Most people will be familiar with the doctrine “Let the buyer beware” (or, for those who didn’t attend a crap school, Caveat emptor). Retailers in Israel, however, have significantly extended the scope of the doctrine and renamed it “The buyer is a freier” (Yiddish-derived Hebrew for “sucker”).
I am destined never to get fit. After getting into working out for the first time in my life, my local gym, on Sheinkin Street, recently closed following a serious fire. Apparently, a female member (who said “of course”?!) – whose time might have been better spent on mental exercises – left her towel on the sauna heater.
Now, knowing Israel and its natives as I do, approximately a week after the conflagration – and with no sign of the gym reopening – I decided, to be on the safe side, to cancel the direct debit (after notifying the gym). And, sure enough, it continued collecting payments from those who hadn’t.
The gym reopened last week, when I phoned to renew my membership. “Naturally,” I informed the irritatingly camp manager Gidi, “I expect to be credited with the one month I had frozen” (earlier in the year, whilst I was abroad).
“Of course not,” he squeaked, “you cancelled the contract.”
I started explaining the contractual principles of consideration and frustration to him – that, following the fire, I was receiving absolutely zilch for my payments, and that the contract had now become impossible to perform.
When, however, the squeaking started up again – and sensing the onset of a rage which might have been wrongly perceived as homo-, rather than “no one can really be this camp-”, phobic – I requested the details of the gym owner.
Eddie was an altogether more serious proposition. And, sitting opposite him in his office, I tried a less legalistic tack, testing whether an Israeli could comprehend the principle that “The customer is always right.” What works in Brent Cross, however, will not necessarily on Sheinkin. And Eddie merely added insult to injury by stating that I would also have to pay a fresh joining fee.
It is as if the whole Israeli retail industry is run on the principles of the shuk (market). It is quite common in these parts, even in large chain stores, to haggle over prices. And, on Thursday, my kiosk friend Avi described the bewilderment of a Fifth Avenue (New York) shop assistant, who – after Avi had purchased a pair of shoes – could not comprehend why he was demanding a gratis pair of socks and/or shoe polish.
The Israeli attitude towards customers has caused me to “lose it” on several occasions since my Aliyah (and I relate such not out of pride, but in the interests of authenticity) . . .
I lost my Israeli consumer ‘virginity’ towards the end of the 1990s on a well-deserving Dizengoff Street kiosk owner, who refused to believe – me . . . an Englishman! – that The Jerusalem Post I had purchased from him merely an hour earlier had its TV guide section missing.
His temerity so incensed me that I picked up another copy and ran for it. He gave chase, but I ended up losing him in the garden of some side street (for many months following, however, I had to take detours to avoid passing him).
Then, last year, in two separate incidents on King George Street – and provoked by unbelievable rudeness – I called a hardware store owner a “Polani” (Pole), and hurled a frozen yogurt back at the woman who had only just served it to me.
You are probably thinking that I need to attend anger management classes. And perhaps I do. But when you have to deal with such attitudes on a daily basis, the odd outburst is inevitable for all but the most placid of souls (and I have never been described as that).
I leave my favourite Israeli shopping story, however, till last. Walking out of a shop on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, and inspecting the roll of fax paper that he had just purchased, my cousin Marc realised that it was the wrong size.
Making an immediate about-turn, and politely requesting that the shop owner exchange it for the correct one, he was greeted with the now legendary reply, “Where do you think you are . . . in America?!”
One thing is for sure – the term “retail therapy” does not have its origins in Israel.