We’ve been here for almost a week, and I think we’re getting the hang of this city. We’ve been running around doing errands as well as taking in sites like the Old City and the Shuk (open air market). I think I’ve walked a total of 20 miles over the last few days.
Eric has been on the phone with Bezek to set up our phone lines and Internet. Judging from the number of times he had to reach them, persistence is a good asset when you need to get something done here.
We’ve stopped by Pardes in the Talpiot neighborhood to collect our cell phones and check email (before we had Internet at home, I was posting entries from there). The place is hopping for the summer sessions, and everyone we’ve met was very friendly.
This week also afforded us the opportunity to partake in the Israeli consumer experience. Pardes happens to be in an industrial zone, where many Jerusalemites get their shopping done. The mall in Talpiot is certainly a lot busier and crowded than the ones I’ve seen in the U.S. Eric and I were becoming quickly overstimulated!
Visiting the drugstore for the first time was overwhelming. I think that’s partially because all the labels were in Hebrew, with some English interspersed throughout. Visiting this place made me realize how much vocabulary I would need to acquire in order to get by. I was also finding it difficult to pick a brand of shampoo or laundry detergent. You get used to the same brands and then all of a sudden you’re confronted with entirely new ones in entirely different looking bottles. This sounds silly, but I think it’s an under-looked aspect of adjusting to a new place. Besides which, I have a strange fascination with the look of consumer products in different countries. What can I say, I’m just a visual person. I should also mention that products like shampoo are more expensive here, and I ended up blowing a lot of cash for a few items.
The Mega supermarket in Talpiot is really a mega store. There are other supermarkets such as (Super Sol and Mister Zol) in Israel as well as neighborhood Mom and Pop stores . But going to Mega was quite an experience. They have everything from toiletries to house wares to food. I think markets reveal what types of food are valued in a society and how the local economy works. The U.S. supermarket has many types of snacks—cookies, chips, crackers—and many products are made with corn. The Israeli supermarket also has many types of munchies and sweets. They also have products like spices, dates and lots and lots of dairy products. There appear to be a zillion different kinds of cheese and yogurt—there are several brands of plain yogurts with varying quantities of fat content. I don’t know a whole bunch of how the agricultural economy works in Israel, but I’m pretty sure it’s heavily subsidized by government. I’ll find out more in the next year. Here’s a map of all the dairy plants in Israel: http://www.israeldairy.com/welcome.htm?page=http://www.israeldairy.com/info/dairy-farming/dairy-industry.htm
If you want a noisier and more colorful type of shopping experience I suggest you go to the open air market in Machaneh Yehudah. Think of it as the DC farmer’s market—multiplied by 100. Stalls crammed with spices I’ve never heard of, fresh hot bread and pastries, succulent produce, clothes, house wares. Eric and I tried some of the best pita we’ve ever had at the Shuk. The stuff in the U.S. supermarkets really pales in comparison! Our Pardes guidebook says food is now sold by the weight so bargaining is no longer commonplace, although Etamar said that bargaining is a pretty popular tactic in Israel in general.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, you should realize that the food is incredibly good here. The fruits and vegetables have a lot of personality. Most of them are grown in Israel rather than imported. I used to make fun of Eric when he talked about how good the cucumbers were. What’s so great about cucumbers? Then I tried some and I realized what I was missing out on. (American farmers markets probably have much better cucumbers than supermarkets—as I found out in DC.) And I already mentioned the dairy, didn’t I?
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the Old City yet. But don’t worry, I’ll talk about that in my next entry, along with our fascinating experience greeting the new Olim (immigrants) at the Tel-Aviv airport. Eventually I’ll try to incorporate more about current events in Israel, but I’m just taking it one step at a time!