Israel Lite: I was here first

People in the line were getting angry, or I should say, the men in the line were getting angry.

By CARMELITA LEE
June 5, 2008 11:24
4 minute read.

You know, you're waiting in line, you're being polite. It's an Israeli phenomenon, the closer you get to the teller, ticket window or postal clerk, the longer the line in front of you grows. "I was before you," they say. "Remember me? I was here first," and they're not apologetic. What I really remember is watching them come in, taking a seat under the air conditioner and waiting until I'm next. I must have "abuse me" written all over my face, but I never argue. Ari, now, he's a different breed of cat. He won't jump the queue, but he won't take your "I was here first" lying down. If you're retired and your next stop is home in front of the television, what's the big deal? So some jerk gets in front of you, so what? Ten extra minutes? Three? Five? One day I asked Ari to cool his jets, reminding him about his blood pressure after he refused to let a guy in. The insults that flew about that tiny postal office! "In my country we wait in line." "You should go back to your country then." They hurled insults at each other in English, as both tellers came free. But Ari likes to make his point, so after our two-minute transaction, instead of leaving, we sat down to watch the Man Who Wanted Our Place in Line take at least 15 minutes. People stood in line complaining, while other people strolled in, shopping in hand, to tell the ones at the top they had been there a half hour before. They have this sort of sideways slide with the hip and dominant foot that just sidles them slightly in front, at the top of the line. Older ladies and very young ones let it happen, but the feisty younger ones protest, unless, of course, someone actually had said, "Will you save this place for me." We watched from the sidelines while the man paid bills and then got mail. After that he conducted a protracted discussion with the clerk. They laughed and talked like old friends. Ari pointed out the inequity of my position - he likes to demonstrate his point - so we sat there watching this man hold up the rest of the people in line in a two-teller post office, just so I could understand why I should never give up my place. "And you know as well as I do that he just walked in off the street," Ari remarked. People in the line were getting angry, or I should say, the men in the line were getting angry. The finest point was when the Man Who Wanted Our Place walked away. The teller, a typical bureaucrat, set out her "Closed" sign and went into the back for her break. Thoroughly chastised, lesson learned, I followed Ari who followed the man out, with Ari commenting loudly enough for him to hear. "Well," he said, turning to address Ari, "you didn't leave any faster than I did." Talk about restating the obvious. I didn't get the point, but Ari felt he had made his. Ari kept jabbing at his watch as if to prove something, but I suspect it didn't cure the guy. But there's nothing like turning the tables. Miriam had gone to her bank to deposit the restaurant's daily intake, and the line was out the door. Mostly merchants go to this bank, and each teller window handles merchant accounts, but plenty of ordinary folk go there also. Miriam waited a full 25 minutes, and part of that time she didn't move at all. She's learned, like I have, to keep a book in her handbag. People were coming from the sidelines and taking their place in front of various folks as they approached the top, something she's come to accept without fussing. When she was halfway to the teller she heard some clatter behind her and watched as a young Filipina seated an elderly woman and took her place at the end of the line. When the old woman got up and fumbled her way to her minder, the young woman reseated her. "No, no, stay here. When we're at the top of the line, I will get you." When the Filipina took her rightful place, the woman behind her carried on as though the foreigner was holding a knife to her throat. The foreigner went to the end of the line, again, even though everyone else in the line knew she was right and the woman was being a... well, never mind. A few minutes passed and the old woman again got up to find her minder, and was again seated, the Filipina again asking her to please stay seated, never raising her voice, never being impatient, and telling her, "I promise, when I get to the top of the line, I will call you." When she went to her natural place in line, everyone fussed at her. Miriam watched, and noticed that the young woman closed her eyes and put her arms down straight at her side, fists clinched, as if it would keep the murmuring from her. Miriam thought she might be praying. When she opened her eyes, Miriam was next in line. She motioned to the young woman, and the young woman pointed to herself and said, "Me?" "Yes, you. You were in front of me." The Filipina got the elderly lady and came to the front of the line as everyone behind Miriam complained, and loudly. "You can't do that." Miriam has Ari's hutzpa, I'm pleased to say. She wasn't the least bit fazed by the crowd behind her. The woman who refused to let the Filipina back in line called to the teller not to serve the elderly Israeli citizen, but the teller shouted back, "I'm here all day. I don't care who stands in front of me. She's here now." Hmmm, payback. The two waited for Miriam outside the bank, thanking her profusely.


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