Today, for the first time in the four months that I have lived in Israel, I went grocery shopping all by myself.
Aren’t I a big girl?
It sounds silly…I’m a grown up after all, but going to the grocery store when you live in the middle of nowhere in a country whose language you’re not even close to mastering is no easy task.
Up until now, I’ve been going with my husband or sending him off on his own. Not just because I’m scared of the cashier (which I am), but also because he is the only one of us truly able to read the ingredients list, which is crucial for a family with food allergies. The good news (which is really bad news) is that our local supermarket has practically nothing in the way of organic or preservative free foods so the packaged goods we buy here are few. The bad news (which is really bad news) is that in order to buy the foods we need to maintain our nut, sesame, dairy, gluten, chemical free existence, we need to shop at 3-4 locations spread out through Northern Israel.
Today, I needed to go to Karmiel, a mid-size city about 30 minutes from my kibbutz. Karmiel is home to a large Mega Bol, which carries a few gluten free products you can’t get at the nearby Shufersal (which any new olah mistakenly calls Supersal for the first few months).
I decided it was time to break my proverbial cherry (food pun intended). I had already been to the location numerous times as a tag-a-long with my husband. I knew exactly how to get there, where to park, and which aisles carried the items I needed.
Getting there was no problem. Finding a parking space was a piece of cake. The store was empty so I quickly grabbed what I needed. “Chik chak” as they say here. As I approached the checkout aisles, my heart began to race. Why? Because I knew what was coming.
In the States, you can probably get away without ever talking to the cashier at the grocery store. In particular at grittier stores like ShopRite or Pathmark, you don’t even have to smile or say hello. If the cashier asks, “paper or plastic,” you can get away with a grunt and point towards the bag of your choice.
Not so in Israel.
I placed my contents on the checkout counter. I smiled at the cashier who did not smile back, but asked me in Hebrew, ”Do you have a Mega Bol card?”
I was prepared. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. The big mistake I made, however, was in my answer.
“No,” I told her. “No, I don’t have one.” If I had added, “And no, I don’t want one,” I would have been out of there. Chik Chak.
But, she asked me. “Why not?” Again, my mistake was in answering honestly. I should have just told her, “Because I don’t.” Zeh hu zeh. (And that’s that!)
Instead, I said, “My husband has a Mega Bol card and I don’t have his here today. I am fine. We’ll use it another time.”
Well, no Israeli is going to let you get away with that.
What? You don’t want a deal? You don’t want to save .o3% on your purchase today? You don’t want the free coupons you get in the mail when you sign up for your own Mega Bol card? But you get a discount on the card if your husband already has one! How can you call yourself Israeli if you’re not going to accept the deal?!? Accept the deal!! And while you’re at it, don’t you want this lipstick that’s on sale? Or the choc0late-flavored dog biscuits? What about this imported liver pate? It’s only 50 shekels! 50 shekels! This liver pate normally costs 85 shekels. Why not buy this liver pate when it’s on sale? Who cares that you hate liver pate? It’s a deal! What about the ladies razors? They’re “1 + 1!” Such a deal!
The cashier (and subsequently her manager) came over to the cash register, both insisting that I sign up for the card. Insisting that I should reconsider. But I could not understand the particulars…no matter how slowly she repeated them to me. Not even when she repeated it for a third and fourth time.
Finally, I said to them in my baby Hebrew, “Please. I am a new immigrant. It’s hard enough for me to even gather up the courage to go shopping, let alone have a conversation or argument with you about why or why not I will accept your super bargain that is a Mega Bol card. I just want to pay for my things and leave with a scrap of dignity.”
I didn’t say it exactly like that. In fact, without the vocabulary to say it like that, I instead shrugged my shoulders and smiled; which led me to leave the very last shred of dignity I had at the checkout counter.
But at least I had my gluten free chocolate chip muffin mix. And my two packs of razors.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.