Opinion |

Things You Hear Only in Israel: 'Lady, Are You Over 70?'

Saviona Mane
Saviona Mane
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Israel post office, 2019.
Israel post office, 2019.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Saviona Mane
Saviona Mane

A few days ago I went to the post office on 286 Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv to send a registered letter. But as opposed to the recent past, there was no option this time of taking a number from the machine without a smartphone. I don’t have a smartphone on principle. I don’t want a device that thinks for me. I insist on remembering the phone numbers that are useful to me, the dates of my doctors’ appointments, the route to my friend’s house or the birthdays of my dear ones on my own.

And so, with restrained anger at the new arrangement in the post office, I walked past those waiting patiently in line in front of me (Lady, there’s a line!) and approached one of the counters to ask why no numbers, only smartphones; the clerk replied with a question: “Lady, are you over 70?”

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The invasive question embarrassed me. I looked around and gave a slight nod. “So you don’t need a number,” he called out. “We’ll issue a number for you,” he said with a gesture of consideration. “I don’t want you to issue a number for me,” I said angrily, “I want to take a number by myself. I want to get the service I deserve by right and not as a favor, even if I don’t have a smartphone.” A female clerk who was following the exchange joined her colleague’s efforts to “help” me: “It’s impossible without a phone, because of your age we want to help you.”

I don’t want to be helped “because of my age,” I don’t want them to force me to push ahead of the line, I don’t want to use my cellphone to receive a public service, but nor do I want to be forced to declare my age inside a post office.

I’m not ashamed of my age; on the contrary, I worked hard to reach it, as actress Anna Magnani said. But I have a right to keep it to myself, like my other personal business. I despise the annoying exhibitionism of the cellphone age, in which everyone conducts intimate conversations in front of the entire world, usually in a loud voice, about his fertility problems, his scabies or his hard life as a bachelor, like those I have heard for years on the buses that brought me to the newsroom.

Age is a person’s private affair, just like his memories, his favorite things or his desires. We aren’t supposed to be required to reveal it in front of everyone. In well-run countries a civil servant would never dream of asking a man, and certainly not a woman, for his age in public (unless it’s relevant to the service he’s receiving, like health insurance). In a well-run country, that would be a reason to sue someone for ageism.

But in our glorious Startup Nation, where our ID card numbers, our phone numbers and our email addresses are available to anyone, even the appearance of privacy has become a luxury.

I’m not opposed to technology. I’m aware of its tremendous advantages in all spheres of our lives, and I enjoy them too. But technology is supposed to serve man, man is not supposed to serve technology (and the handful of tycoons it raises to the status of sons of gods).

To protect myself from it (and from them), the role of the government is to guarantee in law that its citizens will not be exposed to the prying whims of corporations, and will be served in the post office/bank/supermarket/government ministry etc. etc. regardless of religion, gender, age or cellphone.

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