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Monday, October 08, 2007

[Waste] My time... [spend] your money

Israeli supermarkets are the bane of my (and most non-native-born Israeli's) existence. 

We will never understand the folks who walk into the supermarket, park their shopping cart on a checkout line as a place-holder, and then proceed to wander around the store casually picking out items.

We will never understand the people who walk into the meat department, tap someone on the shoulder and say "I'm after you" and then go off to make other purchases... then swoop back into line 20 minutes later, pissing off all the frayerim (suckers) who were dumb enough to actually wait on line.

We will never understand the absolute shamelessness with which many shoppers will stand and argue with the cashier that they should be entitled to a particular special/discount despite the fact that they have clearly picked out a different product/size/number of items than the special advertised in the circulars.  They will do this for as long as it takes until either the cashier gives in and lets them have the better price... or until they decide to casually stroll back to the aisle to get the correct item(s)... while a long line of angry shoppers waits helplessly behind them.

We will never understand why Israeli supermarkets haven't figured out that the only remaining bottleneck in the check-out process is the additional time everyone spends bagging their own groceries.  This single task defeats all the speed and convenience gained by the bar-code scanners.  After scanning a cartful of groceries in recored time, the cashier can't complete the transaction or go on to the next customer until the previous shopper's goods are bagged and off the end of the conveyor belt.

I could go on... but I won't.  Because yesterday I had what is, without a doubt, my most enjoyable Israeli supermarket experience ever!

After work I ducked into the local 'Mega' because Zahava had called to ask me to pick up a few things.  I needed to buy a box of Splenda (actually, the Israeli version of it), some cold cuts, a bag of sandwich rolls and a package of cheese (don't worry, I wasn't going to eat these together... sheesh!).  The list was so short that I didn't even have to take a shopping cart. 

When I finished picking out the goods I walked up to the 'Express Checkout' line and noticed that it was fairly long.  However, I wasn't overly concerned since the sign clearly stated '10 items or less'... so things should move along quickly.

Yeah right.

Directly in front of me in line I noticed two women with a shopping cart that was 2/3 full.  I politely pointed out that they were in the express line and that they had too many items.  But instead of begging my forgiveness and going to another line, one of the women gave me a mirthless grin and said, "We're together... we each have ten items".  The two of them stood with arms folded across ample bosoms, daring me to challenge their clever ploy.

I took another look at their shopping cart and my blood pressure started to climb as I noticed that just the items on top approached the stated number... there must have been two or three times that number of things buried underneath.

This is the moment of truth that most immigrants are intimately familiar with.  Do you marshal your limited Hebrew and make a fuss... risking having unhelpful idiots around you jump in with "What's the big deal... just let them go... it isn't worth all the yelling"?  Or do you sit quietly and feel like the biggest frayer in the world because somebody is flouting the rules and wasting your valuable time in the process?

This time I decided to make a fuss.  I had a small armful of items (as did all of the people in the line that had formed behind us), and we were going to be trapped in what was supposed to be the express line while these two thoughtless women bought a huge cart of groceries!

I cleared my throat and calmly said, "Excuse me, but even if you are together, there are a lot more than 20 items in your cart.  You have to go to another line."

The second woman, who had remained silent up until this point chimed in, "It's close enough to twenty... and who are you anyway, the shopping cart police?"

By now most of the people behind us were watching with interest... as were some of those ahead of us.  It infuriated me that none of them spoke up in support, but at least they hadn't told me to pipe down, so I continued, "No, I'm not the shopping cart police, but I'm also not a frayer.  Anyone who can count can see that you have too many items to be on the express line.  Forget about 20 items... you have at least twice that number!"

Both women remained facing me with arms folded, but I was pleased to see they were no longer smiling.  The one who had spoken first said, "What does it matter... it may be a few more or a few less, but we have about twenty items... and so we're not going to another line!"

At this point I decided to take another approach.  I said, "OK, I don't want to argue with you... but I also don't want to be a frayer... so let's be fair.  Since it's possible I'm wrong, I'll make you an offer:  If there are twenty items or less - no forget that - if there are twenty five items or less, I'll pay for your entire cart of groceries.  But if there are more than 25 items, you pay for my few things, OK?

Suddenly, the people around me began to come to life.  A chorus of "That seems fair" and "if you're so sure then you should accept his offer" joined a general consensus of nods.  The women sputtered and tried to wave me off, but I pressed my advantage:

"No, no... I'm offering you a great deal.  If you don't want to take it you can go to another line.  But if you really feel you have the correct number of items to be on this line, you have nothing to lose by accepting my offer."

They were trapped.  Pride wouldn't allow them to go to another line, so they both nodded. 

A Yemenite man standing behind me offered to count the items and there was general agreement that an uninterested party be responsible for verifying the number of items.  When he reached 46 there were still a number of uncounted items in the cart... so I stopped him.

By this time the family in front of the women was finishing up with their small purchase so I smiled and gestured chivalrously for them to start loading their 46+ items onto the conveyor belt.  The cashier took a jaundiced look at the nearly full shopping cart and seemed poised to say something, but several people in line preempted her, saying 'It's OK, we don't mind". 

