My British Grandmother


My maternal grandmother was British. Born in the Shoreditch area of London, Fay came to Canada in her teens; she maintained her British accent until her death.

All my friends called their grandmothers by the name Grandma or Buba (Yiddish) , but I called my grandmother Nana Fay.

Fay lived in Montreal for over 85 years and never learnt one word of French. And it’s not that she did not try. “I have a tin ear (eyah) for languages”, she claimed. However, once I dropped by a toy shop where she was working as a sales clerk. “Touchez-pas” she was saying to a few kids who were feeling out the merchandise. For years and years after, I used to ask her what does “touchez pas” mean in English, and we would both laugh.

Fay was also a dental assistant for Dr Vosberg. Then she owned a dress shop  named “Moleen’s” on Queen Mary Road in Montreal. A massive theft shut Moleens’s down and my grandmother was heartbroken and financially  busted. But she survived.

I heard my father say once that his mother-in-law Fay was a “tough old bird”. I asked Nana Fay if she considered herself as such and she said, “I guess you can say so, but not as far (fah) as you are concerned”.

As she got older, Nana Fay had a craving for sugar and it was a family chore to make sure that she did not have access to chocolate because of her diabetes.  I used to smuggle her cubes of chocolate and Nana Fay used to say “this is just OUR little secret, isn’t it boychik”. I was about 10 years old at the time.

This was not the only secret I had with my grandmother. When I was studying at McGill, I dropped by my grandmothers for “tea”. After she poured me the tea and gave me some of her home made cookies , she said “if you ever smoke pot, or whatever it’s called, I wouldn’t mind trying the stuff myself.” And so we did. Another little secret.

Nana Fay and I joked a lot. I used to ask her how to convert Canadian dollars into British currency and she would go through a long explanation, doing calculations in her head and getting it all wrong….”did you say 2 dollars into pounds or 2 pounds into dollars”?

My grandfather who trained his famous boxer-brother was  also a Brit. He died when I was young.

Thereafter, my grandmother remarried. Her second husband was divorced so married  in the States to avoid any hassle with the then very conservative Quebec government. Quebec did not recognize “divorced status”. At her wedding,  Nana Fay took me aside and, like a character from a John Irving novel, told me, “I certainly did not attend my grandmother’s wedding. You are a lucky boychik, you are”.

 She read me lots of children’s stories from the old country, and our favourite poem was “Albert and the Lion”, which she must have read me two thousand times. So, for those who ask me where the Ramsbottom name comes from in my satiric Gloria blog…….

I left for Israel in 1970. Before my departure Nana Fay told me that “I left England as a young girl and broke my parents hearts God bless them, so who am I to tell you how to live your life, boychik”.

My grandmother had a stiff upper lip and demanded it from me. Fay loved gardening; so do I. Fay was a real character. I appear to be one as well.

We loved each other very much, stiff upper lip and all.





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The survivor mentality in Israeli organizational behaviour

For many reasons which are beyond the scope of this post, Israel and Israelis tend to have a survivor mind set which manifests itself in various domains such as internal politics, policy making and external affairs.

In this post, I will relate to the ways that the survivor mentality manifests itself in organizational behaviour, which is the domain of this blog.

Since there is a lot of deviation within any given population vis a vis specific behaviours, not every Israeli or Israeli organization will display these characteristics.

However I am dealing here with generalizations which are frequent enough to merit mention.

  • Emotional (life is a struggle)
  • Insider-outsider dynamic,or us or against us (friend or enemy?)
  • Paranoid about other’s hidden agendas (can you be trusted?)
  • Fast and responsive (matter of life and death)
  • Lots of argument about minute points; trees are as important as forests; not expedient (it is all about principle, not priority)
  • High level of involvement and commitment (it’s a war)
  • Very pragmatic and action orienteddo anything that works; hands on (shoot, don’t talk)
  • Extremely adverse to planning, preference to improvisation (hush hush about intentions)
  • Points of agreement constantly re-opened and negotiated (win, not win win)
  • Entertainment of parallel strategies all the time; not consistent (one upsmanship)
  • Speed as strategy ; build first and scale later, sloppy (slow and steady looses)
  • Challenge authority constantly but highly loyal in the crunch (commando)

So, what are the keys to being effective when you work with Israelis? The answer is a post in and of itself so I will leave you with 5 tips in the meantime.

  1. Talking on the phone is more effective than email.
  2. Be strong and negotiate all the time.
  3. Avoid expediency which is seen as a near fatal weakness.
  4. Don’t try to buy performance (Your bonus depends on this.)
  5. Discuss underlying trust issues openly. Israel ain’t Japan and the more open you are, the better.

This post is dedicated to my 4th grand daughter Rona, a 5th generation Israeli, born at 9 am this morning after a prolonged 8 minute labour! Speed as strategy.


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Ambiguity, anxiety and changing-the role of the consultant

Organizational changing involves periods of ambiguity, during which it may not be clear what needs to be done and/or how to implement the changing.

When consultants are brought in, they often bring along process, trust-enhancement between divergent functions, and tools for bottom up involvement. Sometimes they work tailor made, and too often they use pre-packaged crappy tools with apparent effectiveness only.

In my consulting experience, I have found that I have created the most value for my clients by focusing on their basic assumptions about the ambiguity and the anxiety encountered in the changing process.

Here are several issues that my clients and I discuss. Introspecting working through these issues, they have reported a feeling of more competence in dealing with changing.

  • Which parameters are ambiguous? Which are not? Do we need a reality check?
  • What threat does the ambiguity create for me as a leader? What is my knee jerk reaction to ambiguity and anxiety? How effective has this been?
  • How does my anxiety about the ambiguity impact my assumptions about what is expected from me as well as what I expect from others?
  • How much tolerance for ambiguity is needed? How much is expected from me? How do I bridge the gap?

Here are five examples of how leaders have benefited from these discussions.

  • Ed’s level of anxiety is very low. And he has a huge tolerance for prolonged ambiguity. Often his troops believe he is lost, albeit that this is not the case at all.
  • Smadar is very practical and fast moving. She has little tolerance for “too much definition”. At first, she saw her style as very adaptive to changing but ex post facto, lots of change she has led have failed.
  • Vlad assumed that ambiguity needs to be as short as possible and anxiety can be mitigated by appearing to be strong. He has often been pushed aside by senior management during complex changes.
  • Ngai Lam’s belief is that a leader needs to protect her team from the unknown. She is very much respected by local employees but her remote staff believes she lacks the credibility to manage change.

OD’s major value is not extricating leadership from the unknown. The bang for the buck from OD is exploring with clients the parameters of the unknown and its implication on anxiety and leadership.

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