Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Black Friday," a post-mortem

I haven’t experienced a “Black Friday,” the post-Thanksgiving shopping-orgy, for several years now; I hadn’t really expected that I would either.  But then the emails started coming and the websites started popping up listing the most aggressive pricing at any of a number of stores.  Having a geeky bent, I mainly perused Circuit City, CompUSA, BestBuy and the office supply stores.  Before I knew it I was swept into deal hunting for both things I wanted and those things I really needed.

And then it hit me.  How would I explain this phenomenon to my Albanian friends and co-workers.  I mean that on a couple of levels.  The first thing that hit me was, “how would I explain this in the Albanian language?”  This is an artifact of all true-language learners and they find themselves in new experiences and wonder how to parse those into their adopted languages.  The work for “sale” in Albanian is “zbritje,” but doesn’t begin to cover what its English equivalent is in English.  Words like “rebate,” “cash-back” and “sale” have their own unique American meanings.

After I’d pondered that for a few minutes I wondered how I would explain the cultural phenomenon that is Black Friday without looking like a mad-man.  Consider this: some people camp out the night before in front of their favorite store.  Some are up and in line before their favorite store by 3 or 4 AM.  Now, we accept that as Americans well versed in the fine art of value shopping…but what does this look like to someone from another, not-quite-Western country.

To them it has to look absolutely absurd.  First, people in Kosovo do not have surplus cash with which to buy “things that aren’t needed now but are needed later.”  Those are the bulk of what “normal” shoppers are looking for on BF.  Folks are looking for good deals on Christmas presents or on clothes or other things they’ll need in the future.  Others are thrilled by the sheer joy of “getting a good deal” regardless of whether it is really necessary or not.

As for me, like many others, I stood out in front of Staples to buy my 1GB flash drive for $7.00 (after rebate) and a 200GB hard drive for $20 (after rebate).  Again I was amazed at the line-forming behavior most Americans exhibit.  It really is amazing how well our social system works when there are no authorities around to enforce it.  I expected people to be pushing a rude as the doors opened at 6AM.  And, as the doors opened, the “closet anthropologist” in me noticed that my heart rate had sped up, my breathing had quickened in anticipation of aggressive, fight-or-flight shoppers. There was none of that; only people hurriedly trying to find what they were looking for..f course this was Staples, and not BestBuy or Wal-Mart.

So ends another uniquely American “holiday.”


Carolyn said...

Welcome back to America, Jeff! I considered doing the early morning routine myself... for a second, then rolled over and went back to sleep! Hope you and the fam had a super Thanksgiving. C.

Jeff said...

Carolyn, you probably made a good decision!

bytycci said...

Hi Jeff,
I experienced Black Friday last year for the first time in the US. And, coming from KS (not so industrialized country and not so materalistic culture) it was a new experience. This year I didn't even bother to think about waking up early. (The bohemian in me).

I must say, when I was in KS during the summer I noticed that the big retailers are taking over there, too. (Something, which I might have missed before I came to USA). So, pretty soon, you will have the aggressive pricing going on.


Jeff said...

bytycci, it's a bizarre phenomenon to me...and I hadn't seen it from an "outside" perspective until this year.

There are giant retailers entering Kosovo, but they're European ones who probably won't ever do it the way North American retailers least, let's hope so.

Thanks for stopping by!

Patricia said...

Unfortunately, it seems to me that if there were a Black Friday in Kosova, there would be the same crowds staying up all night...except that, as you mention, they wouldn't be in a line. We recently tried to drive through the magjistralja-turned-parking lot in front of the newly-opened multi-level monster shopping center south of Prishtina - crowds were flocking in, looking for a new shiny, status-producing whatever to go in their new shiny houses. Certainly a small minority of Kosovars...but everyone else wishing they could do the same. Commercialism catches their souls the same way it does ours!