The Big Felafel

How I know I live in a Second world country

Have you gone shopping in Israel. I’m not talking about being a tourist and buying a pair of Tevas to help Israel’s economy- but you still bargain because you know you can. I am talking about going to the supermarket with your grocery list half in Hebrew and half in English, comparing prices that are not even labeled correctly and standing in a line that never moves.

There is nothing like shopping for groceries to remind me that I live in a Second world country. Second world you say? But what is that? I have coined the term for Israel which is neither a Third world country nor a First world country. I imagine if I were shopping in a Third world country then they probably wouldn’t have supermarkets. In a First world country you can shop and purchase all your food either online via the internet or use the automated cash register in the store, eliminating the cashier.

In Israel we have supermarkets but we have yet to reach the point of online purchase or the blessed automated cash register which as I said before eliminates the cashier. This means that we are stuck in the in-between gray area of worlds placing Israel in the Second world category.

This is what it is like to shop in a Second world country:

The store is always loaded with people. The grocery carts are smaller than those in America even though families tend to be bigger, so people end up using two carts. That’s always fun! Now instead of dealing with a rude Israeli and their cart you have double the pleasure, double the fun!

Even though I live in Israel and love Israeli food, I have not forgotten about the yummy food they have in America. Most of the food I love is imported to Israel and therefore more expensive. So, Cheerios, which use to be a standard cereal I ate in the US, is now something I treat myself to. That and I buy a cheap Israeli box of cornflakes to mix it together with so it lasts longer. Pathetic and true. Two weeks ago I couldn’t find a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and almost cried on the spot. This week I found them and an additional NIS 10 increase on the price. I will be eating regular cereal this week and I don’t want to talk about it.

Making your way through the vegetable and fruit section is really like going back in time. You just run and grab. I have learned from the rudest, yet most efficient Israelis that you should grab about 10 bags at a time, this way you don’t have to keep going back for more. Also, pushing is essential if you want to get the best produce. Just make sure to keep elbows high and never make direct eye contact. Believe me its worth it- Israel has delicious and fresh produce and the cucumbers are not waxed and ill-proportioned.

Milk comes in a bag here- and I still can’t decide how I feel about that. Canned goods are almost always dented and dusty, which frightens some of my friends but not me. I love my cans of pickles which is partly why I made Aliyah. If you plan on buying fresh meat or cheese then you’re going to have to stand in a cloud formation where people- with carts- argue over who really was there first. Every now and then you will find a butcher counter with a ticket thing, but even then you will get cut in line. Why? Second world country, baby! That’s the answer.

The price system in a supermarket of a Second world country is always a gamble. Even when the price is clearly labeled on the shelf and even stamped on the product itself, that is all just an estimated guess until it is rung up at the counter. So if you are someone that learned to compare prices, size and quantity to get the best deal- well you are going to have throw that knowledge out and blindly purchase, if you want to make it in a Second world country.

Lets talk deals. In America you have a lot of buy one get one free kind of deals. In Israel- huh? Here its like buy three plus one. In fact even after taking three ulpans (Hebrew classes) I still can’t really understand where the deal is. Is it just a translation issue or am I getting screwed? I did however understand the sign, buy one cake and get a personalized cake free. Well now that is exciting and something completely unique to a Second world country.

Unfortunately, something that is not unique in a Second world country – false advertisement. Yes, once you are already at the cash register and make sure to inform the cashier that you would like your personalized cake now, she simply tells you, No more left.  False advertisement is a big part of a Second world country’s nature and goes right along with no customer service. So you can be upset and argue about getting something instead of the cake because it was advertised as such, but really you are just having a one-sided debate and still end up the loser.

Speaking of losers, that’s just what I looked like the first time I learned the biggest difference in a Second world country compared to a First world country. Bagging your groceries. In a Second world market, the set up is all the same. Familiar aisles, lines for the register, cashier with scanner and bags waiting to be filled with your overpriced imports. The difference is in a Second world country you bag your own groceries. But who knows this?

During my first trip to the supermarket I learned this lesson. After the cashier scanned all my items and I gave her money and she gave me change, all standard to me, she then just stared at me. I stared at her. She stared back. I stared and blinked a little. She then said something to me in Hebrew. I had no idea what it was because I didn’t know any Hebrew at that point, but I hoped she was asking, “Paper or plastic.” O.k. I didn’t see paper bags so I was perfectly happy with double plastic, but she didn’t seem to get it when I said so. Instead she began yelling at me as I stared like a deer in headlights. After a couple minutes the security guard came over to demonstrate the bagging process.

And the light bulb went on at that point. In a Second world country you bag your own groceries but I have seen some markets that have begun to have “baggers,” even though I have become an expert at the art myself. I can’t say that for everyone else however, since some people are happy to take their time bagging and paying after the food is packed away. Friendly and fun.

