Using my loaf: Monkey business in Shuk Ha'Carmel

By Melchett Mike
November 28, 2010

“They are all barbarians,” I exclaimed to Hanna, who had called me just as I was exiting Shuk Ha’Carmel – the Carmel Market – on Tuesday morning.

Hearing my own words, however, I was immediately struck by their unadulterated foolishness. Indeed, such a pronouncement about bastot (stall) owners in the Shuk – and after 15 years here – was up there, in the obviousness stakes, with statements such as “Israelis can, on occasion, be not particularly considerate drivers” and “Bibi may not really be interested in a settlement with the Palestinians.”

Not wanting Hanna to think me a complete buffoon (I don’t think that either of us had yet ruled out – though she may have now – a friendship beyond the purely platonic), I attempted to justify my outburst by relating how a stallholder who has supplied all my bread requirements for years had dismissed me with a contemptuous wave of the hand, as if waving away a beggar, as I was attempting to show him (for his information, as it were) how the last loaf purchased had not – through no fault of the Rechov Melchett freezer (as frosty as the drawers of a frigid Polania) – frozen properly through the middle.

“Are you mad,” said Hanna. It dawned upon me that my chances might have receded even further. “Do you think that he has the education to comprehend, or to care, why your bread might not have frozen?!”

I cannot deny it: over the years, I have had more than my fair share of run-ins with Israeli customer service. But the truth is that, on this occasion, I hadn’t expected understanding or sympathy . . . merely civility and, perhaps, that – for a good customer – the Persian would, like an English trader in his shoes, feign a polite smile and hand over (however reluctantly) a fresh loaf. And, before opting (wisely, I think) not to dig my hole vis-à-vis Hanna any deeper, I considered educating her as to how it is precisely such seemingly trivial gestures that make up the fabric of a livable society.

Talking of societies and fabrics, I grew up in a most “livable” one in which they could be returned to retailers even after they had been worn to numerous engagements/functions. Indeed, I could swear that M&S Brent Cross had a dedicated queue for Jewish housewives returning outfits with which they had become bored, or – horror of all horrors – in which they had spotted a rival (i.e., any other Jewish) female. Even my bar mitzvah suit went back immediately following the big day after a magnifying glass helped identify a miniscule imperfection in its pinstripe (“He finds it itchy” was considered unlikely to suffice). Moreover, a recently-visiting friend related how North-West Londoners routinely return LCD tellies to Costco (a cash and carry warehouse), which exchanges them for the latest model without so much as a query (compare that to the “Jerusalem fax paper episode” - see blog).

On discussing this post in the pub, yesterday evening, my friend Yuval was of the view that while such wonderful customer service may be viable in the UK, the consumer chutzpah that can so easily abuse it makes it impossible in the Jewish state, where sellers do not wish to be freiers any more than buyers. Makes sense.

Even the knowledge that Shuk Ha’Carmel traders are renowned for their primitiveness and lack of education – as well as for living off largely undeclared income in the swankiest suburbs of north Tel Aviv – does not, as it should, help me to rise above and not get wound-up by their ill-breeding. Two other friends, and fellow olim, refer to this type of Israeli male (regrettably, not encountered only in the shuk) as “apes”/“monkeys”; often apposite-seeming epithets, which – before the accusations of racism start to fly – relate to their behaviour rather than (or, at least, more than) their ethnicity. Let's face it, if it is swarthy, hairy, excitable and cheeky, it ain’t no sheep or swan!

Might I, however, have become one of them? It has been said . . .

On Tuesday, as I wheeled my trolleyful of produce back past the Persian, I – in spite of having had half an hour to cool down – experienced another “frozen yogurt/Jerusalem Post” moment (see blog), informing him that he was a “shmock” from whom I had made my last purchase.

As Hanna subsequently made very clear, however, on this occasion there had been only one shmock . . . and, from now on, I would be better off using my loaf.


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