Five Star Complaining

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic

Five Star Complaining is a short story about holiday makers and Israelis in Tel Aviv, Israel. A reflection of their behaviours and attitudes in this new country, constantly on the verge of war.


Five Star Complaining.

By Rafi Arkin, April 2017







For Devora Roth,

My wonderful grandmother,

An inspiration to us all





This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.





They sit in this amazing hotel, in the most amazing country in the world, and complain.

A country that defied all logic. A country that was created from the ashes of a holocaust of which the world had never seen, by men women who had suffered untold hardship, harshness from their fellow humans. A country that was born from political turmoil and upheaval. Clawed from the British Empire, the Ottomans and the Turks. Like an ectopic pregnancy that by some miracle of birth materialised. They drained the swamps, and they created wealth. They defended a few kilometres of land between the sea and the desert from millions of Arabs, full of hatred and remorselessness. They sacrificed themselves for their generations past and their future generations.


Here they sit. In their fancy beach clothes, branded sunglasses, drinking their cappuccinos and what do they do? They complain. The service in this hotel has gone to pot. Where is all the staff? Why can't they serve warm coffee? It's not strong enough. It's too strong. There’s no sweetener. Well, sweeteners will kill you, but you shouldn't have so much sugar, natural is better than artificial. The Mexicans are so fat that they tax soft drinks now. It was on the BBC. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The bus was late; you used to be on time, now you're always late. Where have you been? You didn't leave a key. The children were cold and I couldn't get a sweater. I had to sit with them for hours. Endure their childish ways. The embarrassing little shop they created by the pool. They made 10 shekels. I had to suffer it. Yes I offered to take them for the afternoon. No you don't owe me anything. But it's hard for me. I'm not as young as I used to be. Their childish capitalistic view of the world. As if they don't have enough money. Where did they think of such an enterprise? There was no relief. Sitting for hours, with all these children. They came from nowhere, swarming around. There was this one and that one. And she didn't return. Who? Swimming for hours. Missing out on life. Why didn't she go with you? The Blind Museum. She gets disorientated. Such as shame. There's always next year. You never know if we'll go again. Make the most of it while you can. Where were you? Upstairs? But I needed you downstairs. Why did you go upstairs? Why did you take so long? I needed my time. To relax. But I need to relax. All day and I've not relaxed. I've not stopped. This is my holiday too. I know I'm not at work, but I still need to relax. The food isn't as good as last year. I've eaten too much. It's all too much. Too rich. Who’s too rich? The food. I'm looking forward to just plain food again. The weather is no good. It's been awful all week. That chopped liver was delicious, no? Urgh, too dry. Much better in England. So why didn't you stay at home. What do you mean? We're on holiday. Time to be together, to relax. To be romantic. Away from the children. We have a room to ourselves for once. There's never enough time. The shops are closing soon. I've been shopping all day. I couldn't find anything. I found a few things. Hope they are all right. What do you mean the wrong colour? That's all they had. I can't take them back now. I don't have the receipt. The shop is closed for holidays. Never mind, she'll wear it. I haven't spent any time with you. But I have to swim. Stop interrupting. You don't like going shopping. I waited for a taxi. It's all so expensive. Fifty shekels just to get back to the hotel. The hutzpah of it. Just because they drive a Mercedes.


After seventy years they all forget. They drive German cars. After what they did to our grandparents. It was reparations. They gave us cars to make us feel better. The irony. After the gas chambers. Well it worked. Of course it did. No one curses the Germans anymore. They make good cars, a good economy.  They saved the Greeks after they borrowed too much. They were the ones who lent the Greeks all that money. They reconciled east and west. Tore down the wall. Have you been to that lovely Greek restaurant at the corner of Pond Street? Lovely, isn’t it? That Merkle knows what she's doing. Put the French in their place. But if Britain pulls out, then Germany will take over Europe again. That can’t happen again. Yes it can. The Russians are denigrating the Jehovah Witnesses. Christians are under attack in Egypt. Where do you think it will end? All it will take are a few bombs in Berlin, a right wing government formed, and it will all start all over again. Thank Hashem we have Israel this time around.


They sit in this amazing hotel and out it pours. Hour after hour.


But everyone still curses the Jews. After seventy years they've forgotten. It's so called Isis this and Al Jazira that. We mustn't forget. The tattoos of our grand parents. The survivors. How can they deny it? It's happening again in Syria. And we don't do anything. I wrote to my MP. We need to stop Assad. But what about Erdogan? What about him? He's going be the next dictator. Just like Mussolini. Millions of Muslims on our doorstep.