While standing in line at the cashier you should always expect to fight for your place in line, have someone cut in front of you and say, I was here, ask him, and always need a price check on one of those items you were sure was on sale. My favorite part of standing in line would have to be the actual placing of your food on the conveyor belt. Unlike a First world country, in Israel we simply do not believe in place holders- those black rubbery dividers. You won’t find them here. We’re not interested. We prefer mixing food together and paying for each others groceries by accident. Maybe it has to do with us being brothers, all of the same blood, but I just want to once go to the market and not have to say, Just until the eggs. Just until the milk. No, no that is not mine.

Once the cashier has totaled your purchase and deleted the extra eggs she charged you for because they were the person’s behind you- you are at the finish line of shopping in Israel. Right before you get there though, there is one more hurdle. You will be asked if you want any of their special discounted items or perhaps you would like to play the lotto. Your answer should be no and no, but I found the more Israeli I become the more discounted products I buy and lottos I play.

Pay the bill. Bag the rest of your groceries and not the person’s behind you and push your way to the exit. Home free? Not yet. Just make sure to hold onto your receipt you are going to need it. As you exit the market you will be asked for your receipt and it will then be stamped. This is actually someone’s job. They don’t really look at the receipt or your bags, but they will yell at you if you don’t get it stamped.

If you still think you would like to shop in Israel then you should consider making Aliyah. We are looking for brave people like you. By making Aliyah your soul rises- and it will have too because the status of your country goes down.


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  1. * aliyah06 says:

    Hilarious! And all too true…..but you left out my favorite part of shopping: mishloach (delivery!). Once I discovered that, I was happy. No more items to the car, then to our parking lot, then into our building….for a few shekels more, big hefty guys bring it into your kitchen! (And if you get “delivery” you don’t have to bag the groceries–the clerk or someone she yells for comes over and loads those big tubs!).

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Mia says:

    That is so true.
    You can order groceries over the internet. is the site for Supersol and is for Mega. I use Netsal and am usually happy with their service and the produce they send.
    I just can’t stand seeing my Israeli born husband let my kids drink the chocolate milk in the store before paying for it, even though all of our other Israeli friends and supermarket staff think it’s completely fine and normal as long as you show the empty bottle and pay for it on the way out.

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  3. * Rachel says:

    You forgot to mention the fact that the shopping carts all roll sideways! I actually prefer to bag my own stuff, and always did in America, but there’s something messed up about the system here. There is never enough space at either end of the converyor belot for the items to accumulate, so you are emptying your cart and baggin at the same time, and the bags are alwyays placed in a way that makes them as difficult as possible to reach and open.

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  4. * catherine says:

    hi, first time visitor, but i just had to jump right in and comment on this!

    first, not to be *that* girl, but sadly, the term second-world country already has a definition (though it’s largely obsolete since the end of the cold war). “second world” refers to communist/soviet bloc states.

    that said, i ALWAYS think (and say) that if second world didn’t mean that, lebanon would definitely be a “second world” country. i’m not sure you can be truly mediterranean and first world at the same time, really 🙂

    but i also must observe that the grocery stores here in “second world” lebanon do bag for you, whereas in unequivocally first world england (where i lived for a while), you have to do it for yourself. so it’s perhaps not the most reliable gauge…

    anyways, sorry for the rambling comment 🙂 great blog btw!!

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  5. That was hilarious! I’ve spent about a year in Israel, and I’ll never get used to the Israeli supermarket. I love it because as hectic as it is, it is still nowhere near as intimidating as a tiny makolet or a shuk! Though I love my shuk, I also love Ukrops, and Food Lion, and Giant, and Kroger, and Safeway, and so on and so on. Here’s one more item you left out: ridiculously narrow cashier aisles. I feel like they can look up my nose…

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  6. * Molly says:

    Hi Aliyah06-
    Thanks for the important info- keep up the good work and let me know any other juicy details! No bagging- that’s just crazy!

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  7. * Molly says:

    Thanks Mia- I will check out (no pun intended) the internet services when it gets cold enough to not go outside and I can truly appreciate the online shopping and delivery.

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  8. * Molly says:

    Hi Rachel,
    It is so true what you say. It is as though they- important supermarket people- want us to look like dorks on wheels- from the sideways cart (and the faces you make trying to steer it straight) to packaging your groceries at the end as though your finishing a race but losing badly.

    Thanks for sharing!

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  9. * Molly says:

    So I didn’t create the first definition for second world country- but I did create the second one, which is fitting, don’t you think. It seems like the Middle East is the new second world.

    Thanks for the info- I guess you can’t judge a supermarket by its bags!

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  10. * Molly says:

    They can look up your noses…well that’s just wrong! I always wonder what the cashiers think about us folks on the otherside of the belt.

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 7 months ago
  11. * Hal says:

    Good article. My only issue is that “Second World” is not a new term. It was invented in the 1960s to refer to countries having planned economies. From what you are describing, you seem to be using the term correctly though.

    | Reply Posted 14 years, 7 months ago

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