Errands in Israel: Inhale, exhale

Living in Israel is frustrating.  Some people have a better or worse experience, depending on their heritage, religion, and temperament, but Israel is frustrating for everyone.  Even the most happy-go-lucky Zionist would agree.  To enjoy yourself, or at least stay sane, you must accept the frustrations.

The best strategy is not patience, but resignation.  When doing ostensibly simple errands, expect to be hampered.  You’ll be cut in line (there is no line).  The cash register will malfunction.  The person who knows how to sell monthly bus passes will be out of town for the month.  They don’t accept foreign credit cards (but they did yesterday and they probably will tomorrow).  Through the obstacles, maintain a disposition of 10% annoyed, 10% amused, and 80% bored.  If you succeed in your errand—if you buy a spatula, mail a package, pay the phone bill—you will be elated.  What a great day!

Some of the first Hebrew I learned was in yoga class:



It sounds like “shay-E-fa, NAY-shi-fa” and means, “inhale, exhale.”

Shayefa, nayshifa has become my calming mantra—what “Serenity Now!” was for Mr. Constanza.  In moments of frustration I think shayefa, nayshifa and I stay imperturbably cool.

I use my mantra to dispel innumerable daily micro-frustrations.  Like how I live 400 meters from my research institute, but it takes ten minutes to walk there because the crosswalks aren’t synched.  I have a Walk signal, get halfway across to the median, and then the signal for the next half of the street changes to Don’t Walk.  If I tried to dash on red, as the locals do, I would be hit by a car immediately and my corpse would be honked at until it was cleared.

Shayefa, nayshifa.


Caption: I cross this 3-segment intersection on my way to work. Note the most distant cross is green and the man is stuck on the median.

I tried a new grocery store last week.  It was cheap and icky.  The fluorescent lights were bewilderingly bright and the shelves were haphazardly stocked.  Canned peas, but no canned chickpeas.  Cleaning products next to the bread.  The produce was either rotting or pallid.

I’ve never had the constitution for cheap grocery stores.

All that I really wanted was floss, which they didn’t have.  I piled some goods into my basket because, hey, I was there.  I didn’t not need canned peas, bread, and a cleaning product of uncertain purpose (it was either laundry detergent or dish soap I was sure).

I got in line behind a middle-aged woman and her frail, withering mother.  The mother seemed too old to be out-and-about, but judging by the number of items in their cart, perhaps this was her last time out.  Despite the loaded cart, I filed behind them, assuming that a one-transaction line would take less time than the other lines, which had multiple, independent customers.

1 minute passed.

The daughter removed a pomelo* and frozen chicken breast from their purchases and placed them negligently on the rack of chewing gum.  The polemo and chicken teetered there, looking so cumbersome and conspicuous, on neat rows of glossy Orbit packs.

*I didn’t know what a polemo is either!  It’s basically a dinosaur grapefruit.


Caption: Random Asian woman holding a polemo.  Dinosaur for scale.

4 minutes.

The middle-aged woman insisted on buying tee-shirts—plain cotton tee-shirts wrapped in plastic—because what better place to buy tee-shirts than the budget grocery store.  She wanted an XXL, but they only had up to XL on the floor.  The cashier went to check the back stock.

I had already unloaded my groceries onto the conveyer so switching lines seemed prohibitively arduous.

7 minutes.

By now a line of three customers and two carts had formed behind me.

10 minutes.

Shayefa, nayshifa.

12 minutes.

Beads of condensation dripped from the chicken breast, though the gum rack, to a growing puddle on the floor.

14 minutes.

No XXL in the back.  The middle-aged woman was not satisfied.  The cashier went to ask the manager, who must have been across the street at the gambling kiosk.  I surmised these plot developments because everything was said in huffy Hebrew.

15 minutes.

Unrest was brewing behind me in line.  Based on their tone and the context, my imaginary translation of their dialogue was:

Man 1: “What is the hold up?!”

Middle Aged Woman: “I need these tee-shifts for my nephews.”

Man 1: “Well hurry up!  I need to get home before Shabbat begins!”

Middle Aged Woman: “Don’t tell me to hurry!  You hurry!”

Pregnant Lady 1: “How can he hurry when you’re taking so long?  I need to get this hummus home to my seven children!”

Man 1: “Mazel tov!”

Pregnant Lady 1: “Shabbat shalom!”

Shayefa, nayshifa.

17 minutes.

I was trapped by carts behind me that couldn’t move because Man 1 refused to move.  He was belligerently committed to this line.  It was grocery cart gridlock.  There was no escape.

Shayefa, nayshifa… maybe I should buy that pomelo.  I’ve heard they aren’t as bitter as grapefruit.

18 minutes.

No.  I’m suspicious of pomelo.  Shayefa, nayshifa.

They found a green XXL tee-shirt, but the woman only wanted navy.  Fine, she wouldn’t buy tee-shirts today.  With excruciating slowness, the elderly mother pulled her checkbook from her purse and scrawled out a check.  The cashier snatched the check, typed some digits with her pointer finger, and rejected the check.  She would have to get the manager.

Shaye-fuck me, nayshi-fuck me.

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