Travels With Yossi: How Not To Be A Freier
We're down to the wire. Yesterday, we went again to the apartment and saw that the windows are mostly in, as well as all of the doors. Yossi came with us, B"H -- and immediately noticed that the trissim to the mirpesset (the shutters to the porch, Statesiders) were manual and not electric.
"Sarah, didn't you ask for electric?" Yossi asked me.
Uh, yes, now that you mention it--and we also paid the electrician extra to put in the switches for electric trissim. The bigger tris is heavy, and we're old and not getting any younger. Seemed like the way to go.
"This isn't electric--see, no motor, just a pull." Yossi whipped out his cellphone and called the kablan's secretary. I could follow the conversation in part, but what it boiled down to was "I'll check." She checked, called back and confirmed that Yossi has a steel-trap memory: BOTH doors to the mirpesset have electric trissim.
I only remembered one door.
Why does Yossi remember these things? Because, first of all, he's the smartest guy I've ever met in my life. Second, he's taken it upon himself to be our guardian angel in matters relating to settling in Israel (G-d bless him!). Third, he's Israeli and thinks like an Israeli--he has pointed out to me the numerous ocassions where Israelis simply rip off the Anglo olim. Not from malice. Not from prejudice or dislike. Simply because this is a society where everyone scrambles to make a living, and everyone is on guard against The Other Guy making a living unfairly against him. No one wants to be a freier (a sucker), and getting ripped off by paying too much, whether its for tomatoes, steak, kitchen cabinets or a new car, is the ultimate expression of being a freier.
Nor is this confined to Anglo olim, although we fall for it far more frequently. This is a country where you are expected to stand up for yourself and watch out for your own interests. Israelis do, and expect you to be Israeli also.
If Anglo olim fall for it more frequently, it's because we have two handicaps beyond the language barrier: the first is that we are perceived as "rich" and hence most Israelis think that if you jack up the price just a bit, well, the Anglos can afford it. Second, we're perceived as wimps -- if you jack up the price just a bit, well....they're Anglos, they won't make much of a fuss. We're tooooo nice, in Israeli estimation.
Nor is this a Jewish thing. One of the funniest scenes in a popular sit-com here ("Arabs Working") centers on a Arab family dealing with life here. The grandfather tells his adult son that he wouldn't get stopped so often at the checkpoints if he drove something other than a Suburu, the ubiquitous working-class car of the region. He offers to help his son, and gets him a "deal" on a more respectable model of car. The father has gone to a friend of his, and gets the price from his friend, then tells his son to take this "deal" in which the father himself has added 10,000 NIS to the price in order to get for himself a 'piece of the action'.....
Welcome to the Middle East. We all have relatives like this.
In Israel, it is understood that if something is a bit off, its okay to get hysterical and angry. It's mostly an act--but an effective one. For example:
The job foreman at our building keeps a record of what each buyer is purchasing that is an "extra" not provided by the builder. A sink on our porch is such an extra. The foreman, when this issue came up, went to the porch with us and asked where we wanted to install the sink. We showed him. He then handed the notebook with this entry to Yossi and tells him to sign off on it (this was Yossi's idea--he told us he should sign so he knows exactly what we're getting, otherwise the foreman could put anything down and we wouldn't necessarily know what we're signing for since our Hebrew reading skills approach illiteracy). Yossi looked at the entry just made by the foreman in the notebook, and promptly went ballistic.
"Seven hundred dollars??! Seven hundred dollars?!! Are you crazy?! All you're doing is putting a couple of pipes there! Do I look like I just got off the plane?! Do I look like a rich American?! I'M not paying $700 for some pipes -- and she isn't paying it either!!" He thrust the notebook, unsigned, back to the foreman.
The foreman smiled, and said something in a reasonable tone of voice which I didn't catch.
"No! I'm not signing! You write down the sink, but I'm not signing for seven hundred dollars! I'll talk to the kablan and you'll see -- it won't cost seven hundred dollars!" Yossi stormed.
