With last summer’s tent protests, and signs of growing public discontent, one of the biggest outcomes of the recent protest movement in Israel is consumer awareness. The media has played a big role in educating Israeli consumers about what happens in the rest of the world, and it’s high time. But there still are a few pet peeves I have about living in Israel and being a consumer there:
No coupons you can trust
When I head to Canada in the spring or summer every year, I fire up my laptop, looking for no-strings-attached discount coupons found practically everywhere online for shops like the Gap, theme parks, and even grocery stores. Good for buying essentials. My experience in Israel is that coupon-hunting or -clipping is a waste of time. And it’s not just the language barrier. My native Israeli friends say the same: Even if you have a coupon from one chain store, don’t be sure they will accept it in all chains. And there is sometimes a catch for coupons found online, like registering your email for newsletters and a commitment to make a certain number of purchases on your credit card each month.
Bad bottle returns
Every store has developed its own policy on giving back deposit money spent on bottles. It is so complicated in some neighborhoods (only this kind of bottle on that kind of day), that for your sanity’s sake it is better to trash the bottles in the bin, or if you live close enough to a recycle cage (and the 45-degree weather mixed with drink remnants isn’t infesting the bottles), just recycle them without collecting the deposit.
This works really well when you get weekly flyers and have a car to fly in around between big box-style grocery shops with ample parking. In Israel, who has the energy to comparison shop? Just weaving your way through traffic and finding a parking spot is victory enough. Pay double for your butter? Yup, if it means I can shop hassle-free with wide isles and cart that will hold my little kid.
To get the best bargains, shop in upper scale neighborhoods. Research studies have shown that peripheral towns and Arab Israeli stores will charge more. I’ve experienced this firsthand.
The shop I am relegated to going to in Jaffa when I need basics is over-priced and dirty, and its shelves are full of expired and sometimes rotting items. In some countries it’s illegal for this practice, but not in poorer Israeli cities where no one really seems to care enough to complain to the relevant ministries. I’ve even picked up plastic bags from this shop in Jaffa –– used for wrapping bread –– covered in cat urine. I tell this to the manager and he shrugs his shoulders. I’ve seen meat de-thawed and refrozen; they’ve sold me “fresh” meat that was frozen in the middle, and I’ve seen workers dropping pastries on the floor and putting them back on the shelves. Ick.
This would never be the case in North Tel Aviv.
I’m writing this from Paris, France, where I am shocked and at the same time thrilled to find out how “cheap” things are here compared to Israel. It practically pays for me to spend a couple of weeks here. A box of granola goes for half the price it costs in Israel. Same with sushi and good pastries. A box of Lavazza decaf coffee is about one third of the price it fetches in Israel. Milk, yummy butter, rice, canned goods, frozen food — all cheaper.
I am enjoying many new products, and some of the Ramadan treats I am finding on the streets of the Belleville neighborhood where food is extra cheap. Longing for nana tea, I bought a bunch of mint last night from the street: 30 centimes – the approximate price of 1.20 shekels. A similar bunch would cost you NIS 5 in Israel.
Since I don’t have the kind of energy that real protesting requires, I protest against high food prices in another way. I am starting to make all my own baked goods: organic pitas, cakes and cookies. I am cooking a meal every day from scratch for my family. If you come to my house on Shabbat, chances are that everything will be homemade, and you might get to sample my homegrown free-range chicken eggs.
The basics cost more in Israel, but putting them together yourself is the best way to protest high prices for food. With your own chickens, you can cock-a-doodle-do to the high prices of free-range eggs.
As for bottles: make your own juice and avoid buying plastics and glass bottles. As for salads: make your own and avoid the preservatives.
When it comes to coupons: if something is on sale in Israel there is usually something wrong with it anyway. Avoid coupons and sales, unless the sale is on something general that you’ve already decided to buy.
All that said, I am happy to be away for a while, getting a chance to be that window looking in; and I am sure I’ll be all the more happy to return to expensive coffee and outrageously priced cereal. Maybe I’ll start making my own granola again.
A coffee plantation is out of the question, for now. But I did see an Ethiopian store in Ramle that lets you roast your own.