Do you enjoy being in a crowd? Dancing, praying, demonstrating? Me, not so much. I am not fond of crowds, of being in a crowd. It makes me feel trapped, claustrophobic and anonymous. Most of all it makes me feel like a sheep in a herd. But that’s just me.
Millions of people the world over do not share that sentiment and love to join en masse in various events and activities such as festivals, pilgrimages, rock concerts, orgies and so on.
The Brazilians have their Carnival, the Muslims their Haj, the Hindu their Taipusam festival and the Americans have Black Friday. In other words, the Brazilians dance, the Muslims pray, the Tamil Hindus torture themselves with hooks and spears and the Americans go shopping.
I love watching it all on TV. In front of a fire, with a glass of wine. But that’s just me.
I grew up in a Western consumer-oriented country, the Netherlands, but I’ve now also been kindly adopted by the USA, a country that has perfected the consumer culture to dizzying heights. Although I now also have an American passport, the American shopping gene did not magically come with it, and every year again I am
appalled and aghast fascinated by the shopping frenzy that ensues on Black Friday. It is a spectacle of religious proportions. Many Americans worship at the altar of consumerism and Black Friday is their day to get a shopping high.
So what is Black Friday? It’s the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday, the fourth Thursday in November, which traditionally is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Retail stores open very early and offer “door buster” sales, fabulous deals and bargains to entice the shoppers to come flocking into their establishments. And flocking they do. If you are a new expat or visitor in America you might be tempted to join in, and if crowds are your thing, go for it. It will be a magnificent cultural experience.
And what’s the black about? Nothing sinister, fortunately. It refers to retailers who may have operated in the red (with losses) making enough profits on Black Friday to move them into the black.
For weeks beforehand, ads and commercials will whip the shopping junkies into a feverish state of mind, a trance if you will, with their promises of deals and bargains. Devotees will camp out in front of various shopping emporiums for hours before the doors open. Often in the freezing cold.
This year many merchandise meccas opened at midnight, and some even cheated and opened on Thursday night, forcing shopping addicts to shovel down their turkey dinner fast so they could go stand in line and not miss out on the fun. I decided to eat a leisurely meal and pass up on the shopping ecstasy. But that’s just me.
Stuck up Europeans will sometimes say that the USA has no culture, it being a nation devoid of kings, Kafka and Crusades. I beg to differ with those hoity toity souls: They should come on over and go shopping at Walmart on Black Friday. If this isn’t culture, I don’t know what is. Have a look at THIS VIDEO.
I can hear some of you Americans (who were warned not to read this post) raise your voice in protest: It’s not like that everywhere! You are right, it is not. Many of the hordes are of a more civilized breed. Thousands will stand for hours in long, tidy lines, quietly texting, chewing gum and praying to be blessed with getting the deal they came for. And once in the stores they will not scream, push, shove and kick. It gives one hope for the future of America.
Entire websites are devoted to BFF (Black Friday Frenzy) with advice of where to get the best deals and how to avoid long lines and where to find someone to stand in line for you.
Then, inevitably, as the world turns, Friday moves into Saturday.
Sadly Thank the gods this is not the end of the mass hysteria. There’s more! There’s Cyber Monday! This is the Monday after Black Friday when everyone returns to their place of toil and the shopaholics go Internet surfing for the best deals to be had online (and doing this during work if they can get away with it).
Me? I spent Cyber Monday slouching around Frankfurt airport waiting 7 sleep-deprived hours for a connecting flight to Chisinau, Moldova, where I now live. My man and I were returning from the US where we’d spent Thanksgiving with family and where we were witness to the shopping frenzy that had gripped the American populace. Black Friday found us not battling it out at Walmart, but in our West Virginia garden, spreading mulch in flowerbeds and under trees. It was a lovely, unusually warm fall day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the air was fresh. It was bliss.
Of course there is a price to pay for not worshiping along with the shopping congregation on Black Friday: I haven’t got a single Christmas present yet.
NOTE: One reader commented that not all Americans get caught up in the American shopping frenzy here described. Of course not. For your information here are the stats for 2011 according to the National Retail Federation:
– 226 million shoppers visited retailers or shopped online over the weekend.
– 86.3 million shoppers braved the crowds on Black Friday alone.
Considering that the US population is about 310 million (counting every child and old person probably not shopping) the numbers above are staggering. Here’s an article in the New York Times for more info.
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Do you love crowds? Do you have a fun or scary crowd story, foreign or domestic?