Grocery Stores in Israel

So I went back through my catalog of random memories and found a post I’ve wanted to write for awhile.

When people ask me what life was like in Israel, usually I just stop and blink and look pretty blank because a) it was all a blur and b) it was pretty much just as uneventful as life in these here United States. But the people want a story, so this should get the ball rolling.

Grocery shopping in Israel is a horse of a different color. It’s almost like a gladiator tournament, only featuring everyday people and very bored ladies seated on padded stools determining your fate.

Next time you’re at the checkout and hear the beep…it’s probably just the wand of the guard at the entrance.

First, choose your arena. Your first option is your neighborhood makolet (מכולת). It is usually run by old people, Arabs, or old people Arabs. You can get away with a quick stop here, but they have nothing that substantial. There’s always the basics, usually at high premiums. There is a display of delicious looking gummy candies that you buy a huge bag of knowing you can’t get them in the states, which you eat immediately upon returning home, after which you lie in your bed with a massive stomachache, headache, and a feeling of regret and utter disgust at yourself. There are plenty of cigarettes and an assortment of fancy lighters and usually some kid who looks much too young to be smoking them buying them by the case, possibly for resale. There is also shoko b’sakit, which I’ll explain in a future post. They also usually feature a coffee bar which consists of a pitcher of coffee which usually has milk and sugar in it and some rugelach or croissants. Overall, pretty slim pickings. This is the place tourists go and the place to go when you just need that Mikupelet. Right. Now.

If I ever opened my own makolet, I’d call it Whatcha Makolet.

Your second option is your local cheap-o supermarket. These tend to have different names in different cities, but in Jerusalem, it’s Rami Levi (רמי לוי). Rami Levi is run by some guy probably named Rami Levi. There are three locations, all in Talpiot, and somehow all at the bottoms of steep hills. They are known for being cheap in price, but also in quality. Their stores are often dirty, with low-watt fluorescent lighting that makes everything look a little more yellowish-green than it actually is, and there are always plenty of shoppers, both of the two-legged and multiple-legged kind. The walls of the stores feature store manager and employee-of-the-month pictures that look like what you’d see on the walls of a post office in the Old West. You can be sure to enjoy a healthy uphill walk home.

Rami Levi. Not the location where I had the incident described below, but another one I went to at some point.

Your third option is your actual supermarket, usually in the form of a “super” like Shufersal (שופרסל). Shufersal is your standard run-of-the-mill supermarket, no surprises here. There is usually an extra security guard either at the door or milling about. Shufersals tend to be in convenient and central locations with reasonable prices and most household products. There are also marketplaces, but that’s a different story.

A Shufersal that looks suspiciously like the one I went to. I’m not sure it’s the same one, though.

An average trip to the supermarket goes like this: You arrive with your handy-dandy agala (עגלה), or handcart, which is usually brightly colored as to distinguish from the ten others that are there. Since you can’t take it in with you, you leave it by the security guard station and go back out to get a shopping cart. But wait! They’re all chained up! What do I do? Answer: put a 5-shekel coin into the slot which will unlock it, and you’re good to go. Unless this annoys you, like it did me, so go inside empty-handed and find an empty crate to use as a basket (shopping baskets are an extinct species in Israel). Get your items and wait one of the very close-together and slow-moving cashier lines. Or, if you’re me, stand between them with one foot straddling each line and if anyone asks what you’re up to, just say “playing the odds.” Usually a good policy, because a fast line could be deceptive – when friends randomly meet at the supermarket, they tend to save one another a place in line with them, and then that person knows someone else who’s checking out, and it begins. You put your items on the belt while a very bored lady on a padded stool (!!) lazily checks out your groceries and asks for your money. Want bagged groceries? Nope, sorry, do it yourself! And bring your own bags because inevitably one of two things happens: a) they’re out of bags or b) they charge a shekel or two per bag. And then you head home.

When I first moved to Israel, I started off my shopping at the makolet, before I was informed of the rip-off prices. After that, I discovered Shufersal and Rami Levi, and started going to Rami Levi regularly, figuring my legs could use the exercise. One time at Rami Levi, it was almost closing time (10 PM, I think) and as I was being checked out, the cash register malfunctioned. The lazy blonde kept tapping on the screen and pressing multiple buttons, but it kept getting error messages, so she figured it would be a good time for a cigarette break. So she goes outside to smoke and talk on her cell phone, leaving me in an almost deserted supermarket. I wait for a few minutes, then bag the groceries that got scanned and walk out of the store. I actually exit the store and walk about five steps before a manager runs out and grabs me, saying I can’t leave without paying. I tell the manager that since the cashier is no longer interested in working, I’m no longer interested in paying. The blonde quickly puts out her cigarette and gets some bubble gum as the manager leads me back in the store, motioning her to come with us. I ask the manager if she’s allowed to take a smoke break while working, and he says no, she’s not supposed to, so I ask why this is okay, and I get some sort of response, like “because she needs a smoke break.” I am still not quite sure what this store’s employee policies are. He quickly overrides the machine so she can sit back down and finish checking me out, as he bags my remaining groceries for me (!!) saying “sorry, sorry” in English all the while and to my back as I exit the store.

And that’s when I started shopping only at the Shufersal on Emek Refaim.


One thought on “Grocery Stores in Israel

  1. Pingback: Five Songs That Make Up a Happy Morning Playlist | That's So Jacob

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