I will write a more serious blog shortly about the current events unfolding in Israel, and how they affect one’s everyday life (yesterday in a parking garage there was a big, black, unaccounted for backpack and, without speaking, everyone began shying away from it and calling the authorities). But for today, I would like to tell a funnier tale.
All of the grocery stores are closed today because of shabbat, but unfortunately — and characteristically — the only thing I have on my shelf in the refrigerator is wilted lettuce and hummus. So I went down the road to the AM PM, which is open 24/7, and sucked it up for the $9 box of cereal (Tel Aviv is already pretty pricy, and even more expensive if you go to one of the handful of places open on shabbat).
When I got home, after opening the outer cardboard layer, I found that the plastic packaging was wide open and there were hundreds of little ants crawling all over everything. Disgusted, I grabbed the cereal and walked purposefully back to the store, a rather annoyed look on my face, most likely.
At the store, I explained that I had picked up the box about an hour before, and showed the cereal to the new attendant to demonstrate the problem.
“Yes,” she said with disgust, “take another.” After grabbing a box of the same type, I realized that shabbat was nearly over and I had no idea whether this carton was also infested, so for two reasons I may as well just wait and pick up a more moderately priced box at the grocery store.
I return to the attendant cereal-less and say, “You know, I think I’d just like my money back,” to which she resolutely responds “no.”
“No?” I counter, “lama (why)”?
She explains that she wasn’t there when I bought it, so she won’t give me a refund. She struts over to the cereals and grabs the same type that I bought, ripping it open with a flourish. She makes a small face and I lean over, somewhat gratified to see that there are ants all over the inside of this one as well, thinking I had proven my point and surely now she would give me my refund.
Unfortunately, she just took out the plastic part and began banging the cardboard box on a shelf, sending ants flying in all directions. When she felt she had sufficiently removed most of them, she shoved the cereal back in the box and thrust it at me. “An open box of cereal full of ants is not worth 40 shekels” I say, appalled, “lo.”
We then engage in an Israeli yelling match, which I conclude by saying: “Listen- call the lady who was here an hour ago. I’m a blond American. She’ll remember me.” So she calls the lady and yells at her, arguing against the return of my money, then hangs up and slams my money on the counter, not penny more.
In America, the attendant would have been horrified, reimbursing me immediately and probably telling me to take something else in the store as a recompense for my trouble and disgust. In Israel, I had an ant-infested box of cereal shaken out and thrust at me — good enough for her, good enough for me. But it is not out of any anti-American, anti-blond sentiment — she’d treat me the same way if I were Israeli.
When I walked out of the store, a young man who had seen that I was American nodded and said in English with a smile, “Have a good day.”
It’s a very interesting culture, partially abrasive and partially uber friendly. It certainly makes for great stories.