Every grocery store here seems to have “Super” in its name, like Super Deal or Super Sol. I don’t read Hebrew, so I’ll just go ahead and assume the grocery store closest to my apartment is called Super Sad because everyone in it wears a frown and if it was sunny when I entered the store, nine times out of ten, it’s raining when I leave – how do you explain that?
Well, I was at Super Sad last week stocking up on eggs, beans, cheese, and my new favorite thing, labneh. The checkout ladies were rude, as per usual. My bill was more than double the price of what it would be in the United States, as per usual. I carried my armful of groceries over to my trusty blue grocery getter, which was stored near the exit, because the ancient, scowling man who sits by the door has led me to believe I’ll be killed if I bring it more than two feet into the store. And boom, that’s when I dropped all my stuff and broke a whole bunch of eggs. Various employees stood and looked at me with boredom, no one made a move to help, to offer me something to clean up with. I just left covered in egg goo, thinking for the millionth time in this overseas life about the superior customer service in the United States. This was the low point of my day.
On the way back home, I stopped by the fruit and veg shack near my apartment (literally, it’s a tin shack). It’s run by a friendly Israeli named Shai and his produce is wonderful, because the produce is great in Israel, and his prices are awesome because apparently produce isn’t taxed here. Shai gave me a strawberry to taste that was so sweet, I accused him of dipping it in sugar. “Are you crazy?! Who do you think I am? This girl over here thinks put sugar on my strawberries, can you believe it?” Other customers joined in and laughed, and I laughed, and we all ate strawberries (for some reason, the customers in the tin shack don’t seem gloomy at all; must be something about that grocery store). I was like ten seconds from inviting them all over for strawberry shortcake and champagne. This was the high point of my day.
That I had my highs and lows of the day both in grocery stores within a few blocks of my house brought on a realization: I need to get out more. As in: I need to find some way to be a part of society here that involves more than grocery shopping.
I can’t say I did a whole lot more to be involved in “society” in Spain, but the whole “life should be lived on the streets” vibe of Madrid meant that a trip to the hardware store, a jog in the park, a dinner out, and, yes, even going to the grocery store, made me feel more a part of life there. But there isn’t that sort of interaction and community out on the streets in Jerusalem. It’s much quieter. Our family-filled suburban apartment complex often appears deserted, and Mr. Jerusal-Em and I are often the only people in our two or three favorite bars. (If there are other patrons, they are almost always expats like ourselves). Life here, it seems, is not so public, and is more to be lived in one’s house, which makes it difficult for a foreigner like myself to understand how the locals live. (The exception being the shuk, which is always bustling, and that’s why I love going there. I should also add that Tel Aviv is a whole different story. People are out and about there all the time).
However, I have made some awesome American friends who are hilarious, smart and fun. There was a time when I thought I’d consider a post a bust if I left with no local friends, but I’ve since come to realize friends are friends am I’m grateful to meet anyone cool with whom I share a connection. So I don’t need local besties, per se, but I don’t want to live in a place and have no idea how it functions outside the dried pasta and bean aisle.
So, I need to get myself out there. Join some groups, perhaps teach an English class, meet some strangers, not spend entire days inside my apartment with only the Diplocats for company. It’s hard for an expat to break in, really anywhere, but, especially, it seems here. But that is no excuse: I must make more effort. (Oh, news: I just got a part-time job at the U.S. Consulate, so that should expose me to locals beyond those who work at a grocery store).
To branching out,
Em in Jerusalem