The Post Office Nasty

Patience – or savlanut, as they call it in these parts – may well be a virtue. But it is most definitely not an Israeli one. And, while the natives are notorious for being incapable of standing in line, inability to queue is only one symptom of their lack of patience.

Walking Stuey and Dexxy through the labyrinth-like streets of Tel Aviv, lost motorists will often ask me to come to their rescue. Instead of stopping and listening to the directions that they have requested, however – as they would in any normal country – drivers here continue moving forward, almost expecting you to carry on giving them while running alongside their vehicle. The attitude seems to be: “I want to get there as quickly as possible, but I can’t wait for you to you explain to me how.”

Walking down Melchett, last week, a middle-aged cyclist asked me for directions to the beach, all the time continuing to pedal.

“If you stop,” I responded, failing to conceal a different type of impatience, “I’ll tell you.”

“This rough direction or that?” she screamed – signalling left and then right with each arm – as, continuing to look at me from over her left shoulder, she moved further and further away.

Resisting the temptation to stick out my left arm, I grudgingly held out my right.

Indeed, this may be the only country in the world where one gets penalised for trying to be courteous . . .

Last Friday morning, I trudged along to my post office, on Yehuda Halevi Street, to find out what treat lay in store for me. I had received one of those dreaded postal service collection notices, which in the UK usually signifies a parcel or goody of some sort, but here more often than not indicates notification of a road traffic offence. And, with three pending court hearings for speeding, I was fearing the worst.

I pulled my number from the dispenser, but – due to the rather less-than-warm greeting extended to Stuey and Dexxy by a fellow hairy beast – we waited by the open door so as not to disturb the patrons (i.e., my attempt at courtesy). We were no more than 30 feet from the counter, and with a clear view of the electronic board, on which I was keeping a beady eye.

About ten minutes later, as it ticked over to 91, I immediately strode over to the indicated clerk. It must have taken me all of six seconds.

Alas, just before I could get there, an old dear – hovering for a hesitation – submitted 92.

It is almost acceptable – even normal – in these parts to push in. The attitude seems to be: “With our lovely neighbours, who knows how long we’ve got . . . so why waste time queuing?!” Indeed, tell an Israeli not to push in and, the chances are, you will be met with an extremely quizzical gaze.

And rather than politely inform the old lady that “Sorry, madam, this gentleman was first” – the words one would undoubtedly hear in such circumstances in the UK – the twentysomething frecha behind the counter instead barked, Soup Nazi-like, at me:

“Me’oochar midai!” (Too late!)

I slid my hand between the glass and the counter, grabbed Frecha by the throat, and yanked her so violently towards me that it was a miracle that the glass didn’t shatter as her thick head thudded against it.

Well, at least I fantasized about it.

When the red mist had lifted somewhat – regular readers of melchett mike will know that it was not the first time that it had descended – I ruminated over what I was going to say to Frecha when my chance would finally come. Alas, still hardly collected, “And that is why you are working in a post office” was the best I could come up with. Needless to say, I didn’t use it.

In the end, when the old lady had finished and moved aside, waiting a metre or so behind her, I lunged at the counter like a sprinter through the finishing tape.

Frecha gazed at me as if I was demented.

“Maspik mahair?!” (Fast enough?!), I fired, eyeballing her with contempt.

Frecha didn’t flinch . . . though I did catch a hint of satisfaction as she pointed out the box on the collection slip ticked: “Available for collection from next week.”

“At ro’ah – hayiti mahair midai!” (You see – I was too quick!), I quipped, in a last-ditch, though futile, attempt to save some face.

With which, the three of us exited. Two tails were wagging. The third was firmly ensconced between its owner’s legs.

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9 responses to “The Post Office Nasty

  1. Daniel Marks

    Quite a tail!

  2. Thank you, Daniel. It’s reputation obviously precedes it.

    Phnarr! 😉

  3. Funny, I have my own tale, not tail, from earlier today. At my local Zara, there was a line to one checkout and a shop assistant busy at a second checkout doing what looked like setting it up for custom. I asked No 2 if she was accepting customers to which she replied “I’m setting it up”. I decided to wait patiently and indeed after 20 seconds she was ready to go. I moved forward only to have an otherwise elegant lady lurch forward in front of me and slam her stuff on the counter muttering “I was her first” with the shop assistant concomitantly nodding in agreement. I stepped back alarmed and asked where is the queue to get served. The response was “Take your Pick from these two lines”. I said I already did. “But she was before you in the other line” they replied.
    I ask you fellow readers, how come whenever I am in a line and another checkout opens it’s first come first serve, and the one time I’m first to the wicket the locals decide it’s time to behave like noble Englishmen and let the honorable person who is really first to go first?
    Can anyone resolve this conundrum?