This constant tirade. Thoughtlessly wrapped up in their own world of uncomfortableness, in their five star hotel that isn't good enough. The room is too cold, now too hot, too noisy, where is the maid, she's not left enough towels, enough soap. The soap makes me dry. Where's the water? Can I drink tap water? No, so where's the bottled? The wetsuit rubs me. I can't swim without it. The shop is closed, what am I to do? I'll need to find a heated pool. There isn't one. It's just not good enough. How can you relax on holiday without a suitable pool to swim in?


It's not warm enough for a beach holiday. Perhaps you should have gone to Eilat if you wanted the warmth? No I wanted to be in Tel Aviv, go on tiyul, and see some history. But only if it's close by and I can be back for a swim. Five thousand years of history, and it has to be close enough not to waste the day away. 


Five thousand years of history and it comes to this. Jews around the country and world are rich or poor and dying out. The religion is going to pot. Everyone eating bread at Passover, Seder is an excuse to over eat. Yom Kippur is now a twenty-five hour build up to a feast. I've eaten too much. It's cold. The soup is cold. The soup is too spicy. It's dry. I feel bloated. This filet of beef had been sitting too long. Why did you fill up the wine glass to the top? Tradition? What a waste, the waiter took my plate whilst I was getting more to eat from the buffet. What do they do with all that buffet food at the end of the meal? They don’t serve it for lunch the next day? They do?! How awful. One day old dry food. I can’t wait to get back home and get on a diet. Yes, I dieted before I came. I wanted to fit into that dress. Yes, the gold one with the long hem.


Meanwhile the sun goes down, Shabbat is a moment away. A few lasting rays hit the Mediterranean Sea; the town quiets down as the east wind continues to blow. That subtle moment between the week ending and the Sabbath beginning. The town has struggled. Everyone has put in an effort for the week. They've been paid. Now to rest. Tel Aviv gasps for a breathe. The Sabbath breathe. You can feel the anticipation in the air. And it's not like Jerusalem. People aren't scurrying around getting ready for a religious Shabbat. Dusting off last week’s Shabbat clothes. Buying a challah and freshly made chopped liver. Rushing to Shul. Praying at the wall as the Amman calls the Muslims to prayer on the original site of the temple. 


It's Tel Aviv. People hanging out in coffee bars. Drinking milky chinos. Watching the sun setting. Working out the best place to hang on this secular Friday evening. This one or that one. Book two restaurants for now and cancel one. Say you're too tired to go out and then go with someone else. Take an Uber. Take a selfie. Long live globalisation. It’s not as though you’re really with anyone this evening anyway. You’re checking your phone every minute, for the next update, the next break-up, the next bit of news. Did you get the rocket app? The one that warns you when they’ve fired a rocket from Gaza. No? It’s trending. Counts how many minutes you have to get to the shelter. Everyone else is staring at their phones, I better too. Just in case. That hit of endorphins if I receive a new comment, email, tweet. I don’t want to miss anything. Why are they all getting more tweets that me? Was my selfie not tagged correctly?


One hundred years ago, there were still dunes, Tel Aviv just a small 9 year old child. Running amok amongst the Palestinian dunes. Dwarfed by Jaffa. And now a modern secular, oh so secular metropolis. Spawned from that hardship of worn hands, malaria, dysentery, the toil of European Jewish men and women, eager to survive in this harsh landscape for the sake of their children. Their children’s children. Survivors of the ghettos, the pogroms. Only 100 years later, they complain about eating too much salad, not the right dressing, too much dressing, too long to wait for a cappuccino. One shot or two. One percent milk or more. Are your shoes from Milan or Rome? A special kind of leather? Lovely. They look lovely on you. She looks like such a Beck. Don’t you think? I need reassurance that my comment is aligned with your view. What’s a Beck any case? Those other friends are so square. Really nebby. Boring. Well, they’re not really friends. Just know them from school. No personality. Not like us. No. Nothing like us. We have heaps of personality. We can talk till the cows come home.


As the sun sinks lower, they sit on fancy leather chairs in smoke free lounges, forgetting that the nation’s children, boys and girls of 18 and 19 are defending this freedom. This Middle Eastern democracy. So they can eat foie gras. Fly in and jet out. Hit the Bedouin markets and the kosher restaurants. Oh so few kosher restaurants now exist in this Jewish land. The few square kilometres of real Jewish freedom in the world. 


