He beckoned me over with his pointer finger; saying something in Hebrew that I didn’t understand but assumed meant, “I want you to come here” or “look at me I’m doing finger exercises.”
I was at Shuk Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, one of the largest outdoor markets in Israel, where you can buy everything from iced coffee, to fresh produce, to baked goods, to more iced coffee because apparently you are addicted.
For the obvious reasons, the Shuk is one of my favorite places in Israel, it’s like a fly infested Costco. You can fill up on free samples, and for less than a dollar you can walk away with enough cucumbers to supply a small family or boutique spa for a year. And I’m talking about one that specializes in facials.
I was on a mission to get my third free sample of coffee flavored halva when the man at the produce stand called me over with his (now very muscular) finger.
Now I don’t normally respond to every man’s beck-and-call, but he was starting to shout and I had the feeling that this interaction might involve free fruit, so I walked over.
I had no idea what he said; so I did what I usually do when I don’t understand the language: nod my head vigorously in the affirmative and reach for the free fruit. This doesn’t work on the bus, but in the Shuk it normally has its desired effect.
But instead of giving me my Scooby Snack, the man held a nectarine over my head. It was clear that he either wanted me to speak or play dead and given all the flies around me, both choices were feasible.
“I don’t speak Hebrew,” I finally said after a good half minute of pretending not to breathe.
His eyes lit up with the realization that I spoke English. He was in complete control. He could now charge me whatever he wanted for fresh produce. Instead, however, he decided to take the opportunity to practice his English.
“What is you’re name?” He asked.
“Nicole,” I said.
“Nikol?” He asked. I nodded; I was not going to waste time correcting him.
“Where are you from?” he asked, wondering if I was lost and if there would be a reward for my return.
“California,” I said, because that is what he wanted to hear, not necessarily because it was true. California is the only correct answer for a blonde American who doesn’t know Hebrew.
He liked my answer, so he handed me the semi-bruised, incredibly dirty nectarine.
Success. I had played the produce man!
I was about to walk away when he asked me another question, “are you pregnant?”
“What?” I asked shocked, my hands instinctively reaching for my stomach in a sad attempt to protect both my dignity and my unborn son (I refuse to have a daughter, even hypothetically).
“Baby?” he asked, this time holding his own stomach. Maybe he was expecting too.
I didn’t know how to respond. I am used to people hitting on me at the Shuk, and I am used to people ripping me off at the Shuk, and I am even used to people hitting me at the Shuk (it gets crazy on Fridays) but I was not used to this blatant invasion of my privacy.
For the record: (Mom) I am not pregnant. (MTV) I might be, but only if I can star in the reality TV show and it can be called “My Super Sweet Sixteen and Pregnant” and George Clooney can be my dad.
But apparently I looked pregnant, I like to think it was because my skin was glowing, however, it could have been due to the fact that my dress billowed in the wind and emphasized my stomach in a very Marilyn-Monroe-but-actually-just-a-walrus-in-a-white-dress kind of way.
It could also be due to the fact that my diet of humus and vodka is not as nutritional as I thought it was.
So I stormed away in a fit of rage that the shopkeeper must have mistaken for a mood swing or an especially uncontrollable humus craving. Two minutes and 10 olive oil samples later (if I’m going to look pregnant I am going to eat for two and drink for twins) I had two realizations.
1. I should probably go to the gym.
2. I had the Shuk all wrong.
I thought that all the free samples and treats that random men gave me were a reward for my being a cute American, but I was wrong.
People just wanted to make sure my future baby was well fed. And thanks to the Shuk, and the nectarine man, it is.