Friday, July 23, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #155 – beytzim, quality control, holey foil, and how to get money when the money changing store is under construction (hint: go in)

In America when you buy Tropicana Orange Juice they have some secret way of making it taste exactly the same 365 days of the year. In Israel, if you are lucky enough to stumble upon fresh orange juice, you will notice the taste of the juice changing as the quality of the local orange crop changes. Egg yolks also vary with the season. They are almost white in the summer, absolutely orange in the winter.

Speaking of eggs…
When you say eggs in English you pretty much picture eggs. In Hebrew, beytzim is the word for eggs. Plus.

Israeli breakfast staple
How would you like your beytzim?

They sent my daughter home for lice but she only had two beytzim!

Jump over the ball game
I am the best at beytzim in my class!

Part of the male anatomy
Az di bubbe volt gehat beytzim, volt zi geven mayn zeyde. (It sounds so much nicer in Yiddish – where it probably came from).

When we first arrived I noticed quality control in packaged goods was not a high priority. I’m not saying you buy peanut butter and open it up to find mayonnaise but if a bag of chips claims to have a prize inside, it could well have 4 prizes and another bag could have zero. Today I opened up an 18 pack of eggs in the makolet and found half of them were brown and half white (all of them surprisingly clean). Then I opened another – 17 white and one brown. Hmmm. A beytzim puzzle.

We took a trip back to ShefaShuk last week – our first since our official moadone cards arrived in the mail. Smiling ear to ear (and knowing the answer), the cashier asked, ‘Yesh Moadone?’ To which we proudly responded, ‘Yesh!’ And so she began to ring. Until the Diamond Aluminum Foil crossed the scan.

Might I insert a word about Israeli foil here – if you could imagine foil being as thin as Saran Wrap then you can imagine Israeli foil. When I pull my pyrex covered in Israeli foil out of the oven, the foil has holes in it. The 350° oven burns holes in the foil! And so I bounce for the Diamond Foil from America. And that’s where we continue with the ShefaShuk story…
It’s 23 shekel for the foil!
The foil – are you sure you want it?
We went back and forth for a while (of course I wanted it!) and it took some convincing but in the end she rang me the foil. But, alas, I had a second box.
You want two??
She probably thinks I have tin foil for a brain.
Yes! Two of them!
It’s 23 shekel each one.
Perhaps I had forgotten the offensive price.
In that moment I contemplated buying the Israeli foil purely out of shame and embarrassment although I doubt her intention was to shame or embarrass me. Mostly she was trying to help me save money. And to teach me. It’s a big thing here, the ‘teaching’ you. It goes back to Bob’s mishpacha theory. Anyway,
Yes, yes, I want both.

When you spend all your shekels on foil, eventually you run out.

Of shekels, that is.

It used to be you could change money on the black market. It sounds worse than it was. We would go to the back of the Kent Store on Ben Yehuda Street – and get a better rate than the hotels or even the banks. Now there are official money changing stores that look like Vegas pawn shops from the outside (neon signs flashing green dollar signs) but they are actually official places to change money and you get a rate somewhat better than the bank, without even negotiating. Of course Bob likes to go in there and negotiate anyway – his success rate is about 50-50. They really have the upper hand because where are you going next? The Kent Store is gone.

In any case, like you would expect, the money changer is sitting at a desk behind a counter and a plexiglass window. And like you would expect, the money changing store has walls, a ceiling and a front door. So yesterday when I noticed our local money changing store was under construction I started thinking of where else I could change money. But I saw a lady coming out of the store. There were construction workers taking a break in front. Sitting inside was our local money changing guy. No plexiglass window. Without a door even. Sitting behind his desk with sheetrock dust on his kippah. I looked up – there was no ceiling. Neat stacks of shekels on the table. Giving them out in exchange for dollars. I wondered for a split second about his security. Was he at least sporting his neshek? Of course he was. What did you expect?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #154 - Things they don’t teach you in the driver’s ed crash course for olim – I will teach them to you now!

Curb your enthusiasm…
There are black and white striped curbs. And red and white striped curbs. There are red and yellow striped curbs. And there are blue and white striped curbs. After a full year I have cleverly deduced that the stripes demarcate zones as follows: (black and white) keep moving zone, (red and white) you may stop but don’t park zone, (red and yellow) bus zone, (blue and white) you may (pay and) park zone.

Not all stripes are created equal
In Meah Sharim, the blue and white stripes indicate that you may park but you have to magically know that you need to go into the nearest store and buy a ticket to pay for your parking. There is no sign indicating any of this. You just have to know it. And now you do!

