Monday, September 21, 2015

Gone Shopping. I'll Be Back in a Week

"The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one."
-Erma Bombeck

In my first years in Israel, shopping was not a difficult chore. This was mostly because there was nothing to buy. (Every time I went to visit the Old Country, I returned to the Land with a suitcase full of Head and Shoulders shampoo, Colgate toothpaste, and Zest soap, all completely unattainable in Israel.) Many neighborhood grocery stores were the size of a small bedroom (sometimes they actually were a small bedroom), where most of the merchandise was behind a counter and you had to ask for it. This was challenging on a few levels. First, you had to get the attention of the storekeeper, who was: a) chatting up some girl, b) counting bags of pasta, c) snoozing, or d) willfully ignoring you as part of his job description. Second, you had to know exactly what you wanted before purchasing it. There was no browsing or impulse buying, and no improvising if something looked better because you couldn’t actually see anything. Third – and the hardest part for the language-challenged person such as myself – you had to know how to say what you wanted in Hebrew. You had to go into the store and bravely tell the shopkeeper “I want some cheese, please." And the shopkeeper would answer "What kind of cheese?" It wasn’t enough just to ask for cheese. You had to say white cheese with 9% fat. Or simply 9%. You had to say “I want some 9%, please.” Of course, the shopkeeper, would then reply “9% of what??”

But, as I said, shopping wasn’t difficult because I avoided these grocery stores completely and ate mostly at ice cream parlours. Pointing to the large containers of colourful ice cream is much easier (and tastier) than asking for cheese. To heck with the fat content. 

Things have changed dramatically in the Land since then. Huge shopping centers dot the countryside replacing orange groves and ancient olive trees and, unfortunately, ice cream parlours.

Today, supermarkets are abundant and enormous and they all have the word ‘super’ in their names: 'SuperSol' (named after the original owner Solomon[1]) and ‘Supermarket’ (in case you didn’t know where you were) started the trend, and has since gotten a bit out of hand with the SuperDuper Store, the ‘SuperWonderful Store’ the HyperSuper Store and the SuperDuperHyperAmazing Store. They are all the same – acres and acres of foods, sundries, pharmaceuticals, kitchen ware, office supplies, small electrical appliances, flowers, lawn furniture, 46” HR TVs, lawn mowers, flags, wooden models of wild animals, and baby rose bushes. But no limes.

Normally, I’m not daunted by grocery shopping. It’s a chore I do weekly and I know my way around most supermarkets in the city.

During the ‘Holiday” season, which is now upon us, simple shopping can be somewhat overwhelming.

In the Old Country, there is the concept of 'loss leader'. The theory was that a store would actually take a loss on the price of selected items and thereby entice shoppers to come to the store to buy the more expensive items along with the very cheap ones.

There is no such concept here in the Holy Land. Nobody is going to risk losing a buck. What are we, friars? Instead. stores offer exotic items for sale, hard-to-get 'necessities' not available elsewhere. Produce such as fresh coconuts or pineapples, once completely unavailable, are now found in many supermarkets close to the holidays. Some supermarkets advertise 'American products', such as Heinz, or Hellman's or Del Monte, to pull customers in. Other stores stock up on household items such as sets of dishes, pretty serving platters, or washing machines to entice shoppers to choose their establishment for their holiday shopping. Some supermarkets will sell clothes and shoes to make the store a 'one stop shopping for all your holiday needs'!

However, I don't know how to cut a fresh pineapple, nobody in the family likes coconut, and, despite five kids, I don't need another washing machine.

What I look for is cheap potatoes and chicken.

Alas. That is not to be. Like our prayers, prices soar in proximity to holidays.

Iinstead, I look for the cheapest potatoes and chicken. Also cornflakes. Unfortunately, the store with a deal on chicken has really expensive potatoes. And, obviously, the other way around. The best potatoes are are found in a place with overpriced chicken, which also happen to be teeny weeny chickens. And cornflakes are universally expensive.

In our community, every year on the first day of the holiday of Sukkot, we have a 'sukka hop', where the kids go from sukka to sukka grabbing cookies.

I bring in this lovely custom a bit early, and with a slight twist. I go on a supermarket hop, hopping from supermarket to supermarket grabbing carrots from one, Hellman's mayonnaise from another, and, what the heck, a spare washing machine from the third.

At least I don't have to shop for Yom Kippur.

Wishing good shopping and Gmar Chatima Tova to all of Am Yisrael!

Gone 1] The real name is actually ShuferSal – Sal being a basket, but there is a story somewhere about David Ben-Gurion striking a deal with an American to bring a supermarket to Israel.

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