Expat Life: For Non-Americans Only

by missfootloose on December 3, 2011 · 30 comments

in Culture and Customs, shopping

Get me out of here!

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.

Black Friday shopping crowd

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.

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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?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

MaryWitzl December 3, 2011 at 11:11 am

I loathe crowds and I was born without the shopping gene. One of my students asked me about Black Friday and I couldn’t even tell her whether it was the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas — I was pretty sure it involved SOME sort of holiday. The idea of waiting in a crowd, standing up, out in the cold — all for the dubious pleasure of getting THINGS — just appalls and amazes me. And I say this as someone who was very much born with the getting-a-bargain gene.

(The minute I saw this wasn’t for Americans, you had me!)

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missfootloose December 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Not surprised to read your comment, Mary. I figured you wouldn’t be a Black Friday aficionada, but there are other ways to get bargains.

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Barbara December 3, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Hey, you left out the part about the woman pepper spraying her fellow Walmart shoppers so she could get to the video games! Yes, pepper spraying people over a video game! I really need to buy some winter clothes since I’m here for a few more months, but I don’t even want to get near the stores until after the New Year…

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missfootloose December 7, 2011 at 8:53 am

I thought it was scary enough as it was 😉 and left out the pepper spraying event.

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linda@adventuresinexpatland.com December 4, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Obviously you’re free to bash Americans and write about the unique aspects of consumerism showcased on Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Why not? There’s plenty of stereotypes to perpetuate, and you can move on from here. I’ll add my voice to those reiterating that this reflects the actions of a minority. The madness you refer to is one of the main reasons I don’t wake early and join the hordes. I’d rather reinforce within my family the true reason for the season; as for any shopping I do, I’ll wait patiently and avail myself of the decent sales that continue right up to (and after) Christmas. But you might want to also write about those expat havens where internationals of many nationalities spend their days shopping, shopping, shopping, eagerly sharing the latest purchases from the newest super shopping mall experiences. I’m thinking certain places in the Middle and Far East…

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Welshcakes Limoncello December 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

No, I couldn’t cope with that kind of crowd!

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Walter Knight December 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I love your blog and how you explore differences in cultures.

I used Black Friday shopping in my science fiction books to depict aliens on a distant colony rioting and crashing the doors at Walmart. It makes sense that if humanity ever crosses the galaxy, we will take our culture with us, and there might be cultural conflicts with any aliens we share planets with. I also wrote about a lawsiut between humans and aliens caused by injuries at a Walmart shopping riot.

Resistance is futile. Shop long and prosper.

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missfootloose December 7, 2011 at 8:55 am

Loved reading your comment! Black Friday and science fiction, what a combo!

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Joburg Expat December 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm

“the Brazilians dance, the Muslims pray, the Tamil Hindus torture themselves with hooks and spears and the Americans go shopping.”

I loved that part! Shopping as our national religion. As I loved the entire article. Sure, you will get responses of “that is such a prejudice” but I always say to those people that if you were to double check all of your articles on your blog if they are absolutely politically correct, you either wouldn’t write at all or they’d be entirely boring. That is the fun of having a blog for expats, exploring cultural differences and quirks. It’s not like you’re always bashing Americans, your are just observing certain characteristics and writing about them (with a great voice I might add). I also read an article in the New York Times, the one that actually explored how differences in class are apparent when it comes to Black Friday shoppers, i.e. the well-to-do and well-educated don’t participate nearly in such numbers but rather opt for the more peaceful online shopping from the quiet of their homes.

Oh, and also: You must be absolutely crazy to be travelling to and in the U.S. over Thanksgiving:-)

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missfootloose December 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Thanks Sine, for your comment and compliments, it does me good 😉 I was having a little fun with this post, but humor is very personal. Glad you enjoyed it.

Yes, flying out of DC on the Monday after Thanksgiving was not ideal but we had no problem. Sometimes you have no choice and you just hope for good luck.

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Kelly December 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm

That video actually made my stomach turn. Just another reason why I’m quite happy to be living on distant shores rather than in my own country.

