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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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» freier from Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective
Treppenwitz has a hilarious post about the Israeli fear of being a freier (sucker, chump), and how he got even at the supermarket. What is the origin of this slang term? [Read More]

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


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HAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!! Unbelievable! Justice is done! This frayer says thank you!

Posted by: Benji | Oct 8, 2007 11:52:46 AM

Amazing! You are my hero! This story will keep me smiling through all future horribly long grocery lines.

Posted by: Hannah | Oct 8, 2007 12:12:24 PM

Thanks for a great laugh! A guy tried to cut in front of me at the bank today. I think he was trying to convince me that his business would just take a minute. Thankfully the women after me told him that everyone's business just takes a minute or two and to go to the back of the line. . . at least I think that's what she said.

Posted by: Rachel | Oct 8, 2007 12:23:27 PM

What always stymies me in these situations is not what to say but how to say it in Hebrew. I have no trouble "not being a frier" in English. But in Hebrew . . . I don't know how to argue my case, so I end up being a frier and STEWING about it. I still don't know how to get past that.

However, I HAVE learned not to let other people cut me in lines. "Excuse me, I was here before you" is something I've learned not just how to say, but to have the courage to say.

Posted by: The Other Sarah B | Oct 8, 2007 12:33:14 PM

That is so perfect! People do the same here but they don't fight if you point it out. I guess the concept is that if no one stops you, it's fine to break the rules, but if you get caught, just fade into the woodwork...

Posted by: nrg | Oct 8, 2007 2:20:15 PM

First of all, hee hee!

Second, I'm amazed they let you get away with that. True Israelis would have been insulting your accent and telling you that that's not the way we do things here in Israel and you should go back to your mommy in America (all things I've heard).


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Oct 8, 2007 2:24:29 PM


Posted by: psachya | Oct 8, 2007 2:27:04 PM

LOL!!! Good for you! You are officially no longer a fryer, welcome to being a full fledged Israeli...you have arrived!

Posted by: Alza | Oct 8, 2007 3:01:27 PM

Wow! Great job!

Talk about integration into Israeli society... :)

Posted by: tnspr569 | Oct 8, 2007 3:16:29 PM

You were the gadfly in their ointment.Well done.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 8, 2007 3:25:21 PM

...if there are twenty five items or less, I'll pay for your entire cart of groceries.

You are nothing short of BRILLIANT. This is TOO funny.

Posted by: orieyenta | Oct 8, 2007 3:32:07 PM

Wow! I'm soooo impressed! Beware of trep now!!! Don't let it go to your head though...I'm sure you will be a freyer again by this time tomorrow ;)

Posted by: safranit | Oct 8, 2007 3:45:16 PM

That was BEAUTIFUL!!!!

Posted by: Maya | Oct 8, 2007 3:58:37 PM

Hi David AKA Trep,

You have guts... good for you.

Those people annoy me too.


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Oct 8, 2007 4:07:39 PM

I agree with all above, this is not only hysterical, but BRILLIANT!!!


Posted by: EmahS | Oct 8, 2007 4:11:46 PM

Benji... That was sort of my reaction during most of the ride home. :-)

Hannah... Happy to help. :-)

Rachel... You're doing just fine. BTW, worse than someone actually cutting directly in front of you is the guys who will come and stand next to you in line. Then as the line moves forward they sort of edge a little further ahead of you until (they hope) you can't remember who was in front of whom. That I haven't killed any of those lot is a small miracle.

The Other Sarah B... It's even worse for me because invariably if I try to stick up for myself and send them to the back of the line, they say something like "Oh sure, and you call yourself religious (pointing at my kipah). [~smolder~]

nrg... People are rude in Norway??? Who knew?! :-)

Yehuda Berlinger... I'm sure if I'd been the last person in line they would never have agreed to it. But there were so many angry people behind me by the time the argument got going that they were shamed into my trap.

psachya... You're welcome. :-)

Alza... Oh, I've lost track of the ways in which I'm still a fryer... but this helped my self esteem just a tad. :-)

tnspr569... Slowly... slowly. :-)

Jack ... Well said. BTW, good game last night, huh? ;-)

orieyenta... I have no idea how I thought of this. Inspiration is a funny thing.

safranit... Oh, without a doubt! :-)

Maya... I'm sure I'll have someone's karma run over my dogma before the day is over. :-)

Maksim-Smelchak... I just thought of another 'type' that trips my fuses: The guy who walks right past you while you are waiting in line... and when you say something about being next on line they innocently say "Oh I didn't see you". Asshats!

EmahS... It doesn't begin to make up for all the times I've sat quietly and let people walk all over me (due to my being too tongue-tied in Hebrew to challenge them)... but thanks.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 8, 2007 4:53:03 PM

You're absolutely amazing!!!

