Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An Israeli Shopping Experience

Meant to be posted on May 16, 2006...

I have a confession. I am a shopaholic. One of my ex-boyfriends once diagnosed my sickness as “consumerism.” He had learned about it in one of his economic classes, and decided that indeed this was my condition. The truth is that I can’t disagree with this fact. For whatever reason, this character trait of mine has transferred all the way across the world and into Israel. I know this may come as a shock to you, but when I initially set foot in this country, my thought was that I would not shop. I didn’t think the clothes would fit me, and I wasn’t sure I would like the style. After living in Los Angeles among the fashion gurus, I couldn’t imagine that anything could resemble the malls and boutiques that are uniquely found in many different areas of the city. Well, according to my credit card bill, I made a wrong assumption before coming here. I began to learn my ropes around the fashionable stores in Israel like Castro, Honigman, and Tag Woman in Beer Sheva, and perfected the weekly mall stroll in Tel Aviv.

A couple things to note about Israeli fashion… Buttcracks are cool. This must be the case, or else they would make pants that actually cover your entire butt. However, this fashion law here goes hand in hand with the next. Underwear is cool. Thongs or briefs, both are acceptable to parade proudly sticking out of your way below your hips- hipster jeans. Next law: English writing on your shirt is a must. I personally cannot subscribe to this law, as I have always hated labeling myself according to a store, but here it is more than acceptable. Even when the store is authentically Israeli, like Fox Shirts or Castro, the writing on the shirts is still in English. These shirts even say more than just the store they came from, but other phrases that are just odd to read. My favorite example of this is “My mother says, ‘Go #%&* yourself!’” Further, these shirts are appropriate to wear anywhere. Whether it is a wedding or a funeral or the Western Wall, one will see them all over the country. Another rule: the tighter, the better. Now, this tightness is not limited to men or women, young or old, it applies to everyone everywhere on everything. Shirts, pants, or skirts, if you leave even a little bit of room for that extra bit you are trying to work off at the gym, you are out of fashion. Ironically, this especially applies to the men in this country. For the purposes of this fashion law, we will leave out the orthodox in the country. However, for all the other men, the baggy look is out and tight is in. In America this might imply something about the sexuality of the man sporting the outfit, but in Israel things are different. The only thing the lack of a tight shirt might indicate here would be the need for room for the overwhelming amount of chest hair on the guy’s body, or that he hasn’t been able to go shopping since his weight loss. Given that most Israelis are pretty fit and trim, I would guess that the former suggestion is the most true.

This leads me to my discussion about how Israelis shop, based on my observations just hours ago at a Castro store in Jerusalem. Different from my usual “just for pleasure” perusal, this time I had to check on a pair of pants that were supposed to be ordered for me a week ago. I had a brooding fear that this would be one of those times that I just wanted to return home to the good-old American customer service, and I was mostly right. As I waited in line to talk to the store clerk at the counter, the line seemed to keep growing in front of me, to my dismay. I have a new understanding of things when this happens to me. The idea of waiting in a single-file line after one has completed collecting his correct sizes and determined which articles to purchase simply doesn’t exist here. This actually applies to the bank, grocery store, and basically anywhere else where a purchase is being made. So, my annoyance level began to grow as I watched each customer whose spot was “saved” in front of me do their business at the counter. Now, if by exiting the line to finish business would enable one to have an easy check-out, I would be in favor of the idea. However, generally speaking, this is not the case among Israelis. My favorite example today was a woman who looked to be in her late 40’s, early 50’s, who initially walked up to the cash register with one red, Castromania t-shirt in size 2. The problem was that she actually wanted this shirt in black, in size 3. After this exchange was made at the actual cash register and not on the floor, she decided that she wanted two more in red and in blue, which again was brought to her by the salesclerk on the floor. In the meantime, the clerk at the register pushed her aside so he could help the next person in line. While she was waiting on the side of the register, she began looking around and examining everything else displayed on the counter for last minute purchases. She was helped again by the man at the cash register, and completed her purchases without buying anything on the counter. In a sudden move at the end, she headed straight for the far end of the counter opposite to her, cutting in front of everyone else, to look at a purse on display. She took the purse, examined it inside and out, and then did the same to a similar purse in a different color. She decides that she wants to buy it, walks over to the other side of the register, and pulls out her credit card and announces that she would also like to buy the bag. When the woman whose actual turn it was at the register looks up at her with a puzzled and annoyed look, the suddenly ashamed Israeli pushy lady apologizes and realizes that she must wait. Her second transaction is finally completed and she leaves the store.

Now, if that wasn’t enough to send my stress level soaring, there was more. During this ordeal with the crazy Israeli woman at the counter, I was being helped by another salesperson that was checking to see if my pants arrived. Bad sign: she keeps smiling at me while nervously looking at my receipt, back at the closet where orders are supposed to be held, and then back at my receipt again. In order to get anything done with efficiency here, I’ve learned that one can’t stand and look happy. Mind games help expedite the process. You must have a pissed off look on your face while you constantly check the time on your watch or cell phone, so your urgency and disappointment is obvious. Politeness doesn’t help, but only makes things worse because then you won’t take priority. So, even though I was having a rather good day, I put that aside and stood staring straight at the clerk with an almost scowl on my face until things were put in order. They kept looking at me with a sort of pained expression that said something like “We’re trying, we’re trying.” I continued to look annoyed until they gave me the unwelcome news: the pants had been sold to someone else and there wasn’t another pair left in my size in the entire State of Israel. Yep, just as I had thought, it would be one of those “Israel experiences.” I expressed my disappointment to them, which they understood, and proceeded to give me a full refund. Oh Israel, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

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