Updated: Oct 21, 2021
A few weeks back, I shared with you a grocery store story. When you go to the store in Israel, you return home and arrive with more than groceries—you have two or three stories to tell as well. Quite often, they are humorous.
You might remember this one…I was in the 10-item line with about five other people. In front of us was a guy with a basket full of items. Does this ever happen in other countries? As an Israeli, it was my duty to confront him. Israelis are not afraid to confront other Israelis. No one pulls out a gun. But as a “reporter,” I felt a higher duty to let it just play out. So, I did.
Soon, other patrons began to confront him. He explained that he didn’t feel like waiting in the other lines because they were long. Of course, the people in line preceded to explain to him the whole purpose of the kupu mehira (express line). Finally, with the shame reserved for a conquered foe, he slinked over to a normal line…and waited.
It’s funny how we are so quick to judge, and then we do the same thing…Well, not exactly the same thing. I was doing some last-minute pre-Shabbat shopping for Elana. I’m not sure how many items I had in my basket, but I knew it was close to the limit, maybe one or two over. But part of being Israeli means absolutely getting into the express line with 12 items. Only a fryer (see Week 9) would go to a regular line.
But a true Israeli will also confront somebody with 12 items in the express line. And a lady called me out. She told me I was in the wrong line. I acted innocent. “No, I am not!” I was pretty sure I had 12 items, but I boldly counted them one by one as if I knew I had 10. To my great shock and delight, I had exactly 10 items.
But the best part of the story is that she looked at me and laughed and said Shabbat shalom. In other words, nobody was going to be offended. It was all in good fun.
When I first arrived in Israel, I had a hard time navigating my grocery cart. All four wheels turn, whereas, in the US, it’s just the front two wheels. Believe me, it is much easier to navigate with only two wheels turning. I was running into shelves left and right. Israel’s Memorial Day ends at 8 PM, and then Independence Day begins. Because Memorial Day is very somber, I woke up early to go to the grocery store to get what we needed for Independence Day. Apparently, half the country had the same idea. Between the fact that the grocery store was super crowded, and I could not navigate for turning wheels, I became a hazard!
Some Israelis try to beat the system. They’ll take a grocery cart and put it in line. And then they were run back-and-forth putting groceries in the basket. So, when they are done, it is their turn. Now I want to be clear, we are speaking about very few Israelis who would do such a thing. But growing up in America, I don’t know anybody who would do such a thing. It’s simply part of the aggressive Israeli psyche.
Of course, part of my aggressive Israeli psyche is to move such a cart out of the way if it is in front of me. When the owner of said cart returned, I explained that such behavior is unacceptable…of course, that is only until I might need to employ such a maneuver. I’m not saying I’m proud of my behavior; I am saying that when you move to a new country in a new culture, it takes time to find your way. It is sometimes very difficult to know exactly where the borders of acceptable behavior end. For the native, it is second nature. But for an immigrant trying to fit in, you sometimes cross the line.
Israelis can also be very charitable in the grocery line. If someone in front of me has 10 to 20 items, and I just have two, most Israelis would tell you to go before them.
Folks are known to take home grocery carts. Most apartment buildings have two or three grocery carts that are stored somewhere on the bottom level. When you get home from the grocery store, you grab one to get all your groceries up to your apartment. Most of the tenants are quick to return them.
The grocery stores were not big fans of such a procedure. So, you had to start inserting a 10- shekel coin into a slot in order to get a grocery cart. Banks started handing out special promotional items that had a round figure at the end, the same size of the 10-shekel. And that way, as long as you had your keychain, you could get a grocery cart. You could also use the round part of a key. The downside of that is that there was the sharp side of the key stabbing you if you got close.
As I said earlier, what I loved about going to the grocery store back when we first moved to Israel, was that when I arrived home, I always had so much more than groceries.