Monday, November 29, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock: Black Friday

Like the Running of the Bulls in Spain, Carnival in Brazil and Oktoberfest in Germany, Black Friday has become a defining cultural event in America.  So, it was my duty as a culture shock weblogger to observe Black Friday firsthand.

After waking up at 3:30 a.m., my wife, my brother and I drove to the closest collection of consumer attractions called (appropriate for this day) The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley in Millbury Massachusetts. 

As we approached the shopping center we thought we must have had it all wrong.  "Wow, this isn't bad!  There's hardly anyone else going to the stores" I mentioned as we drove towards the mall.  We soon realized why.  The parking lot was already completely full and everyone and their brother was in line waiting for the store to open at 4 am. 

But it didn't seem like four o' clock in the morning.  Once inside, the store hummed with excitement.  Televisions, most almost as big as their soon-to-be owners, zipped around in their red vehicles.  Shoppers knew what they wanted, where they would find them and exactly what method had to be exercised in order to pull the desired merchandise off the shelf before their closest competitor did. 

Surprisingly, it didn't get nasty.  That was the one positive thing I pulled away from the whole day.  It was as if everyone knew how dangerous this could get.  Two years ago a Wall-Mart employee was trampled to death by a herd of consumers bursting through the doors to get inside.  But today there was no rough-play.  In fact, my wife reported that one gentleman kindly offered his cart to another guy in need of space to drop his stack of DVDs, video games and other electronics he had collected. 

Since 2001 Black Friday has been the biggest shopping day of the year, but not until this year did so many shoppers shop.  Get this: In 2010, 212 million Americans shopped in stores or online during Black Friday Weekend.  That's 8% more than last year and more than two thirds the population of the country.  Get your calculators out, because once you figure that each consumer spent an average of $365, you'll get an idea of why people say the recession is over.

What I thought was interesting was how programmed the shoppers were.  I overheard one lady say she got in line at midnight.  But it didn't phase her or the person she was talking to at all because she - like most other shoppers - came well prepared.  Each person had an objective, knew what to do and was fulfilling their plan with confidence.  There was no embarassment, no shame, no feeling that this was something out of the ordinary.  Besides the person behind me who said "that guy's taking pictures of all of us idiots", everyone seemed to feel very comfortable in their element. 

In fact, this wasn't a shocking scene for most people.   It was completely normal.  It happens every year.  It happens every day!  Whether you like it or not, America is in many ways defined by their consumerism.  For better or worse it's what we do.  We consume. 

But if you're like me, you wish it weren't so.  A couple minutes after engaging in this cultural event, I was ready to go.  Ready to go back to what I already had.  Ready to celebrate Thanksgiving again.  Ready to go back to a country where a want doesn't constitute a need. 

America, you've got a lot of things going for you.  But Black Friday is certainly not one of them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My First Thanksgiving

They say it was my "first Thanksgiving!" 
I met some people who I've only seen on a computer before.
They played with me. 
 And I played with them. 
They also played with my brother.
 While all that was going on my mama and oma cooked. 
 And stuffed. 
 And cooked some more. 
We ate and were satisfied. 
 What does Thanksgiving mean to me?

I'm not sure I can put it into words. 

But I do my best to express it.
I am grateful for all of the Bohalls who made my first Thanksgiving so amazing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Have you read any good books lately?


When we visit the States, I tend to have more time to read for pleasure than I do in Croatia.  Two years ago I spent all of that time devouring Anna Kerenina.  This time I'll invest my reading energy into a variety of books and authors.  Here's the latest:

The Unlikely Disciple is a fun read.  The rookie author of this book - Kevin Roose - decided to take a semester off from Brown University and attend Liberty University while covertly assembling the thoughts contained in this book back in 2007.  He's not an Evangelical Christian nor had he ever been immersed in Evangelical culture before his transfer.

So it's a book about culture shock.  Roose's political views are drastically different than those of the conservative Evangelical student body at LU.  He believes in evolution but is surrounded by young-creationists.  And perhaps most severe, his tolerance of homosexuality collides with the often homophobic comments he encounters numerous times every day. 

But what about the faith aspect?  How does his unbelief fit in?

Without giving away any of the conclusions he comes to by the end of his experience, let me share one quote that's worth considering:
Liberty's true social code, the one they don't put in a forty-six-page manual, has everything to do with being a social and religious conservative and not a whole lot to do with acting in any traditionally virtuous way
Whoa.  And that observation is only a third of the way into the book. 

