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Supermarkets in Israel – Know Before You Go

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

INTRODUCTION

Going to the supermarket. One of life’s recurring basic tasks. And compared to some of the other tasks that make their way onto our various To Do lists – not a very complex task. However, if in the past, you have had the experience of doing your grocery shopping at supermarkets in the US or in Europe or in any country outside of the Middle East, you have probably noticed that going to a supermarket in Israel is often a very different type of experience. Not better or worse – just different. (OK, maybe worse).

The process seems quite simple. You make your shopping list to take with you to the store. You go to the supermarket. (Driving? Be sure to check out Driving & Parking in Israel – The Essential Rules of the Road). You get a shopping cart and fill it with the items on your list. You pay for your groceries and head back home – task completed. But of course, it may not actually be that simple.

Please note: This article is not intended as actual advice. Please follow all local laws.

SHOPPING CARTS

Unless you are planning on buying just one or two items, you need to secure a shopping cart before you can begin looking for the items on your list. Depending on where you are shopping, you may be fortunate enough to find an abandoned shopping cart in a corner of the parking lot, but that is usually not the case. Sometimes, in fact, (especially right before the holidays), there are no empty shopping carts to be found at all. When this happens you have four options:

  1. Try another supermarket.
  2. Come back again at a different time.
  3. Buy only as much as you can hold in your hands (or as much as you can carry in your reusable bags that you brought with you).
  4. Stalk the other shoppers as they leave the store with their filled shopping carts. Kindly offer to help them load their groceries into their car so that you can quickly rid the cart of their items and begin your own shopping.

Most of the time there are shopping carts available. However, that does not mean that they are readily accessible. 

While the particular shopping cart setup varies from one supermarket to the next, most stores now have systems in place that look strikingly similar to the process of accessing a luggage cart at the airport. In order to release a shopping cart (either from the line of connected shopping carts, or from the device which is holding all of the carts), you must provide either a deposit or enter some specific information into their system.

Sometimes just inserting a five shekel coin will release the cart. That works fine as long as you have a five shekel coin and as long as the cart in the front of the line isn’t wedged and stuck inside the cart behind it and as long as the chain holding the two carts together actually separates from the cart when you insert the coin (tip: don’t have a 5-shekel coin? Try an American quarter!). Sometimes you can enter your Teudat Zehut number to release the shopping cart. That works fine as long as you have a Teudat Zehut number. (Tourists can always just pick up whatever they need from the makolet). Newer systems will release a shopping cart by entering your bank account information or with a small blood sample that can be taken right at the shopping cart mechanism. 

Many people think that grocery shopping is as simple as wheeling your cart around the supermarket and gradually filling it up with the items on your list. This is not exactly true. In Israel, all four wheels of the shopping cart rotate – not only the front two wheels. Depending on the number of items on your list and the total weight of those items, you will notice an important change at some point during your shopping expedition. At some point your shopping cart will begin to lead. You will follow. Convincing the shopping cart to turn down the aisles that you need to complete your shopping, may require significant negotiating skills – not to mention some upper body strength. (Don’t worry. As you will learn below, there actually is no need at all to push a relatively full shopping cart around the store.)

SHOP & EAT

Shopping for food can make you hungry. Israelis understand this. That is why in Israeli supermarkets you can eat while you shop! You can stroll down the aisles munching on a bag of chips or bamba and simply have the cashier scan the empty bag when you’ve completed your shopping. This is a win-win. Not only do you get to eat while you shop, but you also have fewer things to bag and schlep home!

Of course, not every item in the store is packaged. The produce aisles are filled with fruits and vegetables that are waiting to be placed in bags – or straight into your mouth. Obviously there is no expectation that you are going to hand the cashier an apple core, banana peel, or a pit from a nectarine. (These items can simply be placed back with the rest of the produce since who wants to locate a trash can?).

And there’s no need to limit yourself to the produce aisles. If you look carefully you will discover that the supermarket is actually one giant buffet. Look out for the open bins of olives. Sure there are containers there – but isn’t it easier to just pop them into your mouth? Does the supermarket have a bakery? Cookies, bourekas, and so much more. Cheese counter? Be sure to ask for a sample! Sometimes they’ll even give you a cracker, too. No need to ever be hungry when doing your supermarket shopping!