Posted by: miss Worldwide | Oct 8, 2007 5:21:16 PM

Nice job, Dave! I love when people are put in their place and with witnesses - bonus! :)

Posted by: Val | Oct 8, 2007 5:21:32 PM

That's fantastic. I haven't had the guts to be that kind of Israeli yet.

Posted by: Lena | Oct 8, 2007 5:22:13 PM

Was there cheering? Did the theme from "Officer and a Gentleman" play? Damn, that sounds so triumphal, I wish I could have been there to lead the applause. Well done!

Posted by: Talmida | Oct 8, 2007 6:06:01 PM

BTW, good game last night, huh? ;-)

I love having our butts handed to us. It gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling. Great time for the team to collapse, but the series isn't done yet. Plenty of time for Manny's mishugoss to come and infect him and the rest of the team.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 8, 2007 6:15:47 PM

I would never in a million years have had the courage to do that, in Hebrew or English, but I'm glad someone else does!

Posted by: uberimma | Oct 8, 2007 6:24:57 PM

You are officially my hero!! I will now stand up and salute you smartly!

Posted by: Yaron | Oct 8, 2007 8:33:18 PM


Posted by: JoeSettler | Oct 8, 2007 8:53:12 PM

Gret stuff! How I wish more people would have the nerves and the presence of mind to do the same.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Oct 8, 2007 9:24:29 PM

I have only 2 words:
Kol Hakavod!!!!!

Posted by: Avner | Oct 8, 2007 9:46:15 PM

I have only 2 words:
Kol Hakavod!!!!!

Posted by: Avner | Oct 8, 2007 9:46:30 PM

oops. sorry, that ended up being 4 words.
*grin sheepishly*

Posted by: Avner | Oct 8, 2007 9:47:47 PM

I never would have thought of that! You have made me very proud!!!

Posted by: Ron | Oct 8, 2007 9:53:25 PM

My first thought was that you deserve a medal, but that's not enough.

A statue. They should put up a statue of you for that one. Wow.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Oct 8, 2007 10:46:23 PM

wow, you really do have a way with words. And now that I am beginning my 6th week in this country, maybe someone out there can answer this question about Israeli supermarkets: If we are one of the most well-developed countries in the world,we practically INVENTED "hi-tech", how come noone has figured out that locking the back wheels of a shopping cart will allow you to steer it rather than the cart pulling you in all different directions? This drives me crazy about my supermarket shopping!

Posted by: Baila | Oct 9, 2007 12:14:14 AM

Priceless! Great story and great blog! I'm linking it up! L'Shalom, Daniel

Posted by: Daniel Abrahamson | Oct 9, 2007 12:34:18 AM

It's even worse for me because invariably if I try to stick up for myself and send them to the back of the line, they say something like "Oh sure, and you call yourself religious (pointing at my kipah). [~smolder~]

"v'ata, im kippa al harosh, titbayesh!" ; ) (someone had to say it)

Posted by: Chedva | Oct 9, 2007 12:48:11 AM

I am sure those two ladies are going to look behind their backs the next time they stand at the express checkout line to make sure you are not coming again, And if they see you, i am sure they will move to the next register. Kol Ha Kavod to you.

Posted by: David S | Oct 9, 2007 2:29:07 AM

yasher koach!!!

brilliant solution. did the miles of people in line behind you clap and cheer and lift you up on their shoulders?

Posted by: rebecca | Oct 9, 2007 3:52:24 AM

Someone must speak. Others will follow a call to justice.

E pluribus unum.

Posted by: christopher | Oct 9, 2007 7:48:08 AM

miss Worldwide... I'll have to write about some of the times I've tried to stick up for myself and ended up sounding like a raving lunatic to dispel any illusion you may have about my 'amazingness'. :-)

Val... Believe it or not, that whole 'witnesses' thing is the only part that made me uncomfortable. Sure, you and I both know that without the onlookers the women would never have caved... but still, there is a VERY strong prohibition in Judaism against publicly embarrassing someone. And that's pretty much what I had to do to get my way.

Lena... While it felt good at the time, I really am not all that proud of matching their chutzpah. I mean really... is that what becoming Israeli is really all about? OK, maybe just a little bit. :-)

Talmida... In the soundtrack that plays in all of our heads I'm sure there was cheering and appropriate music, but in reality it was rather a tempest in a teacup. :-)

Jack... "I love having our butts handed to us. Oh, in that case you are going to love next season (and the one after that). Yum! :-)

uberimma... Courage and stupidity are almost indistinguishable from one another in the real world. :-)

Yaron... No, no... I was an enlisted man. You don't have to salute me. :-)

JoeSettler... Dude... sweet! :-)

Ilana-Davita... The crazy thing is that I have almost daily bouts of self doubt when confronted with smokers in restaurants and stores where I don't have the nerve to speak up... so go figure. :-)

Avner... Hmmmm, I guess technically that is two words. :-) Thanks.