In Efrat, I think it’s safe to say everything is treated as a (free) parking zone independent of the color stripes, save for the black and white. But that’s obvious. They paint the rim of the traffic circles black and white. Not even the people who park on the sidewalk would park there!

If you’re past the blue and white stripe zone in Meah Sharim and you ask a local where to park they may direct you to the sidewalk. You will look around, see other cars parked on the sidewalk, see no signs forbidding sidewalk parking and you will park and be on your way. This is what happened to my dear friend Michal. Just as she returned to her car, a traffic officer approached. He reprimanded her for parking on the sidewalk.
I’m going to write you a ticket! He shouts.
She’s not bothering anyone! A voice calls out.
Several locals then reprimanded the police officer for reprimanding Michal because she was not bothering anyone with her sidewalk parking. While they argued the merits of law abidance she quietly slipped into her car and drove away. My dear friend Michal, fugitive from justice.

To be fair…
You get a lot of mixed signals regarding sidewalk parking in Israel. It’s totally permitted, encouraged even, in the German Colony in Jerusalem. In other places it’s sort of tolerated – like on a Thursday morning in Efrat when the grocery store parking lot is full but there’s a big hunk of empty sidewalk. Or let’s say you do your banking on the very busy Derech Hevron. You’re not going to block a whole lane of traffic parking on this busy thoroughfare. It’s almost like they expect you to park up on the sidewalk there but they can’t say it outright. It’s a don’t ask, don’t tell policy as far as I can see. For the record, I can barely bring myself to do metered sidewalk parking – climbing a curb with your car is so unnatural!

It’s also unnatural to park in a big box with an X through it!
My friends all have big boxes with X’s in them in front of their houses. I figured these X spots mean no parking. Guess what? The X spot means no parking unless it’s your house. Oh, how those X spots would go over in Brooklyn!

Someone should really tell a girl from Maryland this one
The dotted white lines in the road mean what you think – sort of. You can YES pass. But guess what – they are divider lines and the road has two-way traffic! Looking for yellow lines? If you find them, you are in the wrong place – those indicate taxi and bus only lanes. Get out quick! Oh, and the lane that had all white lines last week might have changed to a bus and taxi only lane since then so you will have to simultaneously get out of that lane and map out an alternate route ASAP.

Shoulders, in Israel are courtesy lanes
Big trucks lumbering up hills will courteously edge over onto the shoulder so that you can pass them on the left. This said, there will be drivers who, by all estimation, should edge over onto the shoulder to let you pass but they won’t. And so you will be expected to pass them into oncoming traffic. Where the exact same scenario will be playing out in the other direction. There is a stretch of road from the 60 to Beitar Illit that is technically a 2 lane highway but realistically it can fit 3 cars across. In practice, there are usually 4 cars across the width at any point, the inner two just narrowly missing each other in a game of chicken which instantly has me singing that song from Footloose…

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #153 – a thousand ants? a bajillion ants!

I now speak Hebrew with confidence. Too much confidence.
This morning when Bob asked when the exterminator would be here I answered casually,
Od me-ah.
He’ll be here in another hundred?
Um, well, something like that but sooner.
Od me-at.
Yes, od me-at.

My exterminator has me sized up. If I call complaining about harbeh nimalim (a lot of ants) he knows there are somewhere between 2 and 7 ants. He jokes with me, even.
Elef nimalim, nachon? (A thousand ants, right?).
Nachon! I joke back.

Today was a different story. I had called my exterminator in tears last week when I woke up to a bajillion ants under my kitchen sink. When Bob woke up to the news, delivered by Asher very matter of factly, that there were a bajillion ants and mommy is crying, he first asked about the exterminator.
He—can’t—come—until—Sunday, I answered, between sobs.
Why are there cups of sugar tipped over on the counter?
Asher set traps for the ants.

And so, today, four days after a bajillion jihading red ants tried to take over my kitchen only to be stopped in their tracks by Bob who can deal with jihading red ants but not with a sobbing wife, we (I?) woke up with excitement. The exterminator was on his way!

Once he arrived we told him all about the ants – where they came from, how many there were (Harbeh! Elef! A bajillion!), and how Bob got some poisonous honey to use against them – as if the exterminator were going to record it all for posterity. He smiled and asked if there were any ants left?
Um, well, maybe there are some newly dead ones under the sink?

Later the exterminator called. He was looking for his hat. Maybe you left it in the back of your rekevet, I told him confidently.

Bob smiled as I hung up.
I really like that exterminator.
Me too.
I just told him his hat is in the back of his train, didn’t I?
Thought so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #152 – Open Sesame and other magical phrases

We’ve been back to Hadassa Ein Kerem and the specialness of our car has been confirmed. Our car magically opens the gate without a cartis. Every time.

