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.

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