreign equivalent. But it's not.

Israeli gevess is only slightly stronger than the paint that covers it... and a person can easily put a dent in it by simply rapping their knuckles against it sharply. This presents all kinds of challenges when hanging things like artwork on the walls because anything of significant weight hanging from a single nail will tear a trench in your wall and leave you to find a smashed picture frame when you come home from work one day.

When we first moved into our home, Zahava and I went to Ikea and bought all kinds of handy things to mount on our walls such as coat hooks, towel racks and shelf units. Needless to say not one of them lasted more than a day under the weight of a coat, towel or book. The incredible part is that good quality, American/European-quality plasterboard exists here. But because it is significantly more expensive, almost nobody uses it when building houses.

Last night when Zahava got home from some errands she came downstairs and mentioned conversationally that something in the living-room smelled like it was burning. You can imagine this got my attention, so I ran upstairs and, sure enough, one of the outlets into which a space heater was plugged (actually it was plugged into an outlet splitter... one of those things that makes a single outlet into two) was hot to the touch and visibly smoking.

My first instinct was to just pull out the plug, but when I checked more closely I realized that it was the outlet splitter that was hot and smoking, not the outlet itself. So being a typical foreigner I grabbed the whole thing, and without bracing my thumb and forefinger against the outlet, proceeded to yank splitter out of the wall.

Needless to say, the entire outlet began sliding out of the wall and I was rewarded with a loud 'POP' accompanied by a flash light and a trickle of acrid smoke from one of the outlet holes as the splitter finally came free.

When I reached our electrician at home (yes, I have his home and cell phone number!) he asked a few intelligent questions about how things stood and told me he'd come by in the morning to replace the outlet. He told me that if the outlet itself had continued to smoke or sizzle he would have instructed me to turn off the breaker and he would have come right over to deal with it... but I'd been lucky.

The lesson we learn from this, boys and girls, is never, NEVER make fun of Israelis when you see them bracing their thumbs and forefingers against wall outlets before removing electrical plugs. Trust me... there is method to their madness.

Posted by David Bogner on January 29, 2008 | Permalink


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Hey, you do Shakespeare? ;)

Know what... I do this even here. Not matter what. And we build houses from bricks, not wood and plaster. :-)

Posted by: a. | Jan 29, 2008 1:42:09 PM

Remember boys and girls, electricity is dangerous!

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Jan 29, 2008 2:38:28 PM

Glad you weren't electrocuted.

I must be a natural, I've been doing the thumb and forefinger brace since we moved here. All our outlets seem to be loosish. I just thought it was this apartment, but I guess it's the country :)

Posted by: Baila | Jan 29, 2008 2:44:13 PM

The thought going through my mind: Israeli walls are flimsier than Ikea furnishings? Sheesh!

Don't get me wrong; I love me my Pax wardrobes and my Billy & Expedit bookcases, and if we ever hire a Swedish au pair (although I seem to recall the expression "over my dead body" being used in conjunction with that concept from The Lovely Wife[tm]), she'll apparently feel right at home. Still pretty frightening...

Posted by: efrex | Jan 29, 2008 3:44:29 PM

david david...you plugged a space heater into a splitter?!

Posted by: weese | Jan 29, 2008 3:47:47 PM

Weese has it right. DO NOT use a splitter for anything that takes more than 1 KV (that's 5 Amps for those who haven't gotten used to 220V). A space heater wil be 2-3 times that.

Posted by: asher | Jan 29, 2008 4:19:16 PM

In our house, inexplicably, all of the prong openings in the outlets are about 1mm too wide, so that any plug slides right back out unless I bend the prongs a little into a "y" formation. It's like all the outlets were ordered from another planet; one about 1mm larger in all dimensions from ours. Maybe they put in the best bid; I dunno. It's my own little slice of Twilight Zone.

It's enough to make me forget I'm living in the US.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jan 29, 2008 4:38:15 PM

This presents all kinds of challenges when hanging things like artwork on the walls because anything of significant weight hanging from a single nail will tear a trench in your wall

I can imagine all sorts of great stories of the wall and teen angst coming from this situation.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 29, 2008 5:27:37 PM

Ditto to Weese. Those splitters should only be used for low-voltage things. Thank G-d you are OK.

