Understanding the Israeli term “shchuna”-as in “he/she’s a bit shchuna”

Nadia, a corporate lawyer, comes to work overdressed, as do many of her Russian-born colleages. Even the blazing heat of the summer, Nadia is “putting on the ritz”. She is not “shchuna”, because she is not from the shchuna, even if she is.

Shchuna can mean neighbourhood, but more often refers to the long blocks of two to four storey long blocks of housing with several entrances, often with no elevator, small apartments and functional mailboxes yet in a poor state of repair.

When Nadia’s parents came to Israel, she  lived in a shchuna (‘D’ in Beer Sheva) , but she is not shchuna. Not one bit. She has a very strong Russian accent, & perfect Hebrew grammar. She speaks to her kids in Russian, and they answer in Hebrew.

Rafi calls me “bro”. He is 27; I am 72. Rafi mixes up (almost purposely) masculine and feminine pronouns and numbers, although he is very, very well educated; his Hebrew is sloppy, masking his intelligence. He is almost uncomfortable in his milieu as a senior programmer in the cyber start-up where he works. Most of the  people  he worked with served in a elite group but Rafi served in the infantry. He has two visible tatoes. He wears two rings. All his peers admire him, “although he is a bit shchuna”. His mother was born in Romania, survived the camps; his father fled Algeria.

Sima works in Finance as an economist is the revenue-projection team. She uses the term “metuka sheli” (loosely translated as “sugar”) when speaking to her females colleages. Or “hamudi” (loosely translated as Cutey) when speaking to males. Her dressing is not provocative, but is certainly not conservative. The best way to describe her atire is loud. She befriends almost everyone, except her bosses towards whom she shows respect and hidden contempt. She could be promoted if she tried but ‘being in management is not in my league’. Sima comes from Dimona, a desert town. Her parents’  are both Dimona born and all 4 grandparents came different places: Morocco, Tunis, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Sima describes herself as shchuna, and is proud of it. But she isn’t. 

Hava was born in Israel and returned here at the age 15 after her parents returned from teaching at Columbia. She retains a slight American accent, especially with the letters R and L. She is a political activist in her spare time, deeply involved in trying to improve civil rights of illegal immigrants to Tel Aviv. She has a PhD in Philosophy. She does not have a pot to piss in, although she has a well paying job in City Hall. She wears jeans and a T shirt to work every day. She sprinkles her Hebrew with English and often gets confused between masculine and feminine grammar use. There is nothing shchuna about Hava. But Hava would be so glad to be seen as a bit ‘shchuna’. It would make her feel at home.

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