The Supermarket is Not A Place to Buy Groceries

Repeat to self: The supermarket is not a place to buy groceries, but a place to observe culture; The supermarket is not a place to buy groceries, but a place to observe culture.

I shop at a huge (by Israeli standards) “super” in Talpiot. It’s called Superdeal, so as not to be confused with “Superclean” (the laundromat) or “Supersano” (the floor cleanser) or “Super Hamoshava” (the ritzy upscale overpriced market designed to trap American tourists who don’t know that if they walk six more blocks, they’ll pay a fifth of the price).

Superdeal is clean. It’s cheap. It’s well-stocked. The only problem with shopping there is that the checkout clerks are very friendly. A little too friendly.

Take earlier tonight, for instance. It was 11pm on a Thursday – the usual time I do my shopping. I was standing in line with my groceries piled in my Best American Short Stories, JOFA, and Houghton Mifflin canvas tote bags, waiting to pay. By some miracle, only one person stood in front of me. Hurrah, I thought – maybe it would take only five minutes to get out of there!

No such luck, of course.

The man in front of me was a “French bread” guy. (Note: Israelis can be divided into two groups: Those who buy French bread for Friday night dinner, and those who buy challot. Otherwise known as “chilonim” and “dati’im.”) Mr. French Bread was leaning on his right palm with his elbow resting at the edge of the conveyer belt, chatting with the clerk. The clerk, a woman with bleach-blonde hair, plum-colored lipstick, and huge silver rings shaped like flowers and bugs on each of her ten fingers, was cackling. (Not laughing; not chuckling, but cackling – I promise.) “Ramon, Ramon,” he kept saying. “Ramon, Ramon” she kept repeating hysterically. The clerk in the next aisle over heard them and started gesticulating madly, though she was laughing too hard to get a word in edgewise. Ramon? What are they talking about? Ilan Ramon is hardly a laughing matter, and old news at that; who was this Ramon? Clearly there was something I was missing.

I leaned over to the woman behind me, who was growing increasingly frustrated. “What are they talking about?” I asked her (in Hebrew). She explained: Apparently a member of the Knesset named Ramon has been having an affair with some woman named Edna. News to me. Mr. French Bread and the clerk were trying to figure out how MK Ramon, who is apparently quite advanced in years, could possibly be having an affair. How long had it been going on? Where did he meet her? Was she enjoying it? How much was she enjoying it? Was she enjoying it as much as he was? Mr. French Bread and the clerk did not see eye-to-eye on this last question, which resulted in a whole other argument. Meanwhile, there were now four people behind me in line all shouting at the clerk:

“Hurry up, hurry up!”
“What is this, a coffee shop?”
“A coffee shop, but no coffee!”
“We’re waiting!!”
“Mashiach will come before you stop!” (This came from a challah-buying Israeli with a big black hat, three kids who were clambering all over two overflowing shopping carts, and a nineteen-year-old wife with a baby on her hip.)

The clerk mostly ignored the rabble-rousers, though every so often she would wave her silver fingers at them and yell, “Ani k’var itchem.” [I’m already with you.] This is one of my favorite Hebrew expressions. It can mean anything from “I’m down the hall and I can see you even though we’re still talking to each other on our pelephones” to “I’m on Pluto and you’re on Earth, but I’m about to step into my spaceship and it’s only a five light-year trip.”

When the clerk finally leaned over to give the man change, she realized that she had no more 20-shekel bills. (This happens to me every time I am in Superdeal: The clerk runs out of a particular coin or bill while ringing up the person in front of me.) So after a few more exchanges about Ramon, she got up and strolled over to the customer service (Ha!! I don’t think that phrase exists in Hebrew) desk to restock. On the way, she stopped to chat with the guy who was manning the bread-slicing machine; then she leaned down to tie her shoe; then she solved a few quadratic equations in her head (or so it appeared). By the time she came back, the erev rav behind me was about to mutiny. I ducked to avoid their rage; any moment there would be cans of chick peas flying overhead like candy at a Bar Mitzvah or katyushas in Tzfat. But Mr. French Bread, thank goodness, was getting ready to leave. Just as he was packing up his last bag, he looked at me and said, with a totally straight face, “Did you hear about Ramon?”

I took a deep breath. I was not going to scream. I was going to answer him calmly.

“Well you know what it says in the Torah,” I said. “Acharey v’loti hayta li Edna.”

Unfortunately, he found this so amusing that he had to repeat it to the clerk, which resulted in another five-minute exchange. But it’s OK. I could handle it (even if the people behind me could not). After all, as I always say: The supermarket is not a place to buy groceries, but a place to observe culture.

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