When the cashier was scanning the last of the women's groceries, I casually dumped my few things on the belt and said (loud enough for everyone on line to hear) "Also these please... my friends have offered to pay for my things too." 

The cashier just shrugged and continued to beep the products past the bar-code scanner.  The two women just glowered at me, but the happy stares of my fellow shoppers kept them from giving voice to the protest behind their eyes.

While they were still busy bagging their groceries, I breezed past the two women and walked towards the exit of the store.  There was a tense moment when the security guard asked to see my receipt, but he seemed satisfied when I gestured vaguely towards the two women who were busily reloading their shopping cart and said, "It's OK, my friends have the receipt."

Posted by David Bogner on October 8, 2007 | Permalink

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Tracked on Oct 10, 2007 9:40:00 AM

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Kol hakavod! That is great! My personal favorite of Israeli chutzpah (not supermarket related) is the "I only want to ask a question" remark when you've been waiting to see the doctor/banker/etc.

Posted by: Fern Chasida | Oct 10, 2007 4:41:49 PM

HAHAHAHAHA!!!! That is absolutely, wonderfully brilliant. They couldn't get out of that one, could they? :-D

Posted by: Scraps | Oct 10, 2007 5:01:36 PM

Y'asher Koach!

As someone who is constantly fighting windmills, it's certainly encouraging to hear the success stories!

In all the years that I am in this county, I only ONCE saw a cashier refuse to ring up more than ten items in the express line. (If I remember correctly, it was in MEGA in Malcha)

The cashier politely asked the shopper to choose ten items or switch to another line. The shopper told the cashier to just ring up any ten items (clearly thinking that the cashier would just give in). The cashier repeatedly requested that the customer choose her own groceries, but the shopper refused. They each repeated themselves for a while, as the line grew and began to get aggitated.

The rude shopper thought she would be able to bully the cashier. The shopper was wrong. Eventually, the cashier starting ringing up the rude shopper's items. When the cashier had rung up the tenth item, she calmly summed up the bill and requsted payment.

The rude shopper was all huffy, but there was nothing she could do. She paid and left, without her remaining grocery items.

It was not as glorious a triumph as yours, but it was a pleasure to witness. Sometimes justice really is sweet.

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Oct 10, 2007 6:57:53 PM

YOU ROCK!!!

Posted by: Shayna | Oct 10, 2007 8:48:59 PM

King Solomon himself would have been proud to come up with that solution. Absolutely brilliant...

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 10, 2007 9:15:11 PM

I guess I've been pretty sheltered... I haven't seen a lot of stuff like this going on in supermarkets. But then -- for the sake of accuracy -- I tend to do a lot of my shopping in non-supermarket locations such as the shuk or local health-food stores that sell in bulk. Onward...

I was in a local supermarket yesterday when an altercation broke out at the checkout line next to mine. These were two men who had apparently both paid for their groceries, since they were opposite the cashier and apparently no longer waiting in line. I have no idea what the fuss was about, but at one point one of the men (who was wearing a kippa!) slapped the other hard on the shoulder. Before I could say anything, their wives intervened and separated them.

And I thought I was just there for a quiet shopping trip....

Anyway, I admire what you did. I wish I had the courage and quick wit to do the same in similar circumstances.

Posted by: Rahel | Oct 11, 2007 9:03:52 AM

(followed here from ezzie's blog)

i too (like the 46+ commenters above), think that was brilliant and funny and hysterical and great bla bla bla.

especially loved how u "gestured chivalrously" to go ahead. ha.

i love my people. and my land.

Posted by: chava jav | Oct 12, 2007 6:47:37 AM

Bravo!! Your story made my day!! WEll done!!...and thank you :)

Posted by: Claire | Oct 12, 2007 2:06:55 PM

yishar koahh!

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Oct 14, 2007 10:16:28 PM

This should be required reading for all new olim, way to go Trep!

Posted by: Elliott | Oct 17, 2007 9:26:02 AM

Wow. Major kudos - from an olah as well as a mediation student. Maybe one day I'll use that as an example for clients.

Posted by: eliesheva | Oct 24, 2007 9:57:55 AM

I never ran into this pair...but I did run into the woman doing "Russian shopping," that tactic where you park your cart in the line and then go shopping. I just did what I did in CA when someone tried this--I waited until she loaded an item and went off to shop again, then moved her cart out of line and parked it in a convenient aisle, and then proceeded to checkout....

Posted by: aliyah06 | Oct 30, 2007 2:33:21 PM

The stupidity in Israeli society is symbolized by the buying groceries experience. Why Israelis don't deal with their enemies, why they crush their own. Why tourists have to be "guided" on tours, aka cause if they dealt with israelis on any real day to day level they would loose all sympathy. Why you wait in 4 lines for 5 hours before you see a government secratery fo 2 minutes. Why nothing can be said to be efficient over there. Why King David likens the jews to flocks of sheep. Go and watch sheep interact. Stupid animals, cute but totally undeserving of any sympathy. Which is also why a shepard is praised. Any love he has for his sheep must be totally un-conditional.

Posted by: Phineas | Feb 15, 2008 7:21:53 AM

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