The agony of self checkouts for Olim

Self checkout agony (credit Andrea Samuels)

One thing I should have learned after years of supermarket shopping here in Israel, is that I should NEVER use the self checkouts unless my life depends on it. Literally.

I may have got away with it in the UK, but supermarkets here are a different beast entirely.

Most Olim (newbies) will have been there at one time or another. It’s the same, familiar tale across the land. You finish your shopping, look at the humongous queues at the tills (believe me, they are humongous here (Rami Levi, Osher Ad to name but two)) and then you catch, out of the corner of your eye, an almost empty self checkout section.

‘How hard can it be?’ you think to yourself as you start to make your way over there.

If, like me, you barely speak a word of Hebrew, believe me when I say that childbirth is only marginally more painful than trying to do it yourself.

It’s hard enough getting through one of the regular checkouts when you don’t share a common language. Simple questions like ‘one payment or two?’ can cause much confusion and hold up the whole process for a considerable time. Even then however, it’s always easier than the self checkout option to which I am still strangely drawn.

Although I don’t understand anything on the screen, time and again I mistakenly assume that the whole process starts when I scan the first item. Wrong! It’s asking me to swipe a card, apparently. The nice lady told me this.

I swipe a card and then start scanning. I’m lulled into a false sense of security as the first item scans through without a problem. Maybe even the second and third items will also go through without any bother. My sensible self knows that I’m heading for trouble and yet I carry on in a blind, scanning stupor. Very soon I reach the point of no return.

And then the ‘fun’ starts.

Before long the machine is shouting orders at me, in Hebrew…things like, ‘place items in bagging area!’…at least I always assume that’s what it’s telling me to do! The fact that I’ve already done so seems to make no difference whatsoever. I then play a game with the machine whereby I take the item to which I assume it’s referring and replace it in said bagging area. This rarely helps.

At this point, the whole process grinds to a halt. I start to feel a small bead of sweat creeping down my back as, what was an empty self checkout area is now groaning with people, most of whom seem to be watching me as I continually fail in my hopeless task.

All eyes are on me as they wait, impatiently for me to finish. Some of them approach to speak to me and my heart races. I repeat the same mantra which has been tripping off my tongue since I made aliyah over four and a half years ago,
‘Slicha, ani lo medaberet ivrit tov,’ which means, sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew, I think.

I search the area for the lovely woman who helped me before this whole predicable nightmare started. She’s with someone else. She’s actually doing EVERYTHING for the other customer! Scanning, bagging, the whole bloody lot!

I approach her nervously to ask for more help. She gesticulates for me to wait with her thumb and forefingers held up together. This, I understand. She’ll be over in a minute, I think.

I wait.

Eventually the nice lady finishes what she’s doing and then, horror of horrors, she goes to help someone else!

There’s no point complaining, none whatsoever. No one cares about me. I’ve brought this all on myself.
By this time, half of my stuff is already in the bagging area and I know there’s no going back. I’m long past the point of no return.

I turn my head to the side to see that everyone who’d been waiting in the horrendous queues at the tills has already been served and left the building.

I look helplessly at the screen. Hebrew letters swirl around in front of my eyes. I know that worse is yet to come. Payment. I look back inside my trolley and swear blind, that whatever happens, however long the queues are at the tills, I will NEVER use the self checkouts again. EVER!

And then I go and do the same thing all over again the following week!

About the Author
I’m a British lawyer from Manchester. I made aliyah in 2016 and now live in Netanya with my husband, 3 children and 3 dogs. As I wasn’t able to pursue my legal career here in Israel, I started a small business editing English language papers for academics. I also write short stories or ‘blogs’ about the trials and tribulations of my new life.
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