JERUSALEM -- The Israeli telephone company, Bezeq, has decided that Israelis need to be more polite on the phone.
Lack of basic courtesy has become a problem, the company says, especially with a rapid proliferation of cellular phones and an Israeli tendency to carry -- and scream into -- them everywhere.
When it discovered people gabbing away at graveside during funerals, Bezeq sensed that the trend had gone too far.
"The rabbi's saying the prayers, and here's this fellow talking on the phone!" said Baruch Dagon, the company's advertising manager.
So with the latest mailing of bills to its 1.8 million customers, Bezeq went on a courtesy offensive.
It included a brightly colored pamphlet filled with illustrations and tips on "communications etiquette."
Turn off portable phones at funerals and concerts. Don't scream "Who's this?" into the phone when you are the one who dialed.
Don't play back messages on the answering machine at deafening volume.
Much of this may seem like common-sense advice, but for some Israelis it entails radical changes in behavior. And Bezeq did not even touch on one of the more common exchanges in this country:
"Hello," says the person answering the phone.
"No, I'm sorry, I think you've made a mist--" SLAM!
That is the caller putting the receiver back in the cradle.
As the Bezeq campaign suggests, Israelis seem increasingly to be aware that they should start altering their ways.
Business leaders and diplomats, in particular, recognize that Israeli manners are considered an oxymoron by many foreigners, and before venturing overseas some turn to consultants like Varda Shilo, whose forte is "image development and business etiquette."
Ms. Shilo's clients include major companies, the army and the foreign ministry, all clamoring for instruction in social graces usually taken for granted in the West.
This is, after all, a country where "thank you" usually does not grace the lips of store clerks as they take your money and where they bluntly declare your opinion to be stupid.
Then again, Israelis are often mystified why Americans will not discuss their salaries, yet will rattle on in public about the most intimate details of their sex lives on television talk shows.