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The Israeli Grocery Store Experience

100 Things I Love About Living in Israel 004

When Israelis ask me why I love living here, I often share this anecdote with them. It is about going to the grocery store. It seems logical that being privileged to live in the restored nation of Israel would lead to stories about love for the people, the Sea of Galilee, future revival or Second Coming on the Mount of Olive, and, indeed, those things stir my soul. But the truth is that I can sum up how much I love living here just by explaining my trips to the grocery store!

When I go to the grocery store in America or other countries, l come home with stuff; you know, food, toilet paper, etc. But when I go to the grocery store in Israel, I come home (not only with stuff) with stories of the interesting characters I met at the supermarket or what outrageous thing happened while I was there. 

The Express Line

Israelis seem to think that rules are merely suggestions. One time, in Jerusalem, I was buying groceries. The store was full, and those of us fortunate enough to have 10 items or less were in the express line. However, the fellow in front of me had at least 60 items.Because I had become more and more Israeli in my several years of living in the Holy Land, I would have had no problem telling him to get in a different line. (By the way, Israelis are direct, but not rude.) But what fun would that be?

Instead, I put on my “reporter’s hat”and just watched. Within 30 seconds, someone asked him what he was doing in the express line. “Buying groceries,” he said. “Yes, but you have more than 10 items—way more than 10 items,” came the immediate response.

“Yes, I know, but the other lines are really long.”

“Yes, friend, that is the point—you wait longer if you have a lot of groceries. The express line is specifically for those who don’t have a lot of groceries or it would cease to be the express line, now wouldn’t it?”

Okay, maybe the reply wasn’t exactly like that—it was 10 years ago!

He ignored the concerned customer and put his head down as if he had a cloak of invisibility. I continued to watch, knowing the story would get even better. 

“Yeah, you can’t be here,” said another customer. And then a few more began to speak forcefully to him. Indeed, this was a great injustice! Finally, I could not resist and explained to him that he really must move to another line. Finally, in utter defeat, and with more than a bit of anger, he pushed his cart to another line. 

You see, the same Israeli-ut (Israeli-ness) that enabled him to think he could bring 60 items into the express line was the Israeli-ut that enabled others to demand that he move. In many US cities, if someone were obnoxious enough to do that, others would actually allow it (probably not in New York!), not wanting to confront him. For Israelis, though, confrontation in the grocery store is second nature. 

Sabbath and the Express Line

About a year later, just before the Sabbath, I found myself in the express line in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv, where we were living. Ra’anana is an upscale city, full of Anglos—not near as aggressive as other more Middle-eastern cities. As I was checking out, a woman said to me quite aggressively, “You have more than 10 items!” as if having 11 or 12 items was some great tragedy. This was “square” Anglo coming out; as for most Israelis having eight items is the same as having thirteen. 

“No, I don’t!” I responded. Truth be told – I was not sure if I had nine or twelve items. Like any good Israeli, I wasn’t going to go to the normal line if I had just three more than the limit!

“Yes, you do!” She growled. It was on!

“One, two, three…” I began to count. To my great delight, I had exactly 10 items. Suddenly her growl turned to a polite grin and she made a joke. I was so happy that I was not over 10, that I made a joke in response. “Shabbat shalom,” she said, as I paid and left. “Shabbat Shalom,” I responded. Even though we can be brash, we move on quickly. One of the other things I love about living here!

Basketball Grocery Shopping

On another occasion, a woman parked her cart in the check out line. She then proceeded to run to pick up her items and then to back to the cart to drop them off, just in time to move her cart forward with the line. After a couple of times, someone (maybe me!) moved her cart out of the line. When she returned, she was incredulous! How could anyone dare do such a thing! We explained to her that that is not how you shop and even the cashier rebuked her. 

On more than one occasion I have been nudged in my butt by a cart. When I turned around, the cart driver was not concerned at all that his cart was touching my tush. Personal space is not a real thing here. And, because we are a melting pot nation, you meet all kinds of interesting people in the line—from U.S. basketball players who moved here to play in the Euro-League, to new olim(immigrants) from all over the world. I simply love it!

On the nice side, if you are in line and you have just one or two items, most Israelis will not hesitate to allow you to go before them—and they will initiate it. 

My point is that whenever you go out for any reason, there is a high probability that you will not accomplish your task, and a high probability that you will encounter Israelis in some humorous way. You may not get the toilet paper or butter that you went out to get, but you will have an entertaining story for your family. 

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Shalom from Israel! I am Ron Cantor and this is my blog. I serve as the President of Shelanu TV.

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