Filling up

I try to avoid filling up with petrol on a Friday morning. There’s a universal custom at filling stations here that anyone who buys more than a certain amount of petrol gets a free paper. Since the Friday paper is much larger than on the other days of the week, and costs more, most of the population makes a point of filling up early on a Friday, since it’s obviously worth while to save 9.60 (about $2.20), right?

Well, only if your time has no value. Since everybody else is doing exactly the same thing, the queue at the petrol station on a Friday morning stretches right down the street, and you can wait a good 15 minutes for the privilege of your free paper. And it’s not as if Israelis don’t mind wasting time. These are the same people who will hoot at you as soon as the traffic light turns green, or even a few seconds before; the same people who will cut round you if you stop at an intersection to let a child finish crossing the street; the same people who will swerve up on to the pavement to get to a right turn instead of waiting for the car in front of them to clear the intersection. העיקר לא להיות פרייר של אף אחד. Sorry, that’s not really translatable. It means something like “don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you”, and is used to justify every possible kind of selfish and aggressive behaviour, like jumping queues, littering the streets, falsifying income tax returns, and standing stock still in narrow gangways so that other people have to push past you instead of getting out of their way.

Today I encountered a new refinement in the free newspaper game. Instead of someone walking round the filling station handing out newspapers to the drivers, there was someone walking round the filling station handing out scraps of paper with “Newspaper” printed on them, and all the drivers had to take their scraps of paper to a little room in a shack over at the side and push past each other (of course) to collect their papers. I wonder what brought this on. Had people found a way to fool the attendants into giving them two papers? Were the attendants complaining because the papers were too heavy to distribute? Is it all a setup to create an opportunity to pilfer from the unattended vehicles? Did the manager think that it would reduce expenses because some customers would think it not worth the trouble to get out of the car and walk 10 yards for their paper? (Not as unlikely as it sounds, these are the same people who park their cars outside a shop on an intersection blocking all traffic while they dash in to buy something (and then try to use this as a justification for jumping the queue) instead of driving 10 yards down the street to park sensibly.)