This blog post has taken two years to write....
In the US, I took gassing up the car for granted; it was a simple little errand that I usually did at one of the 5 or 6 gas stations that were within a mile of our house. Self-serve and keep on driving. Then we moved across the world and I discovered that things are not always so easy when done in a new language and in a new culture.
To begin with, there are no gas stations in our neighborhood. The nearest gas station is either about 7 minutes away in a direction I rarely need to go in, or about 12 minutes away in the main city that my neighborhood is part of. Okaaaay. At least I can usually figure out an errand or two to do in the main part of town, to make it worth driving almost half an hour round-trip.
Self-service is quite different here. Don't know your car's license plate number? Walk around and take a look because you'll need to input it to pay at the pump. Once you've done that, put in your national identity number. Don't know enough Hebrew to understand the words displaying on the pump? Head on inside to (try to) pay at the cashier. Don't know how to say "fill it" in Hebrew? Yeah, you need one of those phrase books from the 80s. You may never need to say, "my friend and I are making a small dinner party and were wondering if you'd like to attend?" (my favorite phrase), but you DO need something other than waving your hands around while looking panicked and finally saying, " umm, everything on (pump) number 4" and then saying "yes" when the cashier says some sort of questioning words that you take as confirmation that she's saying "fill it?". Invariably, the cashier then asks if you'd like to buy headphones, an electric nose hair trimmer, or a small espresso maker from the display on the counter. Since the cashier usually points while saying this, you are able to figure out what she's talking about and politely decline. These experiences often leave one on the verge of tears (not that I'm, erm, speaking about myself here. Oh noooo).
What about full-serve? That's actually a very nice experience here--they even clean your front- and back windshields, which I haven't seen in the US since I was a kid. Except that even full-serve has incomprehensible questions, like "Do you want the number of your license plate printed on your receipt?" ("What? Can you repeat that? Say it slower, please--I don't understand why anyone would want that?!". A gas station employee who spoke English finally tipped me off that it's in case people want to use the receipt for reimbursement or tax purposes. This in itself was a very inspiring-yet-humbling moment--the Russian guy who works at the gas station speaks English better than I speak Hebrew. Sigh). The next question is something like, "Would you like to buy a package of baby wipes or an espresso maker from the display outside?" (Israelis drink a LOT of coffee and those espresso makers seem to be everywhere).
Anyway, yesterday I gassed up at the lovely new gas station that's *halfway* to the big city. It felt so near (and yet, frankly, still rather far to go just to get gas)! And I did self-serve and I understood all the questions and got them all correct! Yay! Give the lady a full tank of gas and get her back on the road!