Friday, October 14, 2005

A cheesy experience

Two things are impossible in Israel: to be bored and to die of hunger.
No matter where you are, there is always food - Salads, burekas, pitas, chocolates, ice cream and (of course) the #1 snack:
For those of you who were never exposed to this culinary treat (lucky you!) it’s a snack made from peanuts. It’s a – to phrase it politely – acquired taste.
Israelis grew up on it and love it. Oliem have a tougher time to appreciate it. It’s one of the strongest brands in Israel and boasts a happy baby as its image.
Israelis are obsessed with food, diets etc. The average Israeli m/f is overweight, although obesity is not as widespread as in the US.
The Jewish holidays and Shabbat don’t help as well to keep a slim waistline.
I arrange my fitness schedule around the Israeli eating pattern.
Sundays and the first day after a Hag are the worse to go to your fitness center and work out. It’s packed with guilt-ridden people trying to loose the few pounds they packed on by indulging the day before. The best time to workout is during lunchtime. You have the
fitness center including swimming pool to yourself.
Israelis are not only obsessed with their own food, they happily interfere with others as well.
This happened to me some time ago.
The woman in front of me in the supermarket looked into my trolley and said: “What is the fat percentage?” I saw her staring at the cheese in my shopping basket and answered truthfully: ”No idea”.
I love cheese, and buy it a lot for its taste; the percentage fat and salt is of no interest to me what so ever.
“More than 35%”, gloated the woman operating the cash register in a heavy Russian accent.
(Cash register operators here in Israel have a social mission to fulfill; they comment on everything you buy, ask for recipes, inquire about the taste of the people in your country of origin and try to sell you all kinds of useless debit cards.
Still, I like them a lot; especially since I am a living nightmare by checking my shopping bill in depth. In 80% of the cases, there are mistakes, almost never to my benefit. I also make a big issue out of getting correct change; if my bill ends at .95, I insist on receiving my 5 agarot. I start arguing that it’s not my fault that they do not have 5 agarot coins change; I keep this up until they finally give me my 5 (or 10) agarot change. It’s a matter of principle; they pull this trick on all their customers, and make heaps of extra money!)
“So much fat?!” the woman shrieked. “That’s very unhealthy. Why don’t you buy Tal HaEmek? (for the innocent reader: Tal HaEmek is a sort of imitation cheese that resembles Emmenthal. Please note the clever translation from Yiddish to Hebrew – great marketing!)
She continued to lecture me on fat (in cheeses), blood pressure (mine), cholesterol levels (also mine) and healthy eating patterns (hers).
I listened impatiently. (Even after years in this country, I do not have the skill to pinpoint the optimal momentum to rudely interrupt my speaking partners. I am working on it, so there is still hope!)

After she finished her lecture (more or less) she glared at me and said: ”Nu?!”
I scanned her up and down and saw a woman of my age, at least two dress sizes bigger with a bulging stomach and belly, squeezed in good Israeli fashion in a too tight tiger print top, skin tight black pants and half a pound of silver jewelry.
In one hand she clasped a mobile and a huge bunch of keys (how are they able to acquire so many keys?! I only have my car key, house key, office room key and mailbox key) and a wallet almost bursting at the seams with post-its, travel cards, shopping cards, saving cards, frequent flyer cards and all other credit/debit cards that the Israeli economy can come up with.
I replied (rather viciously) that I do not have any problems with keeping my figure and never needed to go on a diet in my life. Needless to say, she did not take kindly to this remark. She started preaching me about the Evils of Cheese. If you believed her, it was a matter of minutes before I would collapse with a cardiac arrest.
I peered into her shopping basket and remarked: “you really think that bambas, potato chips, ice-cream and yogurts full of artificial colorants are healthy?”
Wrong remark of course, she started shouting that 1) bambas are very healthy since they are made out of peanuts; 2) ice-cream is healthy because it is ice-cream (do not try to understand the logic), that’s why all Israelis are eating it; 3) potato chips are for the kids; 4) the yoghurts are 0% fat, so that’s OK.
In short, “You don’t understand”. I hear that a lot and I translate it into “You are correct”.
While I was paying, a guy standing in line remarked that he has always been a great cheese lover and that I definitely did not need to go on diet.
Another guy happily joined the conversation, remarking that he visited France many times, indulging in a wide variety of cheeses. “We Israelis do not know how to make cheese”, he ended on a final note.
“Mah Pitom,” said another, “we make great soft white cheeses that are a lot healthier than the yellow ones”.
The woman who started it all nodded her head approvingly.
The woman at the cash register decided it was time to put in her two cents and remarked that in Russia, French people are known for their cheese consumption. I did not dare to enlighten her that I am not French.
After paying (“No, I pay cash; no, I don’t want to buy saving stamps; no, I don’t want to buy a CD with army songs, no, I do not need batteries, even when they are cheap; no, I do not need sweets, washing powder, detergents, chocolate, or toilet soap that is on sale, and NO, I do not want a debit card!”) I could finally collect my shopping items and leave.
A week or so later, I bought another piece of Emmenthal cheese. An elderly lady behind me started asking about my cheese. I was mentally preparing myself for a repeat performance, when she completely took me off guard by saying: “good for you buying the original and not the Israeli imitation. I am French and I know a thing or two about cheese”. I nearly hugged her.

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