with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Life After The Visa Dance

Graphic of the Israel Sheqel - when all else fails, pay cash.Weeks later, we are still reeling with the after effects of the Visa Dance/20 Sheqel Maximum. Brent goes to get gas and the attendant, who recognizes him now, smiles if the total is below 20 sheqels. If it is above, he will wave his hands and do a mini version of the Visa Dance in his small booth, shouting “Lo! Lo! Lo! Lo! Lo! Lo Visa!” (No! No! No! No! No Visa!) Brent insists and tells him to pick up the damn telephone to call for approval or he’ll drive out without paying an arogot (in Hebrew, of course). Eventually the man complies. With gas prices at $4 USD a gallon, staying under the five dollar maximum and traveling any distance just isn’t mutually compatible. Every 10 days it costs Brent $50 USD to fill up the tank. You can see that the 20 sheqel ($5) limit doesn’t get very far with us.

We’re not alone. Friends and co-workers of Brent are having terrible times with their out-of-country Visa cards. Brad and Tari are really frustrated because they are also using company Visa credit cards for business related expenses. After a concert we all attended, we came back to our apartment and ordered Chinese take-out over the phone. Brad wanted to pay for it, but after 10 minutes on the phone trying to get the credit card approved, I told him to give up and we’d pay cash. Everyday, the same thing. It wears on you.

The night after I sent out my Visa Dance journal story to you all, Brent came home giggling. He told me he was in Brad’s office when he got the email from me. Brad usually doesn’t have time to plow through it, as I know many of you don’t, but he started reading it, then started over out loud to Brent, who hadn’t read it. The two guys were laughing so hard! Brad kept saying, “This is EXACTLY what it is like! She is so RIGHT!” They agreed that you all are probably thinking that I am exaggerating on this, but they both want to reassure you that if anything, I am understating the stress and frustration of dealing with this stupid issue and the crazy arrogance of the Israeli shopkeepers. Both of them loved my tale of being yelled at by the shopkeeper when searching for a little hardware dohickey. Brad’s wife, Tari, has tales about being chased out of stores by yelling shopkeepers, for no reason she can understand, and being told to just shop somewhere else, too. It is crazy.

A couple weeks after the famous Visa Dance, I got a bunch of phone messages, all garbled, in Hebrew. I had no idea what they wanted, and since my voice mail message says “Leave the message only in English” and they didn’t, I thought I would try to figure out what was going on with my four words of Hebrew. I asked to speak English and all I got were screaming “lo’s” (no) and other things I’m sure I don’t want to know. After two attempts, I went downstairs and interrupted Naomi, who is still trying to plow through the final stages of her doctorate while having an exciting new love affair AND doing 56 puppet shows over the past two months. She got on the phone for me. I was stunned when she found out it was the famous store of the 90 minute Visa Dance. The LAST people I wanted to talk to for a LONG time.

It seems they credited back all the repeated charges onto my credit card, but in doing so, they wiped out their original charge, leaving me with the threat of stealing. I figured my 90 minute wait was worth at least $50 an hour, so I had been compensated for my time and suffering, but that’s just not how my moral fiber works. They insisted, through Naomi, that I come out to the stores (two cabs and a bus ride away!) And deliver the money in cash. Naomi, bless her purple soul, told them they were “full of it” and insisted they send someone out to where I lived to pick it up, yelling in Israeli style with the best of them. They hemmed and hawed and finally agreed to take the credit card number over the phone and charge it again. It took almost 45 minutes to get to this point with three phone calls. So the dance continued through the telephone lines. Amazing the levels technology has advanced us to.

I’ve complained several times, officially, to Visa International to put pressure on Visa Israel. Naomi, who was frustrated with my frustration, called Visa Israel and took them to task, with the famous Israeli yelling and talking over the top of each other, for 30 minutes only to hang up and look at me with a weary smile. “You are right. It is stupid Israeli thinking and there is indeed a 20 sheqel maximum on Visas. The only thing you can do is write to the Ministers of Tourism and Finance and complain to them.” Which I’ve been trying to do.

Just imagine all the tourists from all over the world who visit here. Especially this year with the Millennium. EVERYONE and their uncle and cousin wants to come to the Holy Land during the year 2000. Flights into Israel are booked to the hilt. If they stay within the high tourist traveled areas, they should have only minor interruptions to the pleasures of their adventure here. Leave those areas and there will be some seriously ticked off people!

In a day when you can talk on the phone to anyone in the world instantly, how long does it really take to link with the Visa International? Graphic of earth surrounded by computers communicating.Since Visa is one of the largest suppliers of credit cards in the world, cardholders are going to be coming in here ready to spend their money and find it nearly impossible. I just don’t understand. Naomi told Visa Israel that she travels all over the world using her Visa Card (from Israel no less) in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Angola, Korea, and it is accepted without question. She told them, “These are ‘third world’ countries and they take my Visa! Here is Israel reverting to less than a third world country with this idiot policy.” When she gets going, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Brent and I are planning to fly to Paris for a few days to catch up with my mother on her belated honeymoon with her husband of six months. Long story short, between El Al Airlines and American Airlines here in Israel, our attempts to fly there on our frequent flyer miles got totally screwed up. I spent four hours on the phone between both the companies here in Israel, with both of them telling me, basically, if you don’t like it, go fly with someone else because they didn’t care and they certainly didn’t want my business.

Completely going out of my mind with this ridiculous yelling and screaming, from them and myself, I finally called American Airlines in the States. With almost no waiting on hold, when a woman answered the phone with the words, “American Airlines. How may I help you?” I burst into tears.

She reassured me that whatever the problem was it wasn’t worth the tears and she was sure she could help. I tried to explain that the real problem are the assholes running businesses here in Israel, and how completely wonderful it was to be greeted with such sweet words. I told her I didn’t care if she could help me or not, that just the relief of hearing a normal voice speaking kind and compassionate sounding words – that was the best thing I had heard in MONTHS and worth more than a trip to Paris.

Yes, she not only wonderfully solved our problems, but American Airlines Fed-Ex’d our airline tickets to us in two days, no expedite fees or anything, totally free of charge, thanking us every step along the way, for our business. Makes me choke up just talking about it again.

We are getting used to the aggressive, and, I have to admit, nasty business practices here, which scares me. I’m not sure it is something I want to get used to. Naomi tells me that when she visits the USA, after a few days of non-stop “thank you” and “have a nice day” comments, she wants to hit the next person who is so darn polite and appreciative of her business. And I want to smack the next ingrate shopkeeper here in Israel. What a world!

So maybe my annoying letters to the Ministers, and my continuing complains to Visa International, along with all the complaints might make a change. In the meantime, the dance goes on and the steps just keep being added on to the choreography.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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