This is an entertaining read.  It's an enlightening read.  It's also an important read. 

If you're interested in finding out more, visit  On his site you'll be able to read an excerpt from the book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kingdom Culture

Culture shock need not apply only to the contrast between traditions, values and religions in different countries.

This morning I experienced the vast dichotomy between two completely different cultures.  But I didn't even have to get in a plane to do so.  I simply turned on the car. 

The song was called Beloved.  The melody was sung by a smooth tenor over open guitar chords, and not much else.  Often truth dresses itself in simplicity. 

Derek Webb has written a beautiful song from Christ to His Church:
Beloved listen to me
Don’t believe all that you see
And don’t you ever let anyone tell you
That there’s anything that you need
But me
The words I heard a few minutes later on the radio were equally exclusive:
Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance until we die
You and I
We'll be young forever
Talk about two completely different sets of values! 

I'm not sure if I've ever heard a better summary of what our pop culture promotes than what this second set of lyrics delivers.  If we're coming at this from a Christian perspective we could begin to point out all the differences between what we believe and what our culture believes.  It's an important discussion to have.

Because if we're followers of Jesus we live in both worlds.  It won't do to physically separate ourselves from the rest of the world as if it were as easy as flying to another continent.  Instead, we've been called to "be transformed".  Not transported.  We're to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds."

I would suggest that prayer is the best place to start.  As Jesus commanded us to pray:
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heads Up!

As I sat down on the subway in Boston last week and looked around, I was amazed by the number of people who had their heads buried in some kind of flat hand-held web-surfing rectangle.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It's not that Croatians (and other Eastern Europeans for that matter) don't use small electronic devices.  The point is that they're not constantly browsing the Internet on their BlackBerry.  They're not looking at pictures on facebook with their Itouch.  They (generally) simply text and are done.  I would guess that most Eastern Europeans would be shocked if they saw what I saw the other day.  I sure was. 

At the risk of promoting a rather hypocritical advertisement (isn't the point to get you to use their phone more than someone elses?) this commercial exaggerates, but is dead on:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Money Matters

There are differences between the way people use money in America and the way they use it in Croatia.  Certainly, some of the comments below may apply to other places; ie. America may corrolate with western Europe, Croatia with Bosnia, who knows?  But since I'm an American living in Croatia visiting America, I'll stick to what I've observed first hand. 

1. Change.  I drove up to my local Dunkin' Donuts the other day, ordered a medium french vanilla coffee with cream and sugar and was told that I would owe the lady at the window $2.02.  I panicked.  In America, you pay what they tell you to pay.  In Croatia, they'd be fine with $2.00.  $1.50 would probably do too if you were going to the local bakery and you told them you'd pay them back next time.  But here, if you can't find 2 pennies among all the junk in your pocket, you'll have to pay $3 and receive a whole heapload of change.  At least next time you'll have it. 

2. Tips.  I'm told the going rate is 15% here in the good old United States of Be Kind to you Waiter or Waitress.  When I was a server I had to earn my tips.  This unwritten rule of 15% bugs me these days because I live in a land where the only things you leave on the table are your crumbs.  In Croatia, the price of the meal is the price of the meal.  No hidden cost.  No expectations.  No alternative motives.  End of story. 

Last week I went to a restaurant in Boston to watch the World Series with my brother.  The waitress promised us she'd turn the channel to the game as soon as we sat down.  Fifteen minutes later, she took our drink order.  A half hour later she asked us what we wanted to eat.  Finally, forty five minutes after the initial promise, the channel changed to the 5th inning of the baseball game.  How much did she get?  That's right, 15 percent.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the service.  I'm just complaining about backwards mindset of being required to pay what's supposed to be a reward.  It's called a tip right?

3. Prices. Good old consumer America has good prices.  They have sales.  They have clearance sections.  They have bright red stickers with unbelievable prices written on them that make you think you've uncovered a pot of gold.  I know, because I was there today.  I visited the hat section of my local Gap store and found one for $2.97 among all the others priced at $25.  Two Dollars and ninety seven cents!  I bought that cap faster than you can say "price check" and got myself out of dodge.   

So there's good and bad in both places.  In Croatia, you pay up to ying-yang for clothes, electricity and gas.  In America, college can put you in debt for a lifetime and you pay an arm and a leg to have a baby.  Which country is kinder to your wallet?  I'd have to say Croatia.

But that's just my 2 cents.