Many folks have been asking me about daily life, and tonight I am inspired to expand upon grocery shopping. This is not a simple feat for a girl used to hopping in the old minivan and hauling groceries about. First, we have no car. Secondly, the Old City is truly separated from the rest of Jerusalem. There is one narrow road that snakes around the Armenian and Jewish Quarters for cars, cabs, scooters, small buses and trucks.
Makolets. As mentioned previously there are a handful of makolets (convenience type stores) that have most of the basics: dairy, eggs, bread, snacks, noodles, grains, canned goods. They also have a decent amount of American style foods (e.g. canned cranberry sauce) due to the large number of Americans here. Some of them deliver large orders otherwise you have to shlepp the groceries over the cobblestoned steps and hills of the Old City.
At first, the clerks at the makolets we frequent barely looked at me and certainly did not go out of their way to help me. Sometime in the last month, they have figured out that I am a regular and life has changed. I am “in”. While this has not led to cheaper groceries, it has made shopping more enjoyable. They greet me when I come in, quickly help me when I am stuck, and I trust them to keep an eye on the baby if the stroller doesn’t fit down the aisle I want to go on. One manager is always quick to tell me what is on sale that week and will help me carry my purchases to the cash register.
I have not quite figured out lines in Israel. Rather, the lack of lines. Everyone sort of bunches by the registers. If they are only buying one or two things they will wave it at the cashiers hoping to be bumped up or noticed so that they can just leave the money on the counter and leave. For all the disorder, people are actually pretty patient about waiting; people rarely yell or complain. Then again Israelis have to spend alot of time waiting: at the store, the post office, the bus, the bank…
Meat. Most people I know have their meat delivered to them from one of the main butchers outside the Old City. What could be more awesome than home delivered meat? If only I could figure out the cuts of meat. They are numbered and not quite the same as the U.S.. Also, they add water to a lot of the meat which is definitely to be avoided.
Produce. Israelis are known for loving fresh produce and we try to take advantage of it. Again, not so simple in the Old City. Some folks make a weekly trip to the main shuk/market at Mahane Yehuda. With the baby in tow, this is not the easiest or most pleasurable way for me.
There is a produce store in the Jewish Quarter run by an Arab man. At first he barely spoke to me and I felt like an obnoxiously loud American. Now that he knows I am a regular he will say hello and point out riper fruit or veggies. His quiet demeanor is so beautiful to me. I have never heard him raise his voice above a low mummur, and I often have to ask him to repeat himself. So peaceful compared to the chaos and hubub of the Jewish Quarter. On my walk to the store I am likely to encounter: loud drums and singing from at least on bar mitzvah procession, the call of a tour guide, a motor scooter zipping along the pedestrian walkways, and/or a car honking in the parking lot to alert the guard to raise the gate. Whew!
I have also been dipping my toe into the real “scene” when it comes to produce in the Jewish Quarter. A local family has a home business organizing a weekly produce delivery. Orders are accepted Sunday and Monday. The form is all in Hebrew, so I feel so proud every time I fill it out. But then comes Wednesday night. Starting at 7:30pm, people come to pick up their food and it is a madhouse. The boxes of food line the street and everyone grabs bags and races around in a crowd grabbing their produce. It’s first come first serve and once something runs out, tough luck. I have yet to totally fill my order. I am too slow trying to figure out what I ordered, where it is, and how to get through the crowd. Larger families work together and divide and conquer. Some lucky parents send their older children out to do it for them.
I have to say I like the craziness of it. I never depend on it for all of my produce, or else I would get frustrated. It is a great snapshot of real life here. For all the intensity of the crowd everyone is respectful and often even helpful. Nobody really pushes, and I have yet to see a fight over the last bag of lettuce. And the prices are right!
After collecting your produce you then line up to have your order weighed and added up. This is a whole different process of jockeying and turn taking. Finally after this line comes the line to pay. Again, notice all the lines and waiting involved. I generally think of Americans as more patient than Israelis, but maybe we just funnel our impatience into avoiding lines as much as possible.
Baked goods. This is really Dan’s turf. There are two main bakeries in the Jewish Quarter and Dan goes out every Friday morning to buy challah and treats for Shabbat. They have so many yummy pastries we have a hard time resisting. The boys have not taken to the pastries as quickly as we have. The one sweet they can resist!
Figuring out daily life here is such a work in progress. Someone just shared a link to a distributor that delivers grocery items in bulk (e.g. a case of tomato sauce). It has been hard to adjust to not being able to buy things in bulk (oh, Sam’s Club who knew how I would miss you!). So I am excited to test this out.