Israel… and the Lessons I’m Sick of Learning

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I had a lot of reluctance about returning to Israel. For sure I remembered many positive things about my first round here. But, sadly, I also remembered how rough things could get and the invaluable and harsh lessons the experience taught me.

Certainly there are major issues that could upset most people thinking about living a life in the Holy Land. Fear of terrorism. High taxes. Abysmal driving.

But then there are the little things. The minor nuisances that by themselves might not bother most people, but when you add them all together, they not only sting, but they reflect upon a culture many of us are not ready to be a part of.

Cab drivers insisting on not using the meters. Countless bank fees. Constant “mistakes” on bills. They all have one thing in common: You have money in your pocket, and someone else is willing to do whatever it takes to put it in their own.

I knew this was a part of the deal here. But I hoped things had gotten better. And thus let my guard down, way too much.

My Hot Mobile Story


I am right now trying to take my cell phone company (Hot Mobile) to Small Claims Court. They’ve wronged me, and they’ve made me incredibly angry. It’s a fight worth getting into. And even though I recognize I very well might lose, I’m either coming out of this having righted a wrong, or having learned invaluable lessons about surviving the Israel experience.

Here’s my story.

I chose Hot Mobile essentially at random when I moved back to Israel. I probably should have done my research, but for the most part, the plan sounded good and affordable. And for the first three years I didn’t really have any problem with the company. At least as far as I knew.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


When I switched banks, I went into a Hot Mobile store to make sure their system had the correct credit card information. And I was delighted when the guy told me it was time to update my plan. I was paying too much. I gladly updated everything. And then this sweet person said that because I was changing my plan, I would get a free gift: Some headphones and laptop speakers. Cute. I didn’t need either, but who says no to a free gift?

And I went on my blissful and ignorant way. I used both items… until they stopped working just a few weeks later. But I was unconcerned. After all, they were free.

But I made several critical mistakes at this point, ones resulting in all my current frustration and hardships:

First, Israelis don’t give free gifts. For certain, there are times in which there might be no obvious price tag, but there’s still a cost. If someone offers you something for free, be wary. There’s always a catch!

Second, I didn’t review my bills.

I’m a big fan of setting up my life so I don’t need to think about things. I want my electricity bill to get paid automatically, so I don’t have to fear missing a payment and sitting in the dark for a week. I just want to live my life, and not focus on these relatively small matters.

But doing so requires a level of trust that many Israeli companies have not earned and do not deserve.

The Crappy Gift from Hell


So after way too long, we finally looked at my cell phone bill, which seemed quite high. And that’s when we noticed something odd. For the past year and a half, I was being charged monthly for the free “gift” I received. And no small amount, mind you. They split up payments over the course of three years, so they could charge me an ungodly amount for the junky trinkets I was told I was receiving as a special gift.

Now, this isn’t some company that represents values like honesty, integrity, and loyalty. This is a company that values making money, and sees no benefit in long-term customer satisfaction and retention. And my following customer service nightmare reflects just that.

I immediately tried to get the charges stopped and the money refunded. It wasn’t easy getting in touch with them. I found the simplest path was to write them on Facebook Messenger and then have someone call me. This call could then come any time in the next several days. If you miss it, it’s done. They’re not trying again. And you better make yourself available when they call, otherwise you’ll need to start the whole process over again.

The Customer Service Endless Pit


But finally I spoke with someone, and she was kind. She assured me the entire matter was being handled. I would be getting a full refund. It would just take 21-28 days, and then I would receive a text that it was all over.

Sure enough, a month goes by and I’m still being charged. Still no refund. So I contact them again, and it was like starting over. They had no record of the prior interactions. Nothing written about my situation at all!

And over the course of the next three months, it was a repetitive and bothersome customer support hellfire. Constant promises of calling me back, calls that never came. People telling me they need to check with managers. Silly excuses being made why people can’t answer some of my questions. Getting put on hold for long periods of time.

Until finally I spoke with a manager. And the gavel was smashed on the table.

There is absolutely nothing we can do to help, and there is no one in the universe with more power than the person with whom I was speaking. It was over. And I had lost.

But it’s not quite over yet!

Fighting Back and Invaluable Life Lessons


Now is when I need to fight back. And I’m either going to prosper and get all of my money returned (I’ve already switched phone plans) or I’m going to lose. But either way I’ll learn a whole lot of super important lessons I need. Lessons that are helpful in general, but in particular lessons essential for surviving the Israel experience.

The main lessons gathered so far (no doubt there are many more to come):

  1. I had heard from many people that Hot Mobile was a bunch of crooks with terrible customer service. However, since it wasn’t my experience, I stuck around. Big mistake! Always better to learn from other people’s hardships than to experience them yourself.
  2. Be wary of any and all free gifts. This is not a common concept here in Israel. No one is trying to win you over as a customer. So if they offer you something for free, either politely decline, or keep looking over your shoulder. But don’t smile, thank them, and do nothing else!
  3. Do not ignore your bills! It’s so easy to do. There are so many. And each one feels like twenty pages of Hebrew. But you can never assume things are OK. The moment you let your guard down, your bank account goes down as well.
  4. Keep a record of any and all interactions with customer support. Dates, times, what was spoken about, and most importantly, names. Don’t assume they’re taking care of things. You will really want these records handy if it comes to court.
  5. Finally, always keep learning. I don’t want to deal with any of this. I want to just use my stupid phone and go on with my life without incident. But so long as I am stuck in the situation, I might as well gain as much knowledge as I can. So Small Claims Court, time to begin the process of figuring out how you work. I hope to never see you again… but it’ll be nice to know that if I do, I won’t be starting from scratch.

May we all manage to go through life without problems… but when we do, we should be blessed with the right knowledge, attitude, and support system to make sure what happens next is not a small taste of hell.

Now wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

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