There is the "traditional Israel" way, which is the "mi acharon?"
method: when entering the office, you ask who's last ("mi acharon?")
and then, you're next. You are entitled to ask other questions of the
person in front of you, like who's in front of them and whatnot.
And then, there is the "modern Israel" way of "taking a number", which
seems more civilized to North Americans because you don't have to talk
So, fine; the post office. I arrived bright and early this morning to
mail a letter to Canada (shh... it's YM's birth certificate, but I
wrapped it in some decoy papers so it doesn't show through). I showed
the guard my bag, which annoyed him and he waved me in but said
something about a number.
There was a number machine, so I pressed the button. Nothing.
Everybody yelled at me and I quickly gathered the machine wasn't
working. (lo poel)
Happily Canadian-like, I sat down to wait my turn. I was just happy
there were lots of seats, and in my happiness, forgot to ask "mi
acharon?" which is the default system when the numbers fail. As a
Canadian, I suppose I was simply prepared to wait until all others had
But then it all fell apart when the NEXT persons came in, pushed the
button, and got yelled at in turn.
The next person shouted, "mi acharon?" and finally I squeaked "ani."
The next person asked "who's before you?"
Umm... happily, a Filipina lady who was far better-oriented than me
pointed out a man with a blue hat. Good, blue hat; I can remember
that. Kova kachol.
More people came in and figured out the line and all was progressing
nicely except that there were only 2 counters open and neither was
moving very fast.
Remember, I was there to mail ONE letter, and maybe buy a few stamps
so I wouldn't have to wait in line there next time. One letter. This
was maybe 15 minutes worth of waiting.
So anyway, all was tootling along, all nice and orderly until... a
computerized female voice loudly called out a number and announced
that the lucky person with that number should go to a particular
At which point, chaos broke out. Minor chaos, for an Israeli; major
chaos, for a Canadian.
The security guard rushed inside to tell everybody that there were no
numbers. A clerk behind the counter was (I think) insisting that
she's only serve people with numbers.
Everybody got up from their chairs and lined up, in more or less the
right order, at the number machine. No, no, no, insisted the guard.
It's not working, the numbers come up randomly, don't take a number.
Keep your turn. Or something.
So everybody sat back down again.
But somehow, as people started coming in, they were taking numbers,
until there were many people in the post office with numbers. The
line was "mi acharon" up to a point (maybe 5 or 6 after me), and then
after that, everybody had nice, sequential numbers.
And then the computer called a number again and a person with a number
went up to the counter and got pushed aside by a person without a
Time for the guard again!
In the picture here, blue-hat guy was sitting calmly, but just about
everybody before him had mobbed one of the counters to prevent a guy
from walking straight up to the counter from the door without a number
OR a "mi acharon." Chaos, I tell you. Everybody was shaking their
heads and muttering, "balagan" (chaos), which was about all I
understood because most of these people were speaking Russian.
Eventually, after the guard restored order AGAIN, everybody in the "mi
acharon" line decided to try a third lining-up strategy, since both
previous methods were failing: get in line behind the counter. I
stood behind blue-hat guy, who was behind a middle-aged Indian lady.
Now, again, I'm Canadian - I'm VERY good at lining up. This felt
okay, this felt familiar.
But then... mysteriously, the line shifted. The counter closed or
another one opened up further down. Somehow, because all the rules
had broken down, blue-hat guy ended up before the Indian lady, who
looked at him kind of betrayed, to which he shrugged. She'd snoozed
and losed: too darn bad.
Somehow, the security guard managed to restore order. He counted off
the dregs of the "mi acharon" batch behind the Indian lady, everybody
stating their place so everyone else in the office would know. Then,
he found the first "numbered" person and established her as the first
of the next batch.
And I made it to the counter, where my five-stamp transaction took
about three minutes. It would have taken less except the counter
person tried to upsell me a packet of Rosh Hashana cards.
Which I absolutely refuse complain about, even though they were tacky
cards, and overpriced, because - REALLY??? - the post office wants to
sell me a packet of Rosh Hashana cards? This is WHY I'm in a Jewish
country, however annoying the actual Jews and non-Jews residing in it
may be when their arcane line-up customs break down.