Saturday, March 15, 2014

Swirling Thoughts #227 - an Israeli in London

[random weather tidbit:
Every weather change in Israel seems to be preceded by a sandstorm. Even with closed windows, Israeli homes gather dust at an amazing pace.]

After spending four years analyzing Israel through American (but really Brooklyn) eyes, I had the opportunity to visit London. For four brief days I couldn’t help but analyze the capital of her majesty’s royal kingdom through my now mostly Israeli but still Brooklyn eyes.

Everyone told us the department stores were a sight to behold - everything so mesudar (orderly) and CLEAN. I didn't really get what they meant. Weren't our department stores in New York and in Israel orderly and clean? Were my standards so low so as to not realize? And then we visited our first London department store, Marks & Spencer and I had my answer: Apparently and definitively yes.

Next we decided to ride the subway. But it's called the tube. There are lots of posters and signs in the station. Including this one, fundraising for bees.

Instinctively, we looked for rats on the tracks while we waited for our train. (This seemingly bizarre behavior is a known habit/pastime of all subway-traveling New Yorkers).  Not only were there none (NOT ONE RAT!), but in fact, you could eat off those tube tracks. There was not a drop of garbage on the tracks. But there were also no garbage cans. Which means Londoners CARRY THEIR GARBAGE WITH THEM UNTIL THEY FIND A CAN. I believe not littering is the modern understanding of Admiral Nelson’s 1805 signal to the British people: "England expects that every man will do his duty."

The juxtaposition of proper decorum (the people were extremely polite!) with pride in a history of sophisticated torture devices and beheadings left me with the not so subtle message that littering in the tube station carries a serious consequence.

And so I carried my garbage with me. Sort of. Not being a native Londoner, and perhaps not properly fearing the reprisal of doing such, at one point I started looking around for a place to set some garbage down. At that very moment, what I can only describe as a fairy angel in a uniform swooped down in front of me holding an open garbage bag. I kid you not.

We did all the touristy stuff. Including a bus tour with a cockney accented guide whose English we barely understood save for the part about how a certain show was so funny she "nearly wet herself." Apparently this is something Brits say. The highlight of our trip was Barbara doing barefoot back-flips across the lawn at Hampton Court
Grass is a really big deal for Israelis. Myself included:
Our trip concluded with the joyous realization that Heathrow Airport is littered with Cadbury vending machines. It was those very vending machines that welcomed me back to Heathrow exactly one month later on a connecting flight from New York. This time, extremely harried as I raced from terminal to terminal in order to catch a connection that would bring me into Tel Aviv just hours before Shabbat, I inadvertently left my laptop in a grey tub at security. I was on the road to Bet Shemesh before I realized it.

And so began Operation Get My Computer Back from London. With the polite and expeditious TSA workers in Heathrow, I actually believed filing a claim with the on-line lost and found system would yield results. Every day I called. Every day I was politely put on hold while someone "went to check" in the warehouse. "I'll go check" must be code for "it's tea time."

After about a week of playing polite Londoner I reverted to aggressive New Yorker/Israeli, explaining to a Brit named Bob that I would wait on the phone for as long as it takes while they check the warehouse.  I joked about how my husband is also named Bob to keep things light as he checked through the inventory. Finally he found a Sony laptop. "Does it have any identifying features?"
"Can you turn it on?"
"It is out of power."
"Hmmm." I thought for a good minute while British Bob waited. What could possibly distinguish my black-ish grey-ish Sony laptop from any other? As I noticed the approaching sandstorm from the living room window I quickly had my answer.
"The computer is very dusty. The screen, the keys, the whole thing."
"Yes! Then this is clearly your computer."
Eureka. I knew no self-respecting Brit would expect for a computer to be so dirty!

From there we had it set aside for a friend to pick up. My friend lives in Israel but travels to London for work. And he is British. When he got back to Israel he called to tell me he had my computer. But he wasn't quite sure it was actually mine. "Lisa - I have a computer here but..." he hesitated, sounding embarrassed, "'s just SO. VERY. DIRTY!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Swirling Thoughts #228 - the mail keeps coming

Every few weeks I collect it.

This system hasn't improved much over the past five years - even if I do try to decipher the important looking stuff and even if my kids actually sit and read the magazines/circulars that arrive in Hebrew.  For some reason, I'm just never in a rush to collect a pile of making-me-feel-stupid.

As luck would have it, the last mail pickup contained an ominous looking letter from the government. I've been expecting an ominous letter from the police for about a year regarding a ticket I think I protested. (I think I protested it because even though I sent it in, and even called to follow up and was told not to do anything until I am contacted, I'm pretty sure once they do contact me it will be to put me in jail for failure to pay the fine or properly protest the ticket). So I naturally assumed the ominous government letter was my police letter. I decoded words like PAY and CANCELLED and LICENSE. There were deadlines - dates that had, of course, long passed while said scary letter sat in the mailbox. Also, the letter was addressed only to me. I showed it to Bob. 
"That looks scary."
"I know! I think it's from the police. I think they want to put me in jail. Can you read it?"
"You go to ulpan! What does it say?"
"I don't know. It doesn't look good."
"Let's remember to ask one of our Israeli friends."
"Good idea."

A few days later Bob was sitting with some of his Israeli friends drinking Turkish coffee and teasing me about my never ending ulpan experience. Suddenly I remembered the letter and brought it out for elucidation. The friends took turns looking it over.

As they read, they muttered words like licensing bureau, drivers license, registration, penalty and payment. After about 5 minutes of intense study - maybe these letters are not so easy for Hebrew speakers to understand either! Could it be?? - they agreed that the letter was telling me my inspection and emissions test was overdue (by a good three months) and that I need to take care of it asap.  Me.

"Inspection and emissions test?"

"Oh...." Bob seemed to go into a deep fog. "There was something..... I think I saw it in the mail the last time....."

Needing a quick answer, I started drilling his friends.
"Is this about me?"
"No, it's about the car."
"Is my license expired?"
"I don't think so."
"Do i need to go to the licensing bureau?"
"No - to the post office!"
"Of course. Am i going to jail?"

Okay, not so bad. By the end of the week Bob had found the original notice and taken the car to the garage to see if we could do the test even though our tail light was broken. He was told we need to replace the tail light. 1300 nis. This is not the garage ripping us off. This is the price for a Chevy tail light in Israel (~$375). Bob asked the garage if we could just tape it with duct tape. They told him he could try but that he would most likely fail the inspection. Not definitely. But most likely.

Later that day I asked him, "What made you think you could tape a tail light with duct tape and pass the inspection? That's so third world! Where do you think we live?"
"I don't know," he answered, "but I feel like I saw it somewhere."

Three weeks later (and one $70 tail light smuggled back in a suitcase from America), we are the proud bearers of a new inspection sticker, the whole episode nearly forgotten. And then today I went to the hardware store to buy some duct tape for Asher's Purim costume. And what do you know. This is the picture on the box of duct tape:

Did I say three weeks later? Ugh. Time to get the mail