Shopping Shalom

It is Friday and I have the great idea to go shopping for groceries. Not such a bad idea one might think, especially when you do not have food left in the house. When I enter the Shufersal it hit me. Israel on a friday afternoon, just before the beginning of Shabbath. Going shopping…BAD MISTAKE. Even after two and a half years in Israel I cannot get used to the different weekend constellation. Friday is still a normal day for me and my body just does not want to get going on a Sunday. On the first day of Israel’s week my inner system still thinks it has to rest, eat cake and watch a German crime show at 20:15h in the evening.

Anyways, now I am already in the supermarket and my fridge is empty. I have no choice. Shopping behavior in the Holy Land is different to German behavior, in general. On Shabbath it is extraordinary. We know this phenomenon also from Germany, the day before holidays people buy as if tomorrow never comes and shops will not open again after the holiday is over. But the amount Germans buy for a three-day weekend is the normal amount of food that fills an Israeli shopping cart during the week. The carts here are twice as big as German ones anyways, and on Friday afternoon they are filled beyond belief. Also the supermarket is filled beyond belief. In the middle of Tel Aviv it sounds like the whole world is shopping here, all possible languages can be heard around the aisles full of pita bread, hummus and goat cheese. French, Hebrew, English with American accent, (my preferred) English with a British accent, German and of course Russian.

When you have made it through the market and got every item on your shopping list, then comes the horror…Israeli cash desks. Even when there are only two people queuing in front of you, it will take at least an hour to get out of the shop. In front of me there is a guy who either has to have twenty children or his house must have burnt down, because he was buying a whole new household. The conveyer belt is stacked with plates, cutlery, wine glasses and tons of food. He actually had to fill the belt four times before his cart was empty. And then the cashiers….imagine the slowest cashier in Germany and then take their slowliness times three, voilá you get Ludmilla from Shufersal. (Actually she is just a stand-in for all cashiers in Israel). Ludmilla is watching every article she has to scan, as if she has never seen it in her life before, or as if she is wondering whether to buy it as well. Then there is this new roll of paper, which goes into the printer for the receipts, just randomly standing on the conveyer belt. At one point Ludmilla takes the roll into her hands, stares as if it is a piece out of a moonstone, holds it in her right hand, while she continues scanning products with only her left hand. You can imagine how ‘fast’ that was going…using one hand instead of two. From time to time I take a peek at the ‘Do it yourself check out’, where you can scan your items by yourself and then pay with credit card. Maybe that goes faster. But every time I look over the same lady is standing at the check-out; scanning and scanning and scanning. Either the scanner is missing all of her items and she has to pull them over the red light several times, or all of Israel is coming to dinner at her house tonight.  Although, when I look around every single one of the customers here could serve dinner for the whole country according to the amounts of food piling up in their shopping carts.

And to avoid the stress at the cash desk, Israelis also have their own tactics. They line up their cart in the queue at the cashier and then go shopping. No kidding. Between me and the father of twenty stands a deserted shopping cart. From time to time a man shows up and throws a few more products into the cart. As soon as the twenty children guy is finally done, deserted-cart-guy can go and pay ‘directly’.  Fortunately he did not buy for an Israeli extended family, only a German one. But not only are Israeli cashiers very bad and slow at their job of scanning all items on the conveyer belt, also Israelis are very bad and slow in packing up their stuff. As soon as one of my items has crossed the scanner, I take it (sometimes even take it out of Ludmilla’s hand) and put it in my bag, so by the time Ludmilla is done, I already packed everything and all there is left to do is pay. Israeli customers on the other hand wait until everything piled up at the other side of the cash desk. Only after they paid, they start packing their items in thirty different plastic bags. Even though they are as slow in packing as Ludmilla is in scanning, they still find the time to talk on the phone. I am standing there with my bell pepper, three potatoes and one yoghurt, but no one thinks about letting me go first. Yes, there is the ‘up to 10 items cash desk’ but people here either cannot count or do not care. I guess it is the latter. And of course, as always, the deserted-cart-guy has a complaint after he went over his receipt. There has been a special offer for the pasta, “buy ten packages for the price of nine”, but Ludmilla, even though she is such a capable and enthusiastic worker, did not take that into consideration. Deserted-cart-guy does not leave his spot until he will be paid back what the shop owes him. After twenty minutes and a few discussions, finally another worker from the market gives Ludmilla the OK to give back the money. Deserted-cart-guy happily takes his fifty Agorot (ten cents) and finally walks off.

Thank god, now it will only take half an hour until I will be done and can go home as well. Shabbath Shalom.



About the Author
Simone came to Israel from Germany in 2012, as an exchange student and decided to stay for her M.A. in Israel Studies at Ben Gurion University, where she is currently writing her thesis about the image of Israel amongst Germans. Before starting her life in the desert, Simone was a Stage Manager at German musical productions, completed a degree in Acting, worked in a bookshop and finished her B.A. in Jewish and Islamic Studies in Heidelberg.