The foreman's expression changed from beseaching to angry. He raised his voice, raised his hand clutching the pencil, and shook his fist at the heavens while shouting about signing the notebook. His second, another supervisor at the job site, joined the group on the porch and tried to intervene. He was shouted down by both men. Yossi's back went rigid and he shouted back at the foreman, stabbing his finger angrily at the notebook. The electrician then joined us, but he stayed out of it, simply watching, as both men wound themselves into a melodramatic display of righteousness. Their voices got louder, rising in crescendos of anger and indignation. I wondered for just a moment if it was wise to be up on the mirpesset with the railings not-yet installed during the heat of this confrontation. Finally, it ended. Abruptly. There was sudden agreement, total tonal change, expressions of yihiye beseder, habibi, shrugs, smiles and some laughter, and everyone went away.
"You get the pipes and fixtures for free," Yossi told me. "All you have to do is buy the sink." He explained that the pipes are already in the outer wall, and hence its simply a matter of extending them to a nearby corner for the sink. He also explained that since we put in our own bathroom sink and fixtures, instead of the "standard" sink and fixtures, the builder "owes" us those standard fixtures which will be affixed to the outside porch sink at no extra charge.
It's all about making sure one doesn't get taken for a freier. Yossi knows exactly what a buyer is entitled to, and works hard to make sure we get it. It's why he insisted on being there with us, insisted on signing the special order notebook, insisted that when he went on vacation this summer we NOT SIGN ANYTHING!!
He's told us that he doesn't want us to buy a bottle of water in this country without him -- because he knows a bottle of water is 7 NIS and that as soon as we open our American-accented mouths, we'll get charged 8 NIS.
And so, unlike us greenhorns, he notices immediately if something is just a bit off--such as manual trissim instead of electric. It's could be a mistake by the installer -- but to the sabra mind, it just might be a rip-off and hence needs to be fixed at this very moment! Before the installer makes a freier out of him!
Thank G-d for Yossi!
He handles his own business this way also. I happened to be running errands one day when he said he wanted to stop and pick up the new curtains his wife had ordered. They had taken their time looking at different materials and colors and finally picked something that they both loved. They knew of a shop that takes material you've purchased and turns it into curtains. His wife took the material to the shop and bargained with the owner, who offered a discount. They agreed upon a price, and his wife left a deposit with the owner. The owner, in turn, gave his wife a receipt showing the balance owing.
A week later, Yossi went to pick up these curtains and was told that the balance owing was substantially more than what was written on the receipt. He argued. The owner argued. He pointed out that this was the agreed price, they left a deposit as agreed, and here is the written balance owed. So why is it now substantially more?
The shop owner's answer was that she made a mistake. When discussing the price with Yossi's wife, she inadvertantly gave her a discount on the already-discounted price because the owner felt "rushed" by his wife's hurry that day.
"So?" Yossi asked, "This is my wife's fault? You make a math error and somehow it's her fault? No! This is your mistake -- we had no idea what figure you had it mind, we simply took the price you quoted with the discount. It's not my wife's fault that you made a mistake because you hurried."
"You have to pay the correct price or I'm not giving you the curtains," the owner retorted.
"Fine, keep the curtains, but then you give me my money back!" Yossi shot back.
"WHAT?! No way! We've already done the work--and what would I do with your curtains?" she sputtered.
"I don't care!" Yossi told her. "This is your mistake. I'm not paying more because you made a math mistake or quoted us a price you now regret."
One of the men in the shop came over and offered the owner his advice: "Let it go. This isn't worth it for 50 shekels."
"You shut-up!" she snapped. "It's not coming out of your pocket!"
Yossi suddenly turned down the heat, saying calmly, "Fine, Giveret, keep the curtains and keep the money. I have the receipt showing the deposit and the balance owing in your own handwriting. I will go to court, show it to the judge, and let the judge decide who is right and who is wrong."
That did the trick. Yossi left with the new curtains, having paid exactly what was written on the receipt.
But as I left with him, I wondered how many freiers have come to pick up their curtains and paid an extra 50 NIS because of some "mistake" in calculating the price.
And if you wonder why peace hasn't broken out despite Oslo, Wye, Geneva, and Annapolis, it is in large part because both parties think the other party is trying to make a freier out of them.....