But wait. Let them eat the cake. The matzo. The leavened and unleavened bread. Let them have the freedom to complain about the five star hardships. Let them. They deserve it. They, whose diasporic wealth had helped this land blossom, whose funding, donations, long, hard evenings in gowns at expensive dinners, talking to goodness knows who, that one with the expensive divorce, the other who is too thin. Must be an illness. So shockingly thin. I feel for the children. Mustn’t let the children get a complex. That one, her husband owns clothes factories. Makes for Zara, and Top Shop. Yes, he’s horrible to her. It’s not a life. She should consider divorce. She’ll get nothing. She’ll get everything. I know a good lawyer. Spending and donating hard earned money. To support this young land and city. They have earned the right to complain about the cuisine. The temperature of the room and the mood of the waiter. They should complain about the temperature of the fish and the rawness of the steak. Call Avi. I’ll show him how raw this steak is. It’s cold. Look, touch it. Why can’t they cook it properly? They've earnt that right. So don't complain that they are complaining. Ignore it. Enjoy it. Relish in its superficiality and complexity. Don't be grumpy on their account. Let it wash over you. Make you feel better for it. There's more in this world, this short life to worry about. You there, lose the attitude.  We’re on holiday. Did you take my sun lounger by the pool? How many did you have before? Six? No I had four. Shall we take this outside? Calm down old man. No use arguing. My daughter took it earlier. Siting on it all day. Not worth bothering yourself about. And where's the umbrella. One moment here and the next it's gone. But it's hot. Thank you for bringing another. No I don't need it up yet; I just wanted it for later. 


Back on seventh floor heaven, away from the complaints. Surfers bobbing up in the sea. Like seals. Waiting for the elusive wave. Paddling like fury, standing up, falling off, trying again. The feeling of freedom and exhilaration. Young man, only seventy years ago your grandfather ran through the forest, up a Swiss mountain, running obscured through a foggy Nazi camp to cross the border to safety. Starving, gaunt, ashen, months on the run.  He made it. He got to Israel. An adventure for another story I'm sure. A survivor’s story. 


He worked hard, building a land from nothing. So you could sit in the surf, feeling free. Taking much for granted. Getting upset when someone takes your wave. Not realising that others could take your whole freedom. If you let them. If you sit there passively on the board, not teaching your children about the holocaust. The fight for freedom and for existence. For a country where you and future generations could live freely in safety. When you become so secular that you’ve forgotten what Shabbat was. Your children don’t know how many Jews died in the holocaust. They don’t know that gypsies and gays were also targeted. A few comforts and only a few survivors left to tell their story, and you forget the utter nightmare that it was! How can it happen again? We live in a modern world. Then what will Israel then become. Who will we be defending the country for?


So the constant chatter chitter of non-thought. What comes to your head, spat out words follow. Not carefully chosen. Nor considered. Just released and cast adrift. Without considering the consequences. Yet, when no one is really listening in any case, then no harm is done. The unconsidered words have no hidden meaning, and the receiver doesn't consider their meaning hidden or not. Entire exchanges happen at a superficial level as though there is no real conversation at all but just a release of words to the wind, randomly chose through what comes to mind first, and what's triggered second. And when words and thoughts dry up, they order more drinks, more food, re-check their phone, another distraction from the opportunity to really connect. To find out true thoughts and desires. To help each other achieve greatness. To build a kinship, and forge new friendships. And just when all distractions have helped to distract, and the conversation dries up, the weather turns and another opportunity to discuss the finer qualities of this climate. 


These people seem unable to listen to each other. Impatient to sit and wait for the full story. They want to interrupt. To have their say. It’s too loud in here anyway. They find it impossible to just wait and actively listen. It's more intense than simply listening. It's listening with meaning, purpose. You read between the lines. And don't just consider your response, your come back, your ‘better than my story’ story. Consider someone's choice of words. If they've chosen them, or just blurted something out without thinking. There's a knack to it that people don't learn anymore. Our English language is so diverse, so many opportunities to convey meaning.


Shabbat finally comes in. A hush falls over Tel Aviv. The sun sets, the surfers drift back to shore, catch one more wave, shower, walk bare foot across the quietening streets, to their small third floor apartment. Everyone is inside, preparing for the night out. Dipping pita in humus for a quick snack, having a shower, a quick shluf.


Even the five star complaining pauses for a while. After all, what is there to complain about, when you’re in five star luxury, at the shores of the Mediterranean, in a democracy that has defied all odds, an hour away from the most holy city in the world? With the sun setting, the lights of the city twinkling. The church at the end of Jaffa port shining across the city, and the hush. The warmth of the night air on the balcony, and a fleeting moment of life passing calmly. Nothing. There is nothing to complain about at that moment. When you’re by yourself and no one else to compare complaints with. There really is nothing to complain about. Is there?

Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 rafi700. All rights reserved.

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