Posted by: SaraK | Jan 29, 2008 6:12:03 PM

1. Oy. I'd better go home and unplug the space heater from the splitter . . .

2. Regarding wall hangings, they make special hooks for plaster walls, which have several little "needles" that you hammer in, instead of a single nail. Won't crack the plaster. You can get them in different sizes at Home Center or your friendly neighborhood hardware store.

Posted by: Sarah | Jan 29, 2008 7:45:22 PM

excellent. its amazing what you forget is weird after living here for any substantial amount of time... i feel like i'm on another planet when i'm in america now

Posted by: tmeishar | Jan 30, 2008 1:34:51 AM

excellent. its amazing what you forget is weird after living here for any substantial amount of time... i feel like i'm on another planet when i'm in america now

Posted by: tmeishar | Jan 30, 2008 1:35:28 AM

Ok, everybody, please don't broadcast this, but there's a room at the Dan Panorama (I won't say which Dan Panorama)that has a burned out outlet because in my innocent (ok, naive, stupid) American mind I thought that if I just switch my hairdryer over to Israeli wattage and use an adaptor, I could use my hair dryer in my hotel room. Smoke. Burning smell. sparks. You get the picture. I have sinced solved the dilemma by buying a small hair dryer for use in Europe and Israel. PLEASE don't tell the Dan people.

Posted by: Marsha G in Stamford | Jan 30, 2008 6:28:14 AM

PS...Yoni and Elana had a boy this afternoon!

Posted by: Marsha G in Stamford | Jan 30, 2008 6:29:07 AM

Note to SaraK - I hope you realise the difference between low-voltage (you wrote) and low-wattage (what I assume you meant). It’s not semantics, it’s important.

Note to everyone - Remember that the most energy-efficient way to heat a home is by using the A/C on “heat”. That is all right as long as the ambient temperature around the outdoor unit is sufficient, may well be a problem in Efrat, but in my neck of the periphery it still works.

Posted by: asher | Jan 30, 2008 9:54:02 AM

Marsha G in Stamford: I don't have your email address -- are you here NOW? WE WANT TO SEE YOU! :-)

Posted by: zahava | Jan 30, 2008 10:58:28 AM

1. Israeli plasterboard is not thinner or flimsier than international standards. You can get the same thickness in the US - it's just used as backer board for tile work, not to build walls!

2. In addition to the special picture hooks with needles (very accurate description) - there are special "DIB-ellim" (insert plugs) for fastening things to flimsy plaster/plasterboard walls. Unlike the straight plugs, these have a sort of "butterfly" shape that opens up on the hidden side of the plasterboard. This compresses the plasterboard as you tighten the screw.

Something similar is available in metal for really heavy duty - like hanging things on cinder block. A spring loaded 2 piece thingie is pushed in the hole, and it springs open once its in the cavity.

3. None of this answers the question - why are Israeli plugs and sockets made out of such crappy plastic that the smolder when running many appliances?

4. As bad as plasterboard is - walls of regular "ti'ach" (old-style plasterwork over block/cast walls) have many more serious problems. Details upon request.

5. Plasterboard is still stronger than styrofoam - as those of us in "Lego" houses can attest (walls are formed of hollow styrofoam "lego" pieces that fit together and are filled with concrete). We have had to move some things - or use very long screws - because we were hitting Deep Foam.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jan 30, 2008 1:41:31 PM

Marsha G, can be reached at [email protected] and will be in Israel on February 13th!!!! You can pick me up at the airport if you'd like, but write and lets make plans! Eli will be there too, with his class!

Posted by: Marsha G in Stamford | Jan 30, 2008 3:41:55 PM

Wow, I like the just yank it out of the wall method. I'm too lazy to bend all the way over and carefully pull out a plug.

Interesting to hear about life in Isreal, thanks

Posted by: Sister Sassy | Jan 30, 2008 6:38:46 PM

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