You'd think going to the post office would be fairly straight forward - boring, really - no matter what country you're in. Or that's what I thought, anyway. I'm used to stamps being offered to me by my friendly cashier at the clean, gigantic Walmart a mile from my house.
Not in Israel. I asked three separate people if they sold stamps. "No, go to this post office - it's a big one." So I go to that post office - corner of Pinkas and Weizmann. It's 13:30. But closed. What the heck? So I decide, oh well, maybe it's just closed today - I'll come another day. Two days later I'm there at 13:15. Closed. I figure, well maybe they close for lunch. I'll come back in an hour. So I walk around Tel Aviv for a full hour. Checking out stores, really just wandering randomly. And show up again at 14:00. Closed. Again. Really?
Now at this point I'm frustrated. I'm thinking they must sell stamps somewhere else. So I'm looking everywhere for the English words "postage" or "stamps." I ask more cashiers. Finally I'm in a cab and a mile away from where my group is dropped off I see a foreign currency exchange that sells stamps! Woo hoo!
Except it's too far away. And I don't want to leave my group. By the time I get a chance to make my way down to the store at 14:50 I can't find it. And besides, it's Shavout - Pentecost in English - at sundown and all the observant Jews close their stores at 15:00 to get ready. Another botched attempt.
Finally I ask one more cashier - there must be another way, I think. So she tells me to go to the same post office. I explain to her that I tried going their twice during the day, not on Shabbot (the sabbath), and they were closed. "Well they are open 8-1 then they reopen from 4-6."
So today at 12:10 I head to the post office. And by the time I arrive at 12:30, it's still open.
So I walk in and everything's in Hebrew, which is normal except that I don't know how this Israeli post office thing works. Is there a machine where I can buy stamps in like in the US? Or do I wait in line? There is no line...just two rows of chairs with people seated here and there.
I see a machine asking me if I want it to talk to me in English or Hebrew. Desperate I click Hebrew. It gives me two options - SMS or General Services. I haven't a clue what SMS is so I go with general services. Then it prints me out a ticket with a number - 318. So if there's a machine for a number, does that mean there's a machine for stamps?
I go up to ask a postal teller. She finds my question rude - "Wait in line with the others."
"Oh, so that's what this ticket means?"
"Wait in line with the others. We call your number."
"Okay, thank you."
So I sit down in the back row, trying to hide my culturally ignorant self. A gentleman with good English turns around and points at a screen.
"It will show you're number there when they are ready for you."
"Oh!" I say. "Thank you. Toda."
So I wait. Then the number after my number comes up and I go to a teller asking if they'll help me, rather alarmed. But she says yes, she'll take me. I give her my letters. She starts putting blue stickers on them and tells me the price. "Oh, wait. If I get 5 more stamps can I mail them out front?" "Yes, you can." "Okay, I'll take 5 extra stamps then."
She hands me a roll of 14 or 15 of the blue stickers. "Take some."
Let me tell you, I don't want to pay for 14 stamps. "Do I just take five?" A little taken aback, she answers yes, that's fine. She tells me the number of shekels I owe her. I give her the money. Then she takes out a sheet of what look like stamps in the US. Counts out ten and gives them to me.
"Put the stamps on for these letters now."
Oh, so I have to have the blue thing and the stamp. And I have to lick the stamp. And I have to do it now, in front of her. Okay. So I do. Then I take my stamps.
Even the simple things are not so simple in the Holy Land.