CHECKOUT

Once you’ve completed your shopping and your snacking, it’s time to head to the checkout and pay for your items. If you are a true Israeli shopper your shopping cart is already waiting for you at one of the checkout lanes. Your shopping cart is intended not only to hold your groceries for you but also to hold your place in line, of course. At some point during your shopping (usually at about the point where you find that your cart is leading you) it’s time to place your shopping cart in one of the checkout lanes. Your spot in line is now safely secured. You can now gather your final items and bring them to your cart. With experience you will learn to time it exactly right – so that you add your final items to your cart just as your cart reaches the cashier.

Obviously, the goal at checkout is always to choose the shortest line. Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no short line and you may find yourself at the back of a long line. If this happens, be sure to keep your eyes open and pay attention to the other checkout lanes which are currently closed. If you’re lucky, the store manager may suddenly decide to open an additional checkout lane. When this happens, quickly abandon your spot at the back of the line and take your place at the front of the new checkout lane. The people that have been waiting in line for much longer than you may be annoyed that you have “jumped” to the front of the line. If that happens, simply tell them that you thought it was a bus. Or just shrug your shoulders.

Please note: Almost all major supermarkets offer express lanes for shoppers who are purchasing 10 items or fewer or for people who do not know how to count to 10.

Just like you find all over the world, supermarkets in Israel also have a scanning accuracy guarantee. However, it is probably somewhat different from what you may be familiar with. In other parts of the world, the scanning accuracy guarantee usually looks something like this:

  • If the scanned item is marked with a higher price than the scanned price, you pay the scanned (lower) price.
  • If the scanned item is marked with a lower price than the scanned price, you receive the item for free. (if you are purchasing two or more of this item, you receive one item free and the rest at the lower price).

In Israel, the scanning accuracy guarantee looks something like this:

  • At least one item in your cart is guaranteed to scan with the wrong price.
  • If the scanned item is marked with a higher price than the scanned price, you pay the marked (higher) price.
  • If the scanned item is marked with a lower price than the scanned price, you pay the scanned (higher) price (unless you have it corrected at the Kupah Rashit).
  • The Kupah Rashit will correct all scanning errors within one hour of you getting in line behind all of the other people that are waiting to have scanning errors corrected.

Once you’ve bagged all of your items in your reusable shopping bags in order to avoid paying 10 agurot per bag, paid for your groceries, and corrected all of the scanning errors, you are ready to leave the store – almost.

Now that you have managed to load all of your full bags into your cart and carefully maneuver the cart towards the exit, you will likely encounter the Exit Door Guard. This is an opportunity to play a fun game. The game begins with trying to guess which of your shopping bags that you’ve loaded into your cart contains the receipt. This is a lot of fun. And, of course, the more bags you have – the more fun it is!

When you do finally locate the receipt, you need to show it to the Exit Door Guard. And then prepare to be impressed. By simply glancing at your receipt and at the numerous bags in your cart, the Exit Door Guard can instantly determine whether or not the items in your cart match the items on your receipt. Few things you will see in Israel are more impressive. As a reward for finding your receipt, the Exit Door Guard will stamp your receipt with a special stamper. There is no extra charge for this souvenir.

CONCLUSION

You are now ready to return home. Almost. If you left a deposit (either in the cart itself or elsewhere) before getting your shopping cart, you probably want to get your money back before heading out. No problem. Just take your now empty cart back to where you first got it. If you inserted five shekels into the cart, just insert the chain from another cart into the mechanism on your cart. This will usually release your five shekel coin. If it doesn’t, simply return to the Kupah Rashit. They will be happy to help you recover your coin within the hour. While you are waiting, feel free to revisit the buffet. Your cart will hold your place in line!

About the Author
Michael Schachter spent several years working in both formal and informal Jewish education in the US before making aliyah in 2010 with his wife and children. For the past few years he and his family have been running the Safed Puzzle Room, an educational escape room experience, in Tzfat. They have also created a series of online Israel and Jewish themed escape room games, available at Bagels & Locks Studios. He and his family make their home in Katzrin, where they also run one of the local shuls, Kehillat Or Hatzafon.
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