Sunday, November 11, 2007

In order to sign up for medical insurance, you have to visit, of all places, the post office. Unfortunately for a normal postal visitor, one also has to wait behind a myriad of people paying bills. Yes, you go to the post office to pay bills here, instead of doing automatic debits from your account. Automatic debiting is a reality here, but Israelis prefer to leave that to their material purchases. Any credit card purchase is greeted with a question of whether or not you want to do "tashlomim," or monthly payments. A $50 grocery bill? "Yeah, sure, I'll pay for it over 3 months." Cell phone deals are advertised as being only a few bucks a month, but, over 36 months! This is an extremely common financial decision...and it leads so many people to credit card debt. A few dollars here and there, no big deal! But then, all of a sudden, you're over drawn and have no way to pay that next month's slew of installments. Smart business tactic.

Anyway, I was waiting in line at the post office with a friend, just about to be seen, when 5 people, not kidding, walk in from outside and bump in front of me. "Oh, we were here!" Ok, because I've been standing in one of those slow, snaking lines for 10 minutes, and never saw you! But yeah, sure, go ahead and bump in front of me! No problem! Hey, you gotta get used to it. As I said before, the Israeli rudeness is just another part of the game.

My friend that went with me told me a fun little story about her most recent trip to the same post office. Her mother's birthday was in a few days, and she wanted to send an enveloped letter express. She wanted it to get home on or around the birthday -- pretty standard stuff. The cost was 60 shekels, which is about $15 American. The post office lady began questioning my friend on her economic well-being.

"You really think you want to spend 60 shekels on sending just an envelope? That's a waste of money, isn't it?"
"It's for my mother's birthday. I want it to get there on time, so I kinda have to send it express."
"Yeah, I see, but wouldn't you rather spend that money in buying some type of gift for your mom? I mean, is a letter really worth it? Do you think you mom would really care about a letter?"
"Yes, it's kinda a thing in America, you know, to send a letter to someone on their birthday."

At this point, the clerk began to speak to her fellow workers, and soon enough, the entire post office was telling my friend that it was a waste of money.

"Your mom would rather get a package of something."
"Yeah, why spend all that money on a letter?"
"Seriously, don't waste your money!"

After speaking to everyone in Hebrew for 10 minutes, the clerk began to question her anew.

"Oh, you just don't understand Hebrew!," now speaking in English. "See, it costs 60 shekel, which is really expensive! Your mom won't care about the letter for all that money!"
Exasperated, my friend loses it. "Are you stupid? Are you that dull? I've been speaking to you in perfect Hebrew since I walked in here! It's my money, just GIVE ME THE EXPRESS shipment! I'm American, I'm rich, just do it!"

If in doubt, just combat Israeli presumptuousness with the claim of being American -- which in foreign terms, means you are rich. Hey, sometimes you gotta swing for the fences.

In a nice little coincidence, out of 4 clerks, the person I was directed to was the same woman that so deftly handled my friend's envelope. She greeted me, and then said, "Hey, weren't you in here the other day?" Oh, what a fun day.

The strangest thing that has ever happened to me in Israel happened after the post office. I was waiting in line at the medical center, where you actually sign up for insurance. Lines, again. One of the clerks left her desk, approached me, and shot some serious Hebrew at me. I caught enough to figure out that she was asking whether or not I was a new immigrant. First of all, if you suspect someone of being a new immigrant, would you speak to them as fast as humanely possible in a language that normally isn't their mother-tongue? Second, I figured she was going to tell me, as all the horror stories I've heard about having to run around here and there with various papers, that I had the wrong papers, or had to go to another office, or come back at another time. Great.

Instead, she pulled me out of line to help me before my number was called. What? I received preferential treatment, in a line system, in Israel? Preferential, as in I was the one that was preferred? And helped out of line? Amazing and rare. The day was going great, and then I saw something heartwarming...

Nearby was a religious Arab woman, and a religious Jewish woman, both sitting in front of the same clerk, being helped in turn. They were smiling and chatting with each other, as if their people were not at each others' throats. They didn't have to chat like best friends, and I've seen plenty of religious Arab men and religious Jewish men give each other the death stare.

I suppose that goes to show you that no matter what the political scene appears to be, and that no matter what the media shows, the actual situation on the ground, between individuals, doesn't happen to always be so easily discernible. Some people think that Israel is in the grips of some continual war, as if Israel is Iraq.

In fact, Israel is not Iraq. Bullets aren't flying, improvised explosives aren't blowing cars and convoys away, snipers aren't reigning terror down on the masses...

Maybe these two woman showed me that if the Israelis and Arabs want peace, they'll need women in office. So, who's voting for Hillary?

No comments: