David Wolf

“Savlanut” (patience)

I’m at the cashier in the supermarket. She is making my bill, passing my purchases through the electronic eye.

Behind me in line is a woman with a shopping cart. A younger woman approaches her: “Do you mind if I go ahead of you? I have only these three items…”

Now this is a common request in Israel. Express lines don’t exist in every supermarket and even when such a line exists, the lines are long and slow.

Therefore, it is common for people who are only buying a few items, to ask someone to allow them to cut in ahead of them. Of course, when someone asks to get ahead of me I don’t like it… I’m always irritated by the long lines in the supermarkets anyway and I’m not happy to allow anyone else ahead of me… Still, when someone asks I feel that I have no choice. “Of course”, I smile. I am ashamed to refuse such a small favor…

Why didn’t the woman ask me, that I should allow her to get ahead of me?

Here is an important fact about life in Israel: the “Holy of Holies” of Israeli life is the cashier in the supermarket, once she began to ring up somebody’s bill. I may have a hundred items in my shopping cart, but once the cashier rang-up even one item, she will not allow an interruption. Even if the prime-minister himself shows up and wants to pay for something, she will just say “sorry, I’m in the middle of this bill…” and proceed with what she is doing.

But the woman behind me feels no shame. She notices immediately the strong French accent and the hesitant Hebrew of the woman requesting the favor and goes on the attack:

“You’re an olah chadasha (new immigrant), right? From France, right? Have you been to an ulpan (Hebrew language school)? Then certainly you must have learned the word “savlanut”, right?”

The French woman smiles, embarrassed, ashamed: “Yes, of course, this is the first word they teach us… that in Israel we must have “savlanut”…”

The Israeli woman’s strategy worked. It only took one sentence. The French woman felt shamed, and ashamed that she wasn’t a good enough Israeli. She should have remembered this basic lesson that she had been taught in ulpan. One must have “savlanut”! How could she have been so tactless, how could she have made such a shameful request?

Having won her point, the Israeli woman could now afford to be magnanimous, motherly. “Where are you from? How long are you in Israel? Where do you live?” Etc, etc… A long, friendly conversation, while they wait in line together. The Israeli woman giving advice to the young “ignorant” immigrant… the French woman opening up, shy, embarrassed, happy to have been forgiven for her uneducated request… and grateful that this Israeli is still willing to talk to her…

And I think to myself: “savlanut”???

Who in Israel has “savlanut”?

Did this Israeli woman have it, when she could have saved this immigrant time and embarrassment by simply allowing her to go ahead with her three items?

Do drivers have it, when they blow their horns like crazy for the slightest reason or for no reason at all?

Does anyone have it, when someone cuts in front of you in traffic or in the line for the doctor?

Does the person who stops his car in your parking space and tells you “savlanut” when you complain… does he have “savlanut” when you stop in his parking spot?

But the argument worked fine for this Israeli woman in the supermarket. Not only was she able to refuse a favor and be obnoxious, she even succeeded in making the French olah chadasha feel guilty, inadequate and ashamed. She even felt proud that she had taught this immigrant an important lesson about life in Israel, thus making an important contribution to her klita (absorption) in her new country.

                               Foto from

About the Author
David Wolf writes about his experience of being a second-time husband and father. He has a daughter from his first marriage, and, with his second wife, has accrued three daughters, two sons-in-law, one grandchild and twin 8-year-old sons. He is a social worker in a mental health department and in private practice in Raanana.
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