Ron... I always knew I would either end up a cautionary tale or an object of pride. Thanks for sorting that out for me. :-)

Andy Levy-Stevenson... Why is it that as soon as we admire someone our first (or in your case, second) instinct is to make a statue of them so that pigeons can sh*t all over them for eternity? :-)

Baila... I'm not sure, but my guess is that the narrower aisles require more maneuverability... thus the four wheel steering on shopping carts. :-) Welcome and good luck. Let me know if you need anything (including a shoulder to cry on).

Daniel Abrahamson... Thanks. Links are always appreciated. I'll check out your site when I get home from work.

Chedva... Exactly! Why is it that those who aren't religious seem to be the most vocal about others upholding the commandments? :-)

David S... actually, I know from watching Israelis drive that the rate of recidivism - even in the face of dire consequences - is rather high.

rebecca... In my head they did, but I think a few smiles and nods is all I got in real life. :-)

christopher... We're talking about a dust up in the supermarket, not Patrick Henry! :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 9, 2007 9:40:54 AM

one word for you -- beautiful!

Posted by: nikki | Oct 9, 2007 9:56:58 AM

All hail Treppenwitz! The Hero of the non-native Israelis! I humbly bow in your presence.

Posted by: Josh | Oct 9, 2007 10:00:57 AM

You mean the shopping carts are designed to roll sideways!?!?!? And here I thought I kept getting the broken ones.

Posted by: Rachel | Oct 9, 2007 11:24:24 AM

a bit late to the discussion. I just came back into the country after a little holiday, and at passport control went into the foreign passport line. This time around the lines for Israelis were actually a whole lot longer, so of course what happens? The Israelis all stand in the foreign passport queue. Then they change the sign on the queue suddenly to israeli passports, so if you are a freyer you will go the last line remaining for foreign passports (the one with all the israelis in it). If you're me however you stay where you are, ready to brazen it out because no way am I waiting more than I have to. You also use your backpack to ever so gently nudge the girl next to you who seems to think she has the god given right to edge in front of you (despite that she came after you). When you reach the top of the queue you step directly in front of her so she can't try to go before you. She quietly subsides (cos she knows she's in the wrong) and you realise you have become israeli at last (passport or no!).

Posted by: Katherine | Oct 9, 2007 2:28:35 PM

Oh my gosh, thanks for the laugh. I love IT. That's awesome. Good for you and being so clever!!!

Posted by: Jaime | Oct 9, 2007 5:40:57 PM

You are totally my hero. You have exacted revenge for all us poor miskein olim! I am so proud to be your friend!!

Posted by: noa | Oct 9, 2007 8:48:23 PM

The only problem I can see with your triumph is that now you will have to change the name of your blog! Treppenwitz indeed! That solution would never have come to me if I had descended a thousand stairs.

Posted by: Janet | Oct 10, 2007 1:53:35 AM

Like Solomon ... (but without the wives and cuncubines).

Posted by: Bob | Oct 10, 2007 3:43:11 AM


Posted by: vicki | Oct 10, 2007 5:57:06 AM

Dear Dave: Your entry today reminded me of something that happened to me many years ago when I stopped to buy some cheese in a California market:

As I waited in the long line, the Asian couple behind me smiled shyly in response to my greeting. At that moment, two older gentlemen parked themselves next to the couple. As the line moved forward, the men began to edge them out with their cart, and they slowly lost their place. Soon, the men were directly behind me, and the couple was standing out of line. The wife's face had turned bright pink with embarrassment.

At this point, I did something I had never done before. I don't know where I got the nerve. Addressing the men, I said "Excuse me, but they were here first." One of the men angrily replied, "Turn around and mind your cheese!" Pointing my finger in his direction I repeated, "I'm sorry, Sir, but they were here first!" He tried to slap my hand away and menacingly pushed his cart toward me, and he once more told me to "mind my own business." I started to open my mouth again, but at this point his friend turned the cart around and they both walked away.

I turned around to regain my composure, but inside I was shaking and I think I wanted to cry. I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. It was the Asian gentleman. He gave me the sweetest and softest "thank you" I will ever hear.

Posted by: Dina | Oct 10, 2007 9:15:31 AM

Hi, first-time reader here (got here via Tachlis).

The problem is not just the people who abuse the lines, it's also the cashiers who don't bother to enforce the rules. If they did, this wouldn't happen.

And it is truly amazing how Israelis can instantly come up with excuses ("we're together") for their abuses.

Good work.

Posted by: JonathanInTelAviv | Oct 10, 2007 9:58:03 AM

absolutely amazing that you thought of it and that you got away with it!

Posted by: Rafi G | Oct 10, 2007 12:44:22 PM

A true Israeli, or a fully integrated immigrant, would have taken the receipt, too.

Posted by: Yisrael Medad | Oct 10, 2007 1:23:34 PM

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