“I need a dollar, dollar, dollar is what I need”
With my departure from the Holy Land fast approaching at breakneck speed, a couple of days downtime off work has prompted a reflection on my whole experience here, and the sudden realisation that I haven’t written anything for far too many months.
It’s been a long hot summer since the end of my programme in June and I’ve experienced a whole new side to Tel Aviv – an experience known by the more condescending among us as “real life”.
Before real life hit home, for five months I was given an unrivalled opportunity to take photos of amazing things, be criticised by amazing photographers, and be published in amazing places. My boss Naty would dub me a ‘motherfucker’ for sauntering in with the best picture of the day, and over months saw me grow until he had conviction in telling me I have photography “in my salt” (i think he meant soul) and that I have what it takes to be a photojournalist. To squander my undeveloped talent would be a travesty.
One thing was for sure however, taking pictures of refugees doesn’t buy you a flight to South America, and so with a heavy heart I unwillingly, and temporarily hung up my camera in pursuit of a quick shekel.
And so, a couple of phone calls, and an interview confirming my ‘extensive’ waitering experience later, I began work as a waiter at Tel Aviv’s Mezizim Beach restaurant.
This is a job unlike any I will ever undertake again, and after 3 months on the job, I don’t think I would have the strength to have another go.
I worked in the searing heat, sun beating down between pale Ashkenazi shoulder blades, during shifts that seemed to last a lifetime. My longest was 18 hours. And the salary? You had better sit down for this one employment lawyers and trade unionists…ZERO. Nothing. Nil. Nought. They paid me fuck all. As with all the beach restaurants, you hustle, charm and woo customers for a tip. It’s all you get, and it’s every man for himself.
With my bumbag (fanny pack…cue giggles) attached firmly to my waist, I set out each morning with entrepreneurial spirit blazing, to sell as much food and drink to the people of Tel Aviv as I possibly could. At the end of the day, I paid the restaurant for the food I sold, a figure ominously dubbed my “X” and then counted, slowly, and carefully whatever was left attached to my hip. The feeling of counting those hard earned shekels and stuffing them into your pocket, untaxed, at the end of each day is almost addictive. (Worry not vigilant readers and fellow OCD enthusiasts. There was no real ‘stuffing’ going on. G-d forbid. This is merely poetic license. Notes were placed in value order, in alignment, creases gently teased out, and slipped into a crisp white envelope).
Much like El Al’s security profiling procedures at the airport, the same is essential for any budding beach waiter. Here is my guide to making the most of, and getting the most out of a Mezizim customer.
They have no tipping culture in France. Set out your boundaries and force that tip upon them. Sweeten the taste in their mouth with an abracadabra presentation of French menus. “C’est magnifique!”. Yes it is, now that’ll be 20% sil vous plait.
Warm service with a smile, accept their constant flow of thank yous graciously and pomp up the British accent. Sit and wait patiently because you know 20% is coming your way even if the service is worse than Manuel off of Fawlty Towers and the schnitzel gives the lot of them salmonella.
Embarrass the man into expensive drinks and a large tip. Schnorrers don’t get a second date.
Young Israeli Girls
Start service in English before revealing carefully constructed Hebrew with mistakes in all the right places to make it cute. Exchange names on facebook for an extra bonus.
Big Unruly Israeli Family
Complete and utter subservience. They pay well for a slave. Be prepared, everything you do WILL be wrong, and they will make you walk for ten minutes, six separate times, for a cup of ice that they will claim is totally melted by the time you get it to them. Nevertheless, “Yes master” service will be duly rewarded. This may or may not come as Safta’s Jachnun, and vodka redbulls in lieu of a tip.
Suckers for a sob story. They probably know your dad and they’ll be horrified when the find out you don’t get paid. And when they find out you’re Melanie Goldbaum’s nephew…
One word. FISH. Sell them the fish! Invariably they will take it. It’s the most expensive thing on the menu, not that they can read the menu. Write your price on a piece of paper, regardless you’ll probably have to fish around in their wallet for the correct notes anyway.
Two pronged attack:
1. Boost the bill and their level of inebriation by selling shots with every beer.
2. For the big money, sell them the number of the American waitress serving the table next to them. They are probably so horny you’ll get at least 100 shekels.
Tell them you are about to be a corporate lawyer. You won’t get a tip but you’ll they’ll give you a choice of their four daughters.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, which saw much of the middle-east rise up against its tyrannical regimes, Israel, the only true democracy in the region saw its own beginning of a revolution.
This time however it was far more relatable. In July, just as university exams were finishing, and the sun cranked itself up to full summer sweltering power, tents began springing up on Rothschild Boulevard, and later in all cities across Israel. It came in response to a facebook group set up by Daphni Leef expressing public opinion on the social climate in Israel. Within days, the tent encampment had swollen to thousands, and hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets crying ‘’THE PEOPLE DEMAND SOCIAL JUSTICE!’’
68% of the Israeli Economy is controlled by 6 powerful families and the companies they preside over. Rent and food prices are sky high, and wages are appallingly low.
It was the middle classes rising. Teachers, doctors and social workers who couldn’t afford to buy a car, go on holiday or even put aside a shekel with the hope of building a deposit to one day jump on the property ladder, made themselves heard.
I feel very lucky to have been living in the heart of this uprising. The atmosphere strolling around Rothschild Boulevard of an evening was like what I imagine Woodstock was like.
Impromptu jamming sessions. Rabbis sat with communists sat with soldiers around a table discussing the price of cottage cheese and eating the free chicken soup that the 70 year old grandma who lives in the apartment above their tent had prepared for free.
Each time I was amongst the melee, I was consumed by the though, ‘rak po’…’ONLY HERE!’
AND THE REST
I was also lucky enough to conduct an experiment delving into an unsolved mystery, paying Tel Aviv rents on a Tel Aviv wage.
My first apartment was a beautiful rooftop apartment on Zamenhof. Couches, trees, tables, chairs and flowers, complemented by lots of friends and alcohol every evening felt like the Tel Aviv dream.
Next up was Rashi, a spacious, minimalist apartment with an amazing kitchen. Chef Nicky was back in the game. Friday night dinners, chopped liver, chicken soup, curries, malawach and much more flowed out the kitchen day and night. And finally to a workmate’s beautiful apartment, right by the beach where I worked.
I escaped unscathed from the experiment. The beach work paid the bills and a couple of weeks here and there on a promise helped immensely (thank you so much Jonny and Anna!!). But to really save for my travels, I had to search for a supplementary income…
And so I became Tel Aviv’s one and only Mr. Poppins. Weekdays became consumed with nappies, bottles and soft play. For each and every day I made a baby’s life easy and carefree, I earned a week to be easy and carefree myself on a Colombian beach, and in the process prepared myself for the day when fatherhood becomes my life for real!
BURSTING THE BUBBLE
I’ve now been floating in this bubble for 8 months. I have lived real life with the intensity of the Tel Aviv inhabitants, summer heat and humidity, and managed to make money working in the Hebrew language. And dare I say it, I’m ready to leave.
For now, Aliyah (automatic Jewish immigration to Israel) is not on the cards. I don’t think I can get what I want out of life here. But I leave brimming with pride for this amazing little country of only 63 years of age.
I’m now a year down the line since I left for Russia, and it’s finally time to cut my hair, allow the tan to fade, and finally become a corporate lawyer.
Well… not before a cheeky 4 months in South America!!