Sunday, March 15, 2009

Politics, Queues and Balygans

Our Waiting Game for the new government hopefully is drawing to a close soon, the winners to be announced by the end of the week. (Not to hold our collective breath, however.) Personally, I find that I am pleasantly surprised at my lack of impatience and frustration through the whole process, taking the whole thing in stride and feeling calm about it all.

Learning patience has been part of my Israeli training, an awareness of which I have had - or at least suspected - for some time.

When I first moved to Israel I found myself enormously impatient in the queues and crowds as I waited to be checked out or be served for some service. "How can the others stand this... they all look so calm...just waiting and waiting, and I feel like exploding!!"

I am not sure why it affected me so much. It isn't as if I never waited in lines or had to take numbers for service in America. Of course I did, but there is a huge cultural difference.

You see, here in Israel, the banker, the checkout clerk, the postal clerk, the government workers have many other more important things to do at the same time as waiting on the customer. For instance, talking on the phone. Now I don't mean answering the ringing phone at the desk. I mean calling the family or the friend for a chat, especially right after you have asked a question. What better time to plan an outing? Heaven forbid that the customers should complain, can't we see that the clerk is busy now? Oh, and yes, the 3 people who simply walk up to the desk and engage the clerk while you are discussing your problem...don't they have rights for heaven's sake?

Then there are the one armed clerks in the supers (markets) The supermarket clerks use only one arm with which to ring the register and move the items being rung up...not moving items across with one hand and tapping the register with the other. Yes, it does take her/him twice as long to ring up the purchase.

Supermarket clerks also have other business to conduct at the same time as checking out customers. One incredible incident is forever etched in my mind. A young girl was the check out clerk at a supermarket in the Center of Town. Her jeans were cute and very tight...I mean very tight...so tight that she couldn't comfortably sit in the chair. For 10 minutes (I timed it) she tried different positions, shifting the belt area, trying to slide the material around so she could sit down. She unbuttoned and re-buttoned the jeans, and just could NOT get comfortable. I was close to the front in line. I stared at her, at the people ahead and behind me, expecting her to be hugely embarrassed and the customers to be irritated and start yelling. No one said a word. Everyone simply waited while this young girl, who didn't look the slightest bit embarrassed at holding up the line so she could sit down in her tight jeans, wiggled and maneuvered around. It wasn't even that people thought it was cute that she went through so much to sit...they just ignored her and talked among themselves about the daily issues until she was ready to start ringing. Finally, I guess she felt comfortable, and life moved on.

Of course, customer themselves contribute to the frustration. There is a little game that is played, mostly in the supermarkets, but elsewhere too, like post offices and banks. It's called "tapping the shoulder of the person in front of you and telling them that you are next after them"...then going off for 20-30 minutes, maybe even to have a coffee, and coming back to "reclaim" their spot in line "just in time". Imagine my irritation when this phenomenon first presented itself to my brand new immigrant and totally naive self. Arriving in line, waiting my turn, I would suddenly find 3 different people - just as it is my turn to be next at the counter - suddenly show up and claim that they are next in line before me. Huh??? Slicha?? (Excuse Me!!) I have been here 20 minutes and YOU just arrived. NOT so, it turns out, (confirmed loudly by the man or woman just leaving the counter)...they had been there once, but decided to leave and enjoy the scenery instead of standing in the line. I was the one in error I was told...didn't I know they had "saved" their spot in line???

The only exception, and it is a large exception, are the bus queues...an oxymoron for sure. There IS no such thing as a bus queue - there is a bus MOB whose job it is to try and kill you as you get on the bus. People appear out of nowhere, physically shoving you out of the way so they can climb on the bus first. Of course one is a friar (sucker) if he/she steps back to allow it. The name of the game is to start shoving and pushing as well.

All this to say, waiting for Israeli politics to take shape is a bit like life in Israel itself. Nothing about it makes logical sense, on the surface it looks like a complete balygan (mess)...but, for pete's sake, this is why we love this country.

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