Other tricks…
In a year’s time I’ve started absorbing the language by osmosis. The things I am able to do surprise me every day. For example, I am now able to spar over my place in line at the health clinic. And when someone charges me 61 shekel for an 11 shekel ice cream I am able to gently correct him and procure my correct change.

For all the Hebrew I’ve grasped there is still so much out of my reach. Some words I’ve given up on remembering so I have them saved in my Blackberry. When I get to the checkout counter in the grocery store I pull out my Blackberry and ask if there are any (it takes me a minute to scroll down)…mevtzayim (sale items).

I have been meaning to buy a hair dryer since forever but don’t know how to ask for one. The other day, someone told me and now I have Meyabesh Tzahar on my Task List.

There are some words I’ve been listening to the whole time and I’ve never been able to figure out their meaning. I decided I’ll probably never use these words as they seem to be colloquialisms, idiomatic expressions or just emphasis words that would sound weird coming out of the mouth of an immigrant. But to be sure, I stopped my friend Gabrielle on the street and had her explain each one to me. Yes, they were saved in my Blackberry under ‘words I don’t understand’.

In talking about a housekeeper problem my friend said, ‘taklis I need the house cleaned.’ But I’ve heard people use ‘taklis’ in ways that have nothing to do with housekeeping. Alas, taklis means something akin to ‘bottom line’ or ‘the most important thing’.

Even though. I might sing this word since I’ve heard it in a few Israeli songs and I suppose I might say it eventually but I haven’t had any conversations deep enough to warrant an ‘even though’.

Do you, like, remember the way we used to, like, talk in middle school? Sometimes there was, like, an extra word with no meaning? I’m not sure, but, like, I think k’eelu is the Hebrew equivalent. Sort of that and sort of ‘as if’. K’eelu.

It means ‘suddenly’ but is used way more – and sometimes just for emphasis. It gets added into stories. Pitom my knee started hurting. Or, pitom I was arguing with this guy over who was next to see the knee doctor. Pitom I was getting an x-ray! Ma pitom???

I hear my friends say this word – it means ‘on a regular basis’ – I suppose the reason I have no use for it in my vocabulary is that no part of my life is based in regularity just yet.

This one is fun to say so I might just add it into my repertoire – it means ‘the opposite’ but in a way that is really for emphasis. I thought my Hebrew was great – Lehafek! It’s caveman!

Idioms that make me feel idiotic...
Haval al ha’zman – Bob’s cousins say this all the time. The way Bob explains it – it literally means ‘a waste of time’ (How long since I’ve seen you? Haval al ha’zman!) except that it doesn’t mean that anymore. Now it’s a good thing. (How was your wedding? Haval al ha’zman!). There are better explanations out there (I linked to the Hebrew Language Detective below) so I won’t waste your time.

Al ha panim – Bob uses this one. Literally it translates to ‘on your face’. I think it means really messed up. But if that’s not enough, there is a new expression. I don’t know how to say it in Hebrew but that’s okay because I wouldn’t. It is

Al ha panim with your hands tied behind your back.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #151 - oh, baby!

Think of it as army training...
When Bob and I honeymooned in Israel we visited his aunt who was babysitting for her twin 9 month old grandsons. They were cute and active little boys. Crawling up and down her stone stairs, each with a piece of rye bread in one hand. We thought, ‘what tough Israeli babies!’

Throughout the years I would think of them – from my childproof house with safety gates, carpet, high chairs and melt-in-your-mouth special-for-baby snacks. I had pampered American babies!

Now I have an Israeli baby
By definition she is less pampered. When I forgot to bring swim things up north last week she went in the water in her pamper. And when it swelled up to the point of bursting, we took it off and she went in the water without it. She loves to sit up so she sits on the stone floor. And she tips over and falls on the stone floor. And it’s okay. She’s okay. I’m okay.

Is she tough?
She ate fistfuls of grass last week. She threw up after. She was fine. I was fine. I knew I was having an Israeli baby. I didn’t realize that would make me an Israeli mom.

What does an Israeli mom feed her baby?
Last week as I scoured the yogurt case in the supermarket, searching for something appropriate for my baby to eat, I ran into a nice lady who made a few suggestions and then asked me why I was feeding her sugary yogurt and not gevina levanah.


Gevina levana literally translates to white cheese. It is smooth and creamy and tastes like cottage cheese without the curds. As my baby gobbled up the entire container I realized I now have one of those Israeli babies who eats food that only exists in Israel.