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In the last line of his immortal sonnet "On His Blindness," 17th-century poet John Milton wrote: "They also serve who only stand and wait."
Taken out of context and purely at face value, the line gives a whole new meaning to what Israelis are subjected to on a daily basis.
If ever there was a nation that stands (or sits) and waits, it's us.
Private banking was devised as a prestige service for customers with investment portfolios and foreign currency accounts. But as anyone who has been forced by their bank to use private banking services is aware, you can wait for anything up to two hours before it's your turn. In the private banking section, you don't take a number as you do in the regular part of the bank, at health-fund pharmacies or in some government offices.
When you have a number, you can figure out whether it's worth your while to go grab a sandwich or catch up on some urgent shopping before your digits pop up on the board.
Credit-card payments by phone were supposed to save you time wasted waiting on line in banks, post offices or the actual enterprises to which payments are being made.
But what happens when you call?
If it's Bezeq
, you get a recorded sales pitch before the instruction to press button 1 for one type of service, button 2 for another, etc., etc.
Trying to jump the gun because you've been through this before is to no avail. The system is programmed to deliver the message before you are permitted to get around to doing your business.
It's much worse with certain municipalities where one sometimes has to go through a computerized switchboard to reach the credit-card payments number - which is often busy for a prolonged period.
Then there's trying to determine which bus goes where. Calling Egged or Dan is a an exercise in frustration. You can stay on the line for as long as 15 minutes without getting through to the person who can help you.
Waiting in line can be even more irritating as, for instance, at the information booth at the central bus station in Tel Aviv
, where the people ahead of you are so dense that everything has to be ascertained three times. When it's finally your turn, you learn that you've missed your bus!
Don't make the mistake of going to the Egged information booth on the sixth floor if you want to know where to get the bus to Bat Yam
. They'll send you up to the Dan information booth on the seventh floor, where you will be told that the bus to Bat Yam leaves from the fourth floor. If you're clocking up wasted time, that's standing in line at two information booths, walking up one floor and walking down three floors.
WHEN YOU'RE in a store and just browsing, you're swamped with sales staff. When you're in a hurry and you really want to buy something, the sales staff ignore you. They're busy talking to each other while you wait.
The same happens in restaurants. You've barely sat down and someone is hovering over you with a menu - but once you've ordered the wait could almost make you die of starvation. And forget about catching a waiter's eye when you want to pay the bill.
Now that security has been beefed up all over the place, there's more waiting while security personnel make a pretense of searching your belongings. Some are so incompetent that they don't deserve to have the job.
These are but a few examples of daily waits.
Let's not even think about the waiting period during traffic congestion that seems to get worse regardless of how many additional underpasses and overpasses are introduced to the highway system.
Now here's a conundrum for mathematicians, economists and statisticians. How much time is collectively wasted by Israelis? How much of this wasted time is at the expense of the gross national product and how much in dollar or shekel terms is it costing the nation? Even a conservative guess would be a shocker.
The most painful realization is that it's getting worse instead of better.
Efficiency and cost cutting are supposedly well entrenched in the benefits basket of modern technology.
That sure doesn't seem to be the case in Israel
The writer is a veteran