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For English, press 4 – then speak Hebrew.

chashmal Every time you phone a big customer-service oriented company here in Israel, you get a menu that sounds something like this:  “Blah blah blah (in Hebrew), blah achat (1); blah blah blah (in Russian), blah dva (2); blah blah blah (in Arabic), blah blah (3)” and then, finally, in rich, plummy tones, “for English, press 4.”

So I press 4, right?  Because I speak E N G L I S H.  English is an option?  Yes, please!

And then you get some hold music, and maybe some announcements (in Hebrew) about how great their company is (or some such thing; I’m just guessing), and maybe they tell you how long you have to wait and what place you are in line (I like this feature).

And then… miracle of miracles, you are connected to the operator.

At which point they, say “Blah blah blah (in Hebrew), shalom!”  or “blah, blah, blah, blah, la’azor lachem?” (… help you?)

So remember, I pressed 4, for English.  So this is me:  “Medaber Anglit?” (Do you speak English?)

And the response – always, always, always:  “Lo.” (no)

Which is my cue to forge ahead because hey, I just sat waiting on hold.  So I stumble forward in my awkward Hebrew and eventually, either hang up, get hung up on, or (more and more these days) actually accomplish what I set out to accomplish, with Great Difficulty.

Great Difficulty which, I might add, could easily be avoided if they had an actual operator who spoke English, instead of just a guy they paid $20 to record a greeting that makes it sound like somebody there speaks English.

My Great Difficulty apparently matters little to Corporate Israel.

This rigmarole, this little English-speaker tease, has happened no less than THREE TIMES in the last 2 days, with three different, unrelated companies.  Three times, I have reached the goal only to find out that the promised English-speaker doesn’t exist. 

At one point, desperate to get my Internet working (and having already been on the line to both the Internet provider and the “sapak,” an additional company who basically takes your money in return for a password to access your Internet line), I demanded an English speaker. 

He said, “beseder” (okay) and then I heard him shouting across the room to someone else to find out if they spoke enough English to help me out.  He then put me on hold for five minutes, maybe to look for someone else.  Eventually, literally 10 minutes later, the “English speaker” came on the line.  Heavy on the quotation marks, as heavy as his accent.

image The fun part was that while I was waiting, I solved the Internet problem myself and the whole thing was working fine by the time the guy actually tried to introduce himself in English and find out what my problem was.  And then, it was almost harder for me to explain that I’d solved the problem myself in English that he’d understand than it would have been to work through the whole thing in Hebrew in the first place. 

(Why did I wait instead of hanging up?  Still Canadian, I guess.)

Not that my Hebrew is so fancy-wonderful anyway.  Today, one of the companies I called two days ago phoned back, in a weird customer service gesture, to find out if all my needs had been taken care of. 

Ha ha ha – I had ended up picking another company that at least put up with my linguistic idiocy. 

So I decided to actually give them a piece of my mind and explain that I hadn’t chosen them because they hadn’t been helpful.  Thinking fast (conjugating fast in my head!), I said what I hoped was “I found another company because you didn’t help me”… in Hebrew, “מצאתי חברה אחרת בגלל שאתם לא עזבתם אותי”. 

She said oh, okay, thanked me nicely, and wished me a good day.

Those who read Hebrew may have caught my typo (in my head, it was a think-o) already. It was only when I was off the phone that I realized I’d gotten one letter wrong

What I actually said was, “I found another company because you failed to abandon me.” 

The one-letter difference between עזבתם / azavtem, you abandoned, and, עזרתם / azartem, you helped… is, it turns out, the fine line between, “Dear sirs, I am a savvy consumer whose will moves mountains,” and “Dear sirs, kindly disregard every morsel of gibberish exuding from my malfunctioning brain.”

Which is, of course, probably what they were planning to do in the first place.

EDITED TO ADD:  See the comments section – I have been exonerated, slightly, by a very helpful reader.  (The first English word that came to mind was exuded, not exonerated, but luckily, I remembered the right word just in time.  Proof that my English is definitely slipping!)


  1. Actually, in this case, that word means "you wouldn't leave me alone". So he heard you say that his company lost a customer for being too pushy.

  2. Hmmm, in the USA you get 2 options, English and Spanish. No Hebrew ;)

  3. In UK no Hebrew either ;)

  4. Whoo, galileegirl, you have SAVED my bruised ego - thank you!!! You're right, I never thought of that. I know the expression לעזוב ל... (leave me alone), just didn't connect the dots. Maybe my subconscious is smarter than I give it credit for!!!


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