  4. Daniel Greenspan

    I made aliya some time ago, and thus Misrad Hapnim is etched in my memory as an all-morning affair (get in early, get ticket, read book or do errands, get served a few hours later).

    At a recent visit though, by the time I had done all my siddurim around Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda street and returned to the waiting room, I discovered that I was about 40 numbers too late.

    And that was a rare occasion to try English Hutzpa. When the clerk informed me that I’d missed my turn, I politely asked her whether it was my fault that they had become more efficient in processing people than in the past.

    Whether she took it as a compliment or a lost battle, I don’t know… but it did the trick, and I got served without any raised voices.

  5. Minnesota Mamaleh

    oh dear! this rings true, as does “yeheeyeh beseder”. so, so very hard to get used to! i think coming back to the states is also hard to get used to. as in “what’s everybody waiting for?!” thanks for a great post.

  6. Josh Haruni

    Interestingly my first, post-‘Aliyah’ altercation occurred at a post office.
    Having entered the post office, I joined the queue in front of me and foolishly stood in line for a good 20 minutes. When I was finally called forward, a young woman stood beside me at the teller’s window and asked what exactly did I think I was doing there. I calmly explained that as a consequence of standing in line for twenty minutes, I was entitled to being served and that she might think about doing the same. She immediately answered “Loh Yacholiot Ani Haiti Poh” i.e. That it was impossible for me to be served before her because despite not having been physically present at the post office for the previous twenty minutes, she had secured her place in the queue by proxy. This infuriating phenomenon occurs when Israelis encounter lines of any sort. They will ask who the last person in the line is and then declare that they are after that person and disappear.
    I looked to the Teller for some indication that he too found it unacceptable that she jump in front of me, only to be met with an impatient “Nu”?! At that point I lost my composure and found myself incapable of reasoning with her in Hebrew, so I unleashed a torrent of invective at her in English. She then looked at me incredulously and asked how I, as an Englishman, could be so discourteous towards a lady. Seeing the potential for physical violence, the Teller immediately intervened and suggested that he would serve us both together but incredibly the cow insisted that she be served first. Whilst being served I took the opportunity to list the differences between herself and a real lady with as many expletives as I could muster in between.
    Thankfully the effective, number system has put an end to the “Haiti Poh” phenomenon. All we need now is to find a cure for the talking / answering cell phones-during-movies annoyance.

  7. Josh, I can so relate to your inability to utter a single, comprehensible word in Ivrit when so infuriated!

    As my experience (in the above post) shows, I don’t think that the “number system has put an end to the “Haiti Poh” phenomenon” . . . unless you are Carl Lewis, of course!

    “Me ha’acharon be’tour?” (Who is the last in the line?) must be the most infuriating question in the history of humankind. And I had an interesting, cross-cultural reminder of it just this weekend . . .

    I was at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival (by the Kinneret) and, on Saturday morning, standing in the bleary eyed, 7am queue for the portable toilets.

    There were about five of us in the line, when all of a sudden this middle-aged Israeli bint appears from absolutely nowhere, having walked around the other, ‘wrong’ side of the Portakabins.

    Being a largely Anglo-Saxon gathering, it was politely suggested to the woman that she get in line like everybody else . . . whereupon she whined the dreaded question:

    “Me ha’acharon be’tourrrrrrrrr?”

    We all refused to answer (the result, no doubt, of years of annoyance and irritation).

    When she repeated the question, however, one bloke – quite amusingly, I thought – replied, with no little sarcasm:

    “Ke’chi mispar!” (Take a number!)

    She took the hint, and waited.

    As regards the Israeli cinema experience, see No Escape: Going to the Flicks, Israeli-style.

  8. mark prager

    I had similar early on Aliya experience about 20 years ago ! – was at a bank waiting to change money and was waiting in line patiently. Along comes a bloke and says – ‘ani hayiti po kodem’ (when that was I have no idea, since I was already waiting in line a good 10 minutes). Anyway, about 2 mins later, another teller opened up, shouted next, so I went to it. When the bloke came back, and started ranting at me, that he was here first, I simply replied – ahh but that was for that teller – not for this one. And so I was served, and he had too wait.

    Another great story I heard on the Modiin list was about people pushing in in supermarket queues. This lady apparently pushed in an claimed she was before the anglo lady about to arrive at the counter. So the Anglo lady made a bet with her, that she would let her go first, but if her (anglo) trolley was cheaper than her trolley then the rude Israeli would pay for her shopping. She agreed to the bet – and lost ! – and had to pay for the Anglo’s shopping – true story from Modiin.

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