I was actually thinking of ditching this series of entries, because Ha’aretz beat me to it in their Independence Day supplement. They wrote about 15 things Israelis need to get rid of – quite similar. Nonetheless, I still think I have some things of my own to say, so here goes:
Israeli (detri)mentalities – part I
The “Everyone is out to screw you” mentality
It was a dark and stormy night in upstate New York (See? Those English Lit classes came in handy, Mom!) My new IPOD earphones had just plummeted onto the dining room table, and the sound of the white, sweatshop-Made-in-China plastic hitting the wood startled my Aunt Frannie. She looked at me over the front page of the Times, tipping her nose down so her pupils just barely peeked over the rim of her reading glasses. I put the white plastic back in my ears, and tried my best not to move. I knew any sudden gesture on my part could easily result in Far East-child-labor hitting the table once again, so I just stared back at Aunt Frannie. She refused to flinch, and instead just squinted her eyes at me. I tried not to laugh, but the emerging smile was enough to make my earlobes change shape and send the phones crashing down. After a few giggles the frustration settled in. What’s wrong with my ears? Surely those guys at Apple, those design geniuses (I saw the Ipod on display at the MOMA!), made earphones to fit all ears. Why didn’t they fit mine? Am I normal?
“Take them back”.
“What back? The earphones? I can’t. I already put them in my ears. There’s Ami-Wax on them”.
“I said, go back tomorrow and take them back. This is America. We take things back. Do it.”
The next day I was in the city, and walked slowly towards the Apple store near Central Park. I couldn’t stop shivering, and trust me, it had nothing to do with the -40 degree windchill factor. As I approached the clerk, I tried to keep my composure, and not disclose the fact I had come to return wax-tarnished paraphernalia.
When my turn came, I swallowed as much saliva as possible and said: “Umm…. I’d like to return these”.
The clerk looked at me, smiled, took the box of earphones from my hands, put it under his table, and proceeded with returning my money, and asked me if there was anything else he could do.
So, why am I telling you this? Because this is a perfect example of an Israeli (detri)mentality. Not the mentality of me being afraid to return purchases. No, I’m speaking of the “Everyone is out to screw you” mentality. See, in Israel, we rarely take things back. We’re just not used to it. And even when some of us are pushy enough to do it (and I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of pushy Israelis out there), we meet tough scrutiny, as if, well yeah, you guessed it, as if we’re trying to screw them. Returning products is not an Israeli thing to do. It’s just another one of those things Israelis think Americans have and that they never will.
In fact, the Israeli government tried to change this attitude. In 2005 the Knesset passed legislation that required businesses to clearly post their return policies where customers can see them. Later on, the government failed to legislate rules in cases where money can actually be given back to consumers who return unused products (what a surprise, another Olmert screw-up when he was Minister of Industry and Commerce). Today, every business does pretty much what they want. Most stores allow returning products within 14 days, but in most places you’ll get a voucher of the amount to buy something else in the shop. In the U.S., this isn’t a legal requirement in every state, because businesses there view the whole process of returning products as an essential part of customer satisfaction – which is the ultimate way, in their eyes, to improve their own profits.
But in Israel? No, here we’re out to screw you. How did business owners react when the legislation was passed? “We’ll have to raise our prices by about 15-20 percent, the Israeli consumer will use this legislation to our disadvantage”. Basically, you’re giving the consumer the green light to screw us, the poor ‘ole businessmen.
I’m not saying that those fears are unjustified, by the way. As a former cafe owner, I can tell you that I met the typical Israeli who was out to screw me on an almost daily basis. Like the workers who stole expensive liquor from my bar, the customer who wanted the business lunch at 11:30 even though it started at 12, the guy who bought the cheaper take-away coffee but then sat down just so he wouldn’t have to tip the waitress, and so on and so on. In fact, I sometimes felt that there were a lot of customers who just came to see how much they could squeeze out of me.
Which is why you’ll never see an all-you-can-eat buffet in Israel. Never. Because the place will go out of business in a day. What am I taking about - in less than a day! They’ll eat the furniture, too! This reminds me of when I was travelling in Brazil in ‘96. I went with some buddies to a pizza joint in Arraial d’Ajuda, a beach in Bahia, that was having an all-you-can-eat night. We stuffed ourselves. It was the last time that pizza joint ever did that kind of night.
David Brooks of the NYTimes wrote lately in one of his columns about Israel, that “the status system doesn’t really revolve around money. It consists of trying to prove you are savvier than everybody else, that above all you are nobody’s patsy”. How true.
So, do Israelis like to “lidfok et ha’marechet” (screw the system)? Sure, they do. But I feel it might be a chicken-egg-what came first issue. I mean, maybe we try to screw the system because we’re constantly being screwed ourselves, and it’s a matter of survival. Sure, everybody likes to get more bang for his buck, who doesn’t? The problem is, when people here see that as their primary objective when acting as consumers, when they try their best not be the “frayer” (another detri-mentality in itself, which I may write about in the near future). Are we all like that? No. But are there enough out there to ruin it for everybody else? You betcha.
Lastly, since I’m into Chamishiya nostalgia lately, check out this clip which sums up the typical take of Israelis on American customer service.