I also love how people call it “bashing” when all you’ve done is point out that “hey, this happens”.

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missfootloose December 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I was just having a little fun with it. It really is quite a show when you stand back and look at it!

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Turkey's For Life December 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I’ve never been infected/blessed with the shopping gene and as a fan of wandering around lakeland mountains, enjoying the fresh air and solitude, Black Friday just looks horrendous. Great viewing on tv though! 😉
Julia

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missfootloose December 9, 2011 at 12:58 pm

The only shopping I enjoy is cruising foreign markets — vegetable markets and fleamarkets. It tells a lot about the people and the country, and seeing different and unusual food and items is fun.

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Rosa December 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I so enjoy your posts! I too avoid crowds as in Positano that can mean daily fighting through masses in summer. Thankfully I have my little haven.
What a lovely story you left on my ‘gift post’! I’m glad that you had such a welcoming experience in Italy.

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guyana gyal December 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Being non-American, non-European, living in a multi-cultural, developing society…I’d love to add my 2cents about culture…but there’s so much to say, it would bore others 🙂 I often hear foreigners, living here, deride the less fortunate / educated citizens here, saying they have no ‘culture’. I’ll only say that every single society has ‘culture’…the books / stories / oral traditions, the art, the architecture, the food, the way people respond, they’re all a part of the culture.

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missfootloose December 8, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Of course! It’s the uncultured who think the only culture is their culture 😉

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Lady Fi December 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm

After living with crowds and crowds of people for three years in China, I really can’t stand crowds anymore!

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GutsyLiving December 9, 2011 at 6:09 am

I sometimes think you are I are the same person. I stay home, hate crowds and cannot stand screaming. When my kids were in elementary school, I hated the parents who yelled and screamed at their soccer games, or basketball. You know what I mean.

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missfootloose December 9, 2011 at 9:34 am

We do think alike in many ways! Yes, the screaming you mentioned is awful.

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veronique savoye December 9, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Bonjour. I just found your blog chez my friend Dash’s French Sampler. I was immediately intrigued, as a French national leaving in the United States for the last 15 years. I have just started “following” you. Will be back this weekend to browse your recent stories. Bon weekend! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

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missfootloose December 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Hi Veronique, bienvenu at my blog. I am pleased you’ll be back to check out more stories. May I suggest the ones listed in the side bar under “Riveting Tales’? Hope you’ll like them! I’ll go check out your blog too.

After fifteen years in the US you must feel quite at home and must have adjusted!

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Pippa December 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Finally, I understand what it is with Black Friday and why it has that name anyway – thank you. How cheap is everything? The video is really quite shocking, but not much worse than when they call the ‘all other’ passengers to board their EasyJet (cheap) flight. I never understood this really, I would rather be separated from my friend/loved one for an hour and a half (we would prob only be napping!) than have to fight our way to the front and be in the midst of a jostling crowd. With Black Friday I can understand if people really need to buy something cheaply, but I suspect most people go for the rush of getting a good deal.
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Marian December 24, 2011 at 5:02 am

I would join you in front of the fire, I avoid the crowd where possible. I live in the UK and it seems like black friday is starting to appear a little over here now too, its strange as we dont have thanks giving and never will but in 5 years time I think we will have full fleged black friday deals/offers and promotions
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edj January 2, 2012 at 12:17 am

I’m late to the party! Well, although my passport says I’m American (at least one of them, anyway, I’m downright appalled at what Black Friday has become. The pepper spray, the shoot-outs in parking lots… I slept in. I will admit that this year, for the first time, I participated in Black Friday–I bought something online on Friday afternoon! 🙂 I hate crowds and malls give me headaches. In fact, I’ve made it through yet another Christmas season without setting foot in one! 🙂

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AdorableLand February 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Greetings from Ukraine! Thanks for the post. It was interesting to read comments as well. Either with Black Friday or without it, I know that many Ukrainians get a real cultural shock in America.

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