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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Sometimes food is love

Like many companies in Israel, my employer provides a hot meal for its employees at lunchtime.

The company cafeteria is strictly kosher (although my guess is that the majority of employees are not observant of the dietary laws), and the food is actually quite good.

There is always a choice of two or three meat entrees plus a fish or vegetarian option.  The side dishes, soups and salads are all very tasty, and every day fresh warm bread is served with the meal.

To round things out you get a choice of several types of soda or seltzer/mineral water.

In case someone can't get away from their desks during lunch, there are bag lunches containing a nice selection of fresh bread, soft and hard cheeses, fresh vegetables, canned tuna/sardines, a pudding cup... and a soda to wash the whole thing down.

Yes, it would seem that most Israelis eat their big meal in the middle of the day. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason my weight loss is stalled is that I'm eating an enormous meal at lunch (I had steak yesterday and a big piece of brisket today), and then I'm coming home to have a big American-style supper with Zahava and the kids.

Nope, you can't slip anything by me!

Well, that last statement might not be entirely true. 

One of the better known bits of cafeteria lore circulating at my company involves a little faux pas I made during my first week on the job.

I was still pretty fresh off the plane and my Hebrew skills were very rusty.  I did a lot of smiling and nodding around the office and tried not to speak unless I was asked a direct question.  This meant that I didn't ask about the food choices in the cafeteria... I simply pointed at what I wanted and helped myself to any of the soups and side dishes that I could identify.

On the third day of work I accepted a delicious-looking piece of baked chicken with a stiff grin that by now was actually hurting my face.  I then moved quickly to the area where the soups and side dishes were kept and began helping myself to a nice tossed salad, a couple of avocados and a big bowl of a hearty-looking soup.

As I sat down at a table where I recognized a few friendly faces, everyone greeted me with the traditional 'b'tayavon' (good appetite).  However, unlike the first two days when conversation had started right up immediately after my arrival, on this particular day everyone seemed to be quietly studying my tray.

I looked quickly to see if I had spilled something or taken an unusually large portion of anything but everything seemed in order.

As I started eating my salad and the silence continued I started to really worry that I had unwittingly broken some rule of Israeli etiquette.  Not only had I come to count on the pleasant flow of other people's conversations to camouflage my inability to put together a coherent sentence, but I liked having the opportunity to quietly observe others.  Now for some reason I had become the object of everyone's unblinking attention!

As I tucked into my delicious chicken I was relieved to see my boss approaching and I used my eyes to indicate the open seat directly across from me.  My boss is also originally from the US but has been here since the early '80s.  I figured maybe I would have an opportunity to quietly ask him why everyone seemed to be acting strangely towards me.

After a few minutes I started eating my soup and I immediately noticed two things:

1.  Unlike the excellent food I had been enjoying, the soup was horrible.

2.  My boss was now staring at me with his fork poised halfway to his mouth.

As I put down my soup spoon and pushed the bowl away from me I made an off-hand comment to my boss about the food being wonderful but the soup being a salty, greasy disappointment.

As if on cue everyone at the table started giggling uncontrollably, and my boss informed me in a loud stage whisper that I had finished about a third of a bowl of gravy.

I have to say, it's a wonderful thing that my company is nice enough to provide us with a nice healthy meal in the middle of the workday.  But  I have a feeling that if I work there for the next 20 years I will still be receiving frequent offers of extra gravy by my friendly coworkers.



Posted by David Bogner on March 9, 2005 | Permalink


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Oh . . .oh . . . I don't know what to say! I feel your pain!

Posted by: Sarah | Mar 10, 2005 12:04:33 AM

That could have been me.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 10, 2005 12:43:39 AM

Oh, HONEY! Kudos on the retelling of this tale (YES! I heard about it first-hand the evening after!)! Despite my already knowing the ending, I am still wiping tears of laughter from the corners of my eyes! You do spin a good yarn!

Posted by: zahava | Mar 10, 2005 1:36:12 AM

Too much gravy?Nah, Gimme some more of that bread :-)

Posted by: shmiel | Mar 10, 2005 5:01:35 AM

Sarah... I can't describe the tummyache that one gets from eating gravy.

Jack... Why am I not having any trouble believing that? :-)

Zahava... If only it were just a yarn.

Shmiel... There's a world of difference between a little gravy on bread and eating a third of a bowl of the stuff! Trust me.

Posted by: David | Mar 10, 2005 8:04:01 AM


Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Mar 10, 2005 3:17:40 PM

I actually expected something worse, like dirty dishwater or something. I was relieved for your sake when I found out the "soup" was at least some kind of food. You built the anticipation very well.

How was that a language problem? I can imagine myself doing it tomorrow right here in LA. Were the food containers labeled in Hebrew?

I don't think you've had a "see what a fool I can be" story since you sprayed coffee all over the inside of your car. Fools like me enjoy those.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 10, 2005 4:40:24 PM

Great story!

Posted by: Essie | Mar 10, 2005 5:27:38 PM

I also embarrassed myself with an unfamiliar oven: I invited friends over for dinner and served up soup and appetizers, but when I took the chicken out of the oven, it was still raw! I knew I had turned the oven on, and heat was emanating from it. I discovered that the botton oven of a double-decker had been baking away for an hour and a half, while the chicken was reposing at room temperature in the top oven. My friends now say they'll come over as long as I don't serve them raw chicken any more.

Posted by: savtadotty | Mar 10, 2005 5:45:47 PM

mademoiselle a. ...no, more like BLECH! , but you get the idea.

Doctor Bean... You have no idea how much pleasure I get out of being a crash dummy for your personal entertainment. really. I've single-handedly brought physical comedy to the blogosphere, and I'm justly proud!

Essie... Yes, it is (in retrospect, anyway).

savtadotty... you never know, maybe chicken 'tartar' will catch on the way sushi has! A little wasabi can hid a multitude of sins. :-)

Posted by: David | Mar 10, 2005 6:17:43 PM

yay, the "closing the bold tag" game! :)


Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Mar 11, 2005 6:40:33 PM

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Mar 11, 2005 6:41:19 PM

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