Monday, July 13, 2009

Grocery Shopping in Israel:
Experiencing the 10 items or "more" line

By Lori Miller

What is it about holidays that makes one so homesick? I am currently living in America where I was born and raised. Having spent a number of years in Israel, I frequently find myself homesick and missing the craziness of life in Israel. Over the recent July 4th holiday it hit me again. I know, I know…July 4th is America’s Independence Day so why am I homesick for Israel on an American holiday? I think it happened when I was standing in a very orderly checkout line at one of our giant American supermarkets.
I remembered back to my pre-holiday grocery shopping in Israel and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Life in Israel is at times very harsh, and yet there is so much passion and vibrancy in the culture. Standing in that checkout line, surrounded by self-absorbed and yet oh-so-polite Americans, I allowed my mind to wander back to one of the many wonderful, frustrating, hilarious, irritating and always entertaining experiences at my local “makolet” in Jerusalem. I documented one such experience. Those of you who have had the pleasure of living in Israel may be able to identify.

It was a Friday morning and after enjoying a four mile run with a friend I decided to stop at the local grocery store to pick up some good ‘ole Coca-Cola. One simply can’t be without Coke on a holiday weekend. The place was a madhouse as is typical on a Friday and for sure on a pre-holiday Friday. I got my Coke and proceeded to the “10 items or less” cashier. Now the “10 items or less” line at supermarkets (I use the term ‘supermarket’ very loosely) in Israel is just like every other law in Israel. It is merely a suggestion. Laws…any laws…are meant to be obeyed when it is convenient for one to do so. When it doesn’t fit into one’s schedule, these same laws can be either ignored or debated vehemently with the enforcing authority.

So the “10 items” line was long. Again, I use the term ‘line’ very loosely. It was more like an American football huddle…a mass of people all bunched together and jostling for position. (I'm all about football huddles...I just prefer them on the football field and not at the checkout line in the supermarket). I managed to determine who was last in “line” and planted myself firmly behind him. In the ten minutes that I waited in “line”, I can’t even tell you how many times my personal space was invaded. Now my definition of personal space has changed drastically in the past several years. When I moved to Israel, I would have told you that anyone coming within two feet of me was invading my personal space. That’s been cut back to about 2 inches. Keep in mind that I was on my way home from a run on a hot Jerusalem morning. This did not seem to be a deterrent. Every time another person bumped into me, I wanted to shout “Personal space, people, personal space!!!” but I refrained.

The man behind me had a cart full of items, well over the 10 items permitted. But this is Israel so, by all means, pull up to the “10 items” line with your cart full…why not? Because of people like him, those of us trying to merely purchase a bottle of Coca-Cola get to stand in line for 10 minutes while being accosted by the gazillion others in this huddle who are all jockeying for position. No lie.

After a few minutes, this guy remembered that he needed tomatoes. So he trots off (pushing me aside in the process) to get his bag of tomatoes. He comes back (pushing me aside in the process) only to trot away again (pushing me aside in the process) to get the cucumbers. Of course, one must have cucumbers to go with one’s tomatoes. The last time, and only the last time, did he manage to miss bumping into me. Then he proceeded to get into a discussion with the lady next to him in the “line” about whether he was behind me or whether she was. Loud shouting and aggressive hand gesturing ensued. I did not step in to clarify because in Israel, these things always work themselves out without bodily harm to anyone. Ok, and I was entertained. Just when I thought it was going to get really out of control, the lady remembered that she was, in fact, after him and not before him in this huddle/line. Smiles all around. Crisis averted. Whew.

So then the guy in front of me gets a call on his cell phone right when it’s his turn to pay. He manages to juggle paying and talking on his cell phone (yes…a man who can multi-task…impressive). But after he’s all paid up, he still needs to bag his groceries. This is something that he should have been doing while the cashier was ringing him up, but judging by the raised voice and the hand gesturing, his argument with the person on the other end of his mobile was of greater importance than expediency in a grocery line. So now, he and I are both trying to bag our groceries at the same time. He gets done just before I do and starts to walk off, forgetting his potatoes. So I grab him and remind him about his potatoes. He smiles a bit sheepishly and thanks me.

I gather my bags, finally finished with this rather traumatic Coke buying experience. I walk outside and exchange a pleasant “Shabbat Shalom” with the security guard and I walk on home. I should be completely frustrated and annoyed with the whole scenario but I find that I don’t have the energy. So I just smile thinking “I do so love this country”. Not that I would be opposed to a nice big Kroger, Giant Eagle or Publix on my street. A Kroger with large enough aisles to avoid the football huddle experience. A Kroger where the people actually line up in a line. A Kroger where 10 items or less means 10 items or less. But then again, if everything was orderly, lined up, and clear about who belongs where in the line, what would we have to argue about while we pass the time?

1 comment:

  1. I cannot tell you the intense longing for the Land I experienced while reading this article!! It was like being air-lifted back to the makolet on Emek Refa'im! Thanks for sharing, Lori!! And..Shabbat Shalom.