WEEK I: At first, I thought it was a fluke, a one-off that could never recreate itself. In all my years of living/summering here, I had never had anything but aggravation at the supermarket. First, because you need to insert a 5-shekel coin to retrieve a cart, the carts’ wheels are always askew, requiring one’s entire body weight to steer, the security guard has to inspect personal belongings before entering and receipts before departing, the salesclerks work so slowly they could be called snail clerks, and finally, the bagging. You have to frantically bag your belongings and pay, pronto!
Still, I have no choice but to go to the market, and on our second day, a steamy, sweaty Friday afternoon, Philippe and the girls and I went to Mega, one of the three main supermarket chains, in Ra’anana’s industrial area.
Daniella was eyeing the deep red watermelons that had been cut in half and wrapped in plastic. “Does it only cost 99 argorot for all of that?” she asked me in wonderment since that would be about 20 cents. Sure enough, she had read the sign without realizing it was per kilo. I pointed out the per kilo part but confessed that I had no idea how much a half or a whole watermelon might weigh. Converting to metric is yet another challenge we face.
“Slicha,” I said in a polite voice to a produce man stacking the watermelons one at a time. “Do you know about how much that weighs?” While my Hebrew is far from perfect and obviously spoken with an American accent, I can usually get by in the supermarket without any difficulty (the Social Security office is another story).
“Be’tach,” he said and proceeded to pick one up and walk away. Daniella and I waited, not understanding where he was heading. We watched him approach a cashier who was checking out a customer, weigh the watermelon on her machine and return. “Sheva kilos” or seven kilos.
Embarrassed, I thanked him and we strolled off to the cereal aisle. “See Mommy, some of the people here are nice,” Daniella said. I was just going to say the same thing to her. We both felt badly that we had no intention of buying the watermelon but agreed that this man had redeemed Mega.
WEEK II: The girls and I returned to the supermarket, only this time to Supersol Deal, another country-wide chain, on the ground floor of the Ra’anana mall called Ra’anim. School was starting soon and they wanted to stock up on basic lunchbox items and snack foods. At least we had a working refrigerator to house cheese, deli meat, yogurt and fruit.
Since we had less than 10 items, we went to the express cashier to check out.
“Shalom,” she said, smiling. She was a young Arab woman, probably in her twenties, with her upper forehead and hair wrapped in a black nylon headdress in typical Muslim fashion. Many married Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair too but usually leave the forehead exposed. “Do you have a member card?” When I told her I used to but didn’t know if it was still valid she asked for my ID number instead to scan. “Is it your birthday?” she asked in Hebrew.
“Mahar,” I told her. Tomorrow.
“Mazel tov!” she smiled again. Her birthday wish was so genuine that I also smiled.
“Toda.” I was taken aback by her warmth and looked at my girls. Daniella elbowed me as if to remind me there are nice people here, too. I acknowledged my daughter, as well as the cashier, thinking that maybe Mr. Watermelon Weigher at Mega wasn’t an anomaly.
WEEK III: Even though Mega is more expensive than Supersol Deal [and I used to go out of my way to pay less in Westchester], I had already decided that I would probably shop there. Reason being is that last year, Mega added a new, separate section with the best of Teva market, the closest thing I have found in this country to Whole Foods. There is a big one in the farthest side of Kfar Saba, about a 15 minute drive from us in no traffic, but not part of my everyday travels. Each time I enter the Teva area of Mega, I momentarily forget that I have to buy the bulk of my needs and check out in the regular part of the store.
Despite only one appliance hooked up in our kitchen, I got daring and bought food—whole wheat pasta, organic tomato sauce, onions, ready-washed salad—so that I could be ready and armed to make the first home-cooked meal in months. Until then, at least I can stuff my children with oowey-gooey praline filled Energy bars.
But no matter what I buy or where I buy it, I still have to check out. That means waiting in long, seemingly immobile lines (think traffic jam) for seemingly incompetent cashiers (who work slowly, indifferent to the fast-paced world) to pitch the weekly offers (at least 3-4 items at a discount perched on their counter), scan the member card, scan the items and wait for the customer to bag everything.
“Boker tov, manish ma?” the cashier said, the American equivalent to hi, how are you? Her bright and cheery greeting caught me off guard. I smiled and told her fine, thank you, waiting, wondering if she would ask me if I had found everything I needed like at Trader Joe’s. She didn’t. Instead, she asked for my Mega You card, which was outdated. She happily handed me the sheet to fill out and I paused, knowing I’d need help to read and write. “Ain baa’ya, giveret,” she said, telling me no problem and pointing at the form, clearly aware of my shortcomings. One question at a time, we filled it out together.
The customers behind me in line waited patiently. No one uttered a word or moved to a different checkout stand. Were they more tolerant of standing in line and waiting as a way of life than me, simply understanding that this was their society’s way? Finally, I finished bagging my groceries, signed the credit card slip and was ready to leave when my Mega angel spoke. “She eye’ ey lach yom niam.” This tired-looking woman radiated energy and goodwill as she wished me a pleasant day. I smiled back, wishing her the same and wondering to myself: what’s changed? Who has changed? Them—or me?