Settling into a new life in another country takes time. Joining the university in the context of multiple entities and institutions sponsoring my fellowship is trying. In reality, they are part of the same herculean process of navigating an unfamiliar bureaucracy, set of cultural rules and norms, actual laws, and diverse personalities.

For Americans, who are accustomed to a specific idea of customer service, personal responsibility, and timeliness, working the system can be frustrating. Mitigating/adjusting my expectations has helped, and Jesse too, but acculturation is a slow process. Fortunately for us, we are pretty damn good at it!

Case in point: When do banks close?

You: “Oh, I don’t know… M-F at 4 or 5pm, sometimes Saturdays at 1pm depending on the branch.”

Well I’ve got news for you. First, don’t expect a whole week of regular business hours. No, no… there are different sets of hours on Sunday-Monday and Thursday, and on Tuesday-Wednesday. Did I mention that the weekend is Friday-Saturday? Honestly that is the easiest part of this equation.

Second, closing hours are not ON the hour. Nope. 1:15. I am not prepared for this! It’s hard to describe, but getting somewhere before the quarter of the hour is kind of an adjustment. Never did I think this would be an issue.

Maybe people here think that our speed limit signs are weird. 65 MPH? 35 MPH? “Who ends a speed limit with a 5?” thought no one ever until just now. 105 KPH wouldn’t fly… who cares about that extra 5 KPH anyway? What is that, like .2 MPH? (It’s not)

Anyway, as a result of this 1:15 closing time, I missed the bank’s open hours, twice. My fault, sure – and not completely the result of my inability to adjust to this new on-the-quarter-hour closing system, there were other factors too – but I missed it nonetheless. So, third try, Jesse and I make sure we’re there at the university branch early, and BAM! We’re in. Got a number. All set, and the teller calls us up and asks us for our papers.

“You are not Israeli?”

She calls her boss over, “you are not Israeli?”

“No,” I blurted out, trying to hold it together.

“I am sorry, there is a new rule that just came out this morning,” the boss explained. “All foreigners must open new accounts at the central branch, near Kanyon HaNegev. Only Israeli citizens may open accounts at this branch.”

Perplexed, I asked “But. The most non-Israelis are here. At this University. We live across the street. The other branch is so far! How does that make sense?”

Sympathetic, but unwavering, she says “Yes, I understand, but there is nothing I can do. It is policy, set in stone.”

In the face of defeat, I could only laugh. Three is not the magic number here. In conversations with new friends they simply remark: “Welcome to Israel.”

Undeterred, and with a new sense of determination, Jesse and I set out the next day by bus, taking Harvey for one of his new favorite activities. No one’s really happy on a bus, until they look at a cute baby. Harvey is instant besties with everyone who has sense enough to smile at him.

In my idiocy infinite wisdom, I somehow got in my head that the university branch must have odd hours, and that the main branch would have “normal” hours. Whadda dummy… Our 1:30 pm arrival to the bank is met with closed doors and crushed spirits. This was a Thursday, the last day of the week. Sure, we could wait around for two and a half hours for the bank to open again for their evening hours, but patience, our stomachs, and Harvey were not into it.

Sunday morning. Fifth try. Working around the nap schedule we arrive at 10:30. I get my number: 6. I’m telling you right now this number is prophetic. We sit down in a room bustling with people.

Later on, we learned from our teller that the people in Beer Sheva don’t use the ATM much, or online banking, or phone banking. Clearly annoyed, she explains to us that every transaction, for many people, must be done in person. That means waiting for 20-plus minutes to withdraw 200 shekels or check ones balance. WAAAAT?

As a result, the bank is swimming with customers. It’s a full blown clusterfuck of people, or as hebrew speakers would say, “a balagan.” This very common word, originally coming from Persian, through Russian, literally translates as “fucks in a cluster**”

Numbers are called over the banks intercom, and displayed on multiple flat-screen panels throughout the room. 5 is summoned to counter 9, 400-something to 16, 400-something else to some other counter, 7… 8… Something’s wrong. I go to ask the manager for help, who looks in her computer, “I think 6 was called already.”

Fifth attempt. Failure.

“But my wife and I are both here attentively watching and listening. How could we both miss it? We are just trying to open an account.” I explained to her that we are new in town, that I am a postdoc at the university, and we need a bank account very bad.

“Okay, let me see,” checking her computer again. ” Why don’t you open a bank account at the university?”

Rage monster stirring, “I was told that by law I could only open an account here.”

“Yes, that is true,” she smiled.

I would be asked this many times, in fact. It seems to be some sort of weird trick question they ask for security purposes.

Anyway, after some deliberation we are sent down to the lower level, where there are far fewer people, and tellers sit in glass offices with large desks and stock nature photos on the wall. Ofra, our bank teller, warns us, “this will take about an hour.” Fine. We’ve been trying for freaking ever to open an account. Nothing will stop us now.

And on the sixth try, nothing did. When we left the bank at 2pm, three and a half hours after we arrived, we returned home to rest. I felt little sense of accomplishment; it seemed like a typical day. In that, we embraced a new sense of acculturation.

**This is completely made up, by me. Sorry Notsorry.


7 thoughts on “Bureau-crazy

  1. 1. You need to post more often to this blog.
    2. ברוכים הבאים לישראל
    3. תשמחו שאתם לא צריכים ללכת למשרד (על) הפנים בירשיליים לוויזה

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