I’m both privileged and blessed to finally live in the country where a ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’.
Generally, it is assumed that when people say ‘no’ what they really mean is – ‘try harder’, but here this is really the case in day-to-day life. I see this from the earliest age, by the virtue of being privileged to work in an Israeli school, nothing that I say means anything unless I follow it through and cause some tears. I don’t generally like to see children crying, however sometimes I really have no choice but to send them back to class (I strongly believe that this is the worst, but also the most effective form of punishment I can exercise on them) and, as a result, the next time I see them they actually behave properly and do what they are supposed to do. This behaviour is caused by the ‘inventive mind’, a very common feature here, where everyone thinks that not only they know better what you want, but they are also not overly shy to tell you what to do, or tell you off, should you decide to do something contrary to their expectations.
For example, today in the morning, on my regular, not-so-peaceful, but ordinary way to work, I saw a father (I assume) sitting with his perhaps one or one-an-a-half old baby in front of a lady that looked at them sternly. The baby had a little hoodie on his head, was healthy and round, and looked like a well-iced doughnut on Chanukah. Suddenly the man stood up and the hoodie slipped of the baby’s head. The woman just couldn’t cope with it. She yelled after him: “Put the hood on the baby’s head!” The father was not going to take it lightly and with this unique to Israelis attitude and with a rhythmically waving hand, he said: “Did I ask you for an opinion?” She replied: “He’s cold”. “Mind your own business” he finished the argument leaving half the passengers on the bus very amused, commenting between themselves that as a father he should know what’s good for the child especially when there is nothing to worry about because the weather has dramatically improved over the past couple of weeks.
I have been personally involved in many similar incidents, mostly while shopping for groceries. For example, a few weeks ago I decided to have a pomegranate, tomato and avocado salad. The pomegranates here are gigantic, in case I haven’t mentioned that before, but I am sure I did. Buying a decent, not overly ripe or under-ripe avocado requires a skill. The skill is in 99% of times exercised by ‘feeling’ the fruit. Now, again, this should not unnerve anyone, that is, anyone outside Israel. The moment the shop assistant saw me touching more than two fruit without picking any of them, he approached me clearly irritated and asked, quite frankly what I was looking for. Truthfully and politely I replied that I was looking for an avocado. He answered: “These are avocados”. I replied that of course, I knew that, but I was looking for the one that was ripe. “They are all the same” he said. I disagreed saying that no, they were not and I reserve the right to choose. He got even more irritated and insisted: “Nuuuu, pick one”. On that occasion I decided really not to give in and irritated him for another minute finally satisfied with my choice. I would have been probably more prone to bending have I not had experienced that kind of pushing in the past. Around a year and a half ago I was told that the best way to check if watermelons are ripe is to ‘knock’ and listen if they ‘ring’. Addicted to watermelons I went to the market and enthusiastically started knocking on watermelons. Some ‘rang’ more than others and I didn’t however know what kind of a ‘ring’ I was looking for, when the seller finally lost his precious and limited daily patience allowance and told me to take the one which was already pre-cut and packed. I gave in. Since then I made it my objective to make life more difficult for those that don’t let me buy what I want. Few days ago I was asked to do some minor shopping and out of many things I bought a healthy chocolate snack, refraining myself from buying a regular chocolate or biscuits. At the till the man told me to buy three packets of biscuits or two tubs of Ben & Jerry ice cream at a discounted price. He told me. I didn’t want biscuits and don’t like Ben & Jerry, so I refused, also because I didn’t wish to spend more. I lied that I was on a diet, which I always am so it is hardly a lie unless one monitors my compliance with it, he scanned the snack and told me that I should have listened to him and instead of the snack buy what he told me, thus presumably getting more for less money. I mean, ma pitom? Why can’t I buy what I want? After all I am paying for it, no? It almost felt like a personal offense to him that he didn’t manage to convince me to follow his advice and somewhere within me I enjoyed the vengeance on this watermelon seller…
I can’t seem to be able to express enough how happy this place makes me, with all its idiosyncrasies. I expected to have a break, rest from many things when I moved here and what I found was – I was terribly bored when nothing was happening and, when things started happening, caught up in a carousel that spins and I wish I could take a break every now and then, but I enjoy it too much to bother stopping it. One of the points of enjoyment is bamba. I have decided, following thorough research and many, many, many samples (large and small) of bamba that no one can eat your bamba without you knowing about it. The sticky, peanut butter crumbs stick everywhere – EVERYWHERE. Your mouth, hands, clothes, bag, hair… and the more you’re trying to get rid of them, the more butter you spread on your clothes. There is therefore the holy rule – never eat someone else’s bamba without asking. But, let’s face it – the food is delicious and there are many troubles and inconveniences I am willing to suffer just to enjoy it. I actually made a point of taking pictures of the food before eating, but it looked and tasted so good that by the time I remembered about the ‘food porn’ the plate was already clean. The only picture I managed to take was of a tofu salad.
Last, but not the least, I have learned something very important recently, luckily not on my own example, but someone else’s, and that was never to trust Israeli return policy. What happened was that I went with a colleague of mine to Tel Aviv and she decided that she also wanted to return a piece of clothing, namely a one-size thin sweater, that of a comfy and baggy kind. She had bought it on sale and said that when she put it on it had a hole. Seriously doubting in the success of our mission we entered the shop where she related the story to the shop assistants and since the item was initially quite expensive, she argued, it should have been of better quality. She could have possibly done a better job, by clearly stating her demands without leaving room for interpretation, but she’s not Israeli, and even I, a Pole, would probably struggle looking someone in the face and demand what I wanted without being previously irritated by something very important like a late bus, too much salt in my food, a falling leaf or someone passing gasses on the bus.
Very soon she learned that the endeavour will not be of the easy kind, when the, presumably, manager walked in and said that she sees no reason to exchange the item. The client should be able to fix it themselves. It tore without a reason? What does she mean it tore? Perhaps she was too big for the sweater (seriously? It was one size, which means it was quite baggy to fit two of them into one sweater) and that she would not accept refunds. She could pay 10 shekles and have it fixed (suddenly she turned into a financial advisor) and sternly with that typical detached look she made my colleague understand that she was wasting her time. The quest failed.
You know when we were told that the customer is always right and when you are dealing with them you have to smile, even if they offend you? Here they are always wrong. In my opinion it is both a blessing and a curse. The curse certainly manifests itself when you are a customer, because you have to really think what you are doing and buying, checking all angles, because once the sale is done, you are in a much more disadvantaged position to reclaim your money. On the other hand, in terms of it being a blessing, you don’t have to smile and pretend to be nice. You just do whatever feels natural. Countless amount of times I walked into a shop and sale assistants were doing their makeup shouting the names of items and their respective prices over applied lipstick or mascara. In many respects however, this is how people here start conversations, find out that they have mutual friends and end up going to the same parties. So, if I have to argue over an avocado and giggle with the bus driver and few passengers over an upset father with a perfectly healthy child, I really don’t mind it, because it looks like this is the way people show they care, or are just simply curious about you. I haven’t really yet seen anyone who took offense and I intend not to be offended, but enjoy being here, day in and day out for as long as I can.
So the question is: what is not clear in ‘no’? Are you serious? Everything is unclear. You could have just yawned and it sounded like a ‘no’. It’s better to make sure… more than once, of course.