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November 29, 2013

Can We Reverse the Trend?

Right before I left school on Wednesday, I was helping a student with her classwork.  She’s only been in America two years–coming from China with her family for a better life.  As we were packing up I asked if her family would be celebrating Thanksgiving.

She brightened right up and happily exclaimed, “Oh yes! My mother will make the traditional turkey tomorrow and then we will join the traditional shopping on Friday!”  My heart cracked a little, but I had to go to another class.  I didn’t correct her. She seemed so happy that her family was being “American” for a few days.

Black Friday, a term from business turned against consumers to now whip them into a shopping frenzy. Taking advantage of Black Friday deals has become *the* thing to do the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the masters of manipulation have brainwashed our society so well that we now start the madness on Thanksgiving night itself.  No more a day off for people to share with their families and friends. To feast, to gather, to rest. Now people must eat then go into work for a late night shift.

One friend in retail went in to work for 9PM last night then has to do a double shift today.  This retail job is her second job, too. The one she had to take to help meet expenses of college for her children.  Sure, she’s getting paid, but the company she works for is the one really making the killing.

Corporations have convinced us that Black Friday means great sales.  Take a look at prices and you’ll see that’s a lie. Oh sure, there may be one or two door buster specials, but that’s about it.  Google it. Consumer advocates publish articles every year saying this. It’s not just my anecdotal evidence.

And I know many people have to shop for holiday gifts, but does it all have to be done a month ahead? And why all today? How much of today’s frenzy is a manufactured need spurred on by clever manipulators, skilled in human psychology? My nine year old niece made a passing complaint yesterday about all the Black Friday advertising she’s been seeing, and she doesn’t even have a television in her home!

I rarely use my own television, but every time I open my email, there’s another “Black Friday Special” junk mail. Every site I visit with advertising has ads for today.  It’s revolting.

When I left America in 1995, Black Friday was just starting to be a “thing” that was being strongly marketed, but it was no where near “tradition” level.  And on Thanksgiving itself, hardly anything was open.  Forget something for the dinner table? Oh well, you’re probably going without unless you spotted it by 2PM. I remember spending 40 minutes one year looking for something my mother forgot. My grandmother liked it, so off I went only to find one lone deli open that was getting ready to close minutes after I left.

But when I came back to the US in 2007, it was to the land of Black Friday madness and instant gratification.  It’s horrendous.

When I lived in Europe, one of the things that drove me slightly batty at times was the store hours. Stores had certain hours, and when they were closed, that’s all she wrote. In Switzerland, the strictest place, stores were closed on Sunday all day and closed at 5:00PM Saturday evening.  But we knew that was the system.

People had all day Sunday off to spend with family and relax.  For all its rules, I think the quality of our family life in Switzerland was the best it ever was.  Every Sunday we went to a museum, the park,  the lake or for a family stroll. Restaurants and the big museums were opened, so some people were working, but because the shops were closed, I was forced to get the errands done beforehand giving me time with my family on Sunday.

Switzerland, for all its wealth, was not a retail mad country, and no one was urging us to BUY BUY BUY.

Can we here in the US reverse this trend? Can we be “unprogrammed” to rush to the stores early on “Black Friday” to buy, buy, buy, emptying our pockets into the corporate maw and depleting our own stores of happiness?

I think so, or frankly I wouldn’t be writing, would I? Resist.  As a nation we must learn that we are being manipulated and used by corporations.  More and more I’m seeing this, and it’s breaking my heart.

And I know some people think of shopping as a hobby, but I have never heard one person talk about the pleasure of shopping on Black Friday. They complain of the crowds, the crush, the tempers, the surliness, the lack of parking.  After a lovely, relaxing day, why subject one’s self to that?

Want a tip from someone who hates shopping (I love giving the gifts, but I hate the actual shopping part and always have)? Early morning Saturday the week after Black Friday is a totally different experience. I went into Macy’s when it opened and had the place practically to myself.  It was still three weeks before Christmas, so I wasn’t too frantic, and the crowds had spent their money the week before.  Lesson learned.

I have friends who are happily out shopping today, and that’s their decision. I refrain, mostly out of my hatred for the manipulation, but in part because of my abhorrence of crowds and long lines.

If you shop today, though, all I ask is that you do it mindfully not because you were brainwashed. And please, please please treat the workers politely, Many have given up family time to help you and far too many people are rude and nasty. Kindness costs nothing, and really, truly is the American way.

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