These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Post Office Chutzpa

Posted on December 20, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Daniel Shibley (Fellows Program '12) shares 
an amusing anecdote of daily life as an Israeli

doarAmid the mound of mail in the “shin” box of Yeshivat Har Etzion, I located a small paper notice from the Israel Post with my name on it. Once I managed to peel it off the plastic wrapper of another student’s unclaimed copy of The Economist to which it was stuck, I realized that the item awaiting me in the post office was an official document that had been sent via registered mail from the Government of Israel. It baffles me however, why an official notice about an official document appeared to be so decidedly unofficial.

The slip of paper was, at best, a half sheet. The edges on at least one side had clearly been trimmed by hand using a paper cutter, complete with the crooked edge. The print was off center, and the logo of Israel Post was only vaguely visible in the upper left corner. Lucky that my name was on it at all. The morning immediately following the arrival of the notice I undertook the long and arduous three minute walk to the post office here in Alon Shvut. Down the manicured stone path, between the yeshiva dorms, across a narrow road, past the playground not yet filled with children at play and into downtown Alon Shvut, a hustling bustling hotbed of a synagogue, health clinic, bank, small grocery, and yes, the post office.

I arrived at the post office to find two customers ahead of me in line, an older women, and a fellow yeshiva student. The older woman was carefully placing her belongings back into her purse, why she needed to remove everything in the first place is beyond me, but, let the chutzpa commence! The clerk began assisting the student in selecting which box would best suited for shipping his item, recommending the medium size box. The dialogue, roughly translated from the Hebrew, went something like this:

  • Clerk: I think the medium box will be fine.
  • Student: Okay.
  • Older Woman: What do you mean okay? It will fit in the smallest one, you’ll save money.
  • Clerk: It’s too big, there’s no way.
  • Older Woman: I’ve made things fit into the small box.
  • Clerk: Fine, but this won’t fit.
    (The student and I are watching the exchange as if following the ball during a ping pong match)
  • Older Woman: Look, try it, put it in the small box.
    (student places the package into the small box, it was not even close to being the correct size)
  • Clerk: I told you it wouldn’t fit.
    (Older woman gives a dismissive hand gesture and walks out)

Throughout the conversation I struggled to restrain the laughter that comes with watching two strangers engage in a pointless discussion involving the shipping container of a third stranger. For better or for worse I have witnessed other similar incidents in other places, a concerned neighbor giving parenting advice, a bus driver advising less luggage, a maintenance man sharing his expertise on proper bowling technique. Although sometimes frustrating and often hilarious, there is a certain beauty to receiving advice from total strangers, no matter how surprising. When unsolicited advice is the result of deep seeded feeling of brotherhood, as opposed to obnoxious malice, post office chutzpa is just another albeit hilarious example of the connectedness that Israelis feel to each other, whilst they simultaneously make patently obvious the fact that they truly believe that they are perpetually in the know.