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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Irony Deflector Activated!

I honestly don't know if there is a standard reply in France or Italy to a stranger's polite 'Bon Appétit' or 'Buon Appetito'.  But here in Israel, when anyone offers the equivalent 'B'tay Avon' to someone about to tuck into a meal, the universal and immediate response is an involuntary 'Todah! (thank you).

I clearly recall a student demonstration of some sort during my days at Hebrew University where we were walking in a circle that brought us past a barricade manned by several policemen.  It must have been about mid-day because I noticed one of the cops unwrapping a pita stuffed with something yummy (falafel, shwarma or something similar).  Each time he got that sandwich anywhere near his mouth a passing student would offer a cheery 'B'tay Avon' ... causing him to lower the pita momentarily to reflexively respond 'Todah'

It wasn't until we had looped past this hungry public servant two or three times that he picked up on the futility of his position and retired to a more private setting to enjoy his meal.

Having been brought up in the U.S., I was fascinated by this formulaic offer of wishes for an enjoyable repast and an equally imperative acknowledgment/response.  In the states we have no similar standard expression other than, say, "Dig In" or "You wanna Super-Size that?", and certainly no uniform response.  So I've became sort of hyper-aware of the power that such a reflexive cultural exchange holds over both the giver and recipient.

You can probably guess where this is headed...

I was in the supermarket the other day, cruising the produce section in search of mythical ingredients that I swear my wife makes up just to frustrate me, when I noticed that several people had fallen into roughly elliptical orbits which brought them within regular grabbing distance of the dried nuts/fruit at one end... and fresh grapes at the other.

Each time one of these shoppers would pass one of these two open displays they would scoop/pick a heaping handful and expertly toss it into their waiting maw.   It seemed perfectly planned so that the sweet, chilled grapes would refresh the parched palate after the dry salty nuts/fruit...  and the dried snacks would help stem the salivary secretions caused by the plump, moist grapes.

What caught my eye was not the petty larceny itself, but rather the complete lack of surreptitiousness with which it was carried out.  No furtive glance around for store employees... no guilty peek at fellow shoppers... not even a small charade of tasting the stuff in order to ostensibly weigh the decision of whether it was good enough to start filling a plastic bag as a prelude to an actual purchase!

No, it seems that the dried fruit, nuts and grapes are considered sort of a buffet or Crudités platter to help tide the hungry guests shoppers over until they reach home. 

Anyhoo, the other day while I was on my weekly scavenger hunt for Zahava, I noticed one shopper who had abandoned the orbit technique and had unabashedly parked his shopping cart in front of the shelled walnut bin and was popping great handfuls of these tasty nuts into his mouth while chatting away loudly on his cellphone.

It just so happened that I wanted to actually buy (as in pay cash money!) a bag of these nuts (I know... total frayer, right?) so I pulled up next to him and cleared my throat.

Nothing.  No recognition whatsoever of my presence, much less the fact that he was single-handedly depleting the store's supply of shelled walnuts at an alarming rate.

I tried again with another round of throat-clearing followed by an authoritative ''slichah' (excuse me).  The only response was that he moved his cart closer to the walnuts, as if to give me more room to pass.

I finally had a thought.  I figured that I needed to intrude on a cultural level... a level so deep that he would be powerless to ignore it.  So I crossed my arms in my best gesture of ironic disapproval and nearly shouted 'B'tay Avon'! at the back of his head.

It had the desired effect.  Sort of.

The miscreant suddenly looked around at me, smiled vaguely and muttered a reflexive "Todah" in my direction.  But sadly, he apparently had his irony deflector activated because he then promptly returned to his phone conversation/snacking.

I finally opted to just push him out of the way and used my cart to coax him forward a few feet.  He took no notice and seemed perfectly content to be washed along on the prevailing currents down the aisle. 

I filled my plastic bag with about half a kilo of walnuts and made a big show of tying off the bag and tossing it into my cart before crossing it off my shopping list with a big flourish.

He remained oblivious.

As I marched my cart towards the diary section I stole one last glance back in his direction and marveled at his nonchalance as he continued chatting away and enjoying the dried cranberries beside which he now found himself.


They can't possibly invent a pocket-sized laser/phaser soon enough to suit me!

[Note:  As I mentioned on Friday, treppenwitz is a finalist in the 2007 WEBLOG Awards (Middle East & Africa Category) and is up against some really formidable blogs.  Your vote would be appreciated... but you should also check out the other talent.  Good reading all around!]

Posted by David Bogner on November 4, 2007 | Permalink


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"They can't possibly invent pocket-sized lasers/phasers soon enough to suit me!"












And if you attach one of these....


....you can get audio and video of the whole incident, blood-curdling scream and all. Great for showing to all your olim buddies when they come to the house.


Posted by: Karl Newman | Nov 4, 2007 12:54:41 PM

If you haven't seen it yet:

That makes me laugh.

Posted by: Benji | Nov 4, 2007 3:26:31 PM

My kid wanted to taste some of the dried fruit at the supermarket, and I told him sharply that we needed to pay for it. You guessed it, another shopper comes along and pops some in their mouth....

Posted by: westbankmama | Nov 4, 2007 5:28:32 PM

Next time you should try sneezing on them to see if that would have any impact. My guess is that it wouldn't.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 4, 2007 6:26:15 PM

washed along on the prevailing currents down the aisle

I reckon he'd have been happier yet to have been on prevailing CURRANTS!!

By the way, I'm always stumped when people ask me how does one say "bon appetit" in English. I usually say "we say 'bon appetit'" and ;eave it at that.

Posted by: asher | Nov 4, 2007 7:10:28 PM


On our Modiin list a coupla weeks ago someone posted about a worker using the bathroom, NOT washing her hands and then going to work by the dried fruits and nuts. You and Zahava may want to consider buying the pre-bagged stuff....just sayin'

Posted by: Baila | Nov 4, 2007 7:38:41 PM

By the way, I'm always stumped when people ask me how does one say "bon appetit" in English. I usually say "we say 'bon appetit'" and ;eave it at that.

I work with a guy named Moshe. I always laugh when people ask how to say his name in Hebrew.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 5, 2007 1:48:17 AM

and the guy on the prevailing currants wasn't expecting D. von T. to start RAISIN' hell

Posted by: asher | Nov 5, 2007 8:41:19 PM

When I returned to the US after having misspent my entire youth in the Netherlands, I was so accustomed to 'smakelijk eten' / bon appetit that the absence of an equivalent phrase seemed an unbearable lacuna in American English (the respone of course is dank u wel / merci).

Since then I've become accustomed to 'buon gusto', or, more informally to a limited number, 'bong appety'.

It feels worthwhile to give others the wish for an enjoyable repast. It feels necessary.

Like tzedaka, it isn't for the benefit of the recipient that it is given - in benefits the giver more. It fills a hole in the world.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Nov 6, 2007 2:59:34 AM

After the express line story, you did it again! You'll never cease to amaze me! You should apply for a job at the supermarket police and do something about those horrible people who leave their shopping carts everywhere!

Posted by: Miss Worldwide | Nov 6, 2007 6:09:27 AM

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