The American Invasion: Black Friday Comes to France (Sort Of)
- Published on Monday, 03 December 2012 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
Some Traditions Are
Best Left Unshared
My recent trip to the United States was an occasion to contemplate the real meaning of Thanksgiving.
I was in the Midwest for Thanksgiving this year. As I mentioned last year, this is a holiday that doesn’t exist in France, and, as an American and an avowed Thanksgiving enthusiast, I am often called upon to explain its meaning and appeal to French people.
The former is, of course, rooted in the story of the first Plymouth potluck, the colonists giving thanks for the harvest, inviting the neighbors, etc. And the latter can be summed up in an equation:
The pleasure of the holiday equals a turkey dinner (with pumpkin pie) multiplied by the presence of your extended family minus your cousin’s hopelessly square boyfriend plus parades and football games on television divided by Black Friday.
In the United States, Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, and Black Friday is the nickname given to the day after, which is (for most people) also a day off. For this reason, it has become the unofficial starting date of the Christmas shopping season. And for that reason, many stores mark the occasion by offering special sales. And for those reasons, a great many people flock to the malls hoping to nab a bargain.
It would hardly be possible to find two adjacent days on the calendar more opposite in spirit. Whereas the defining sentiment of Thanksgiving is “gratitude and sharing,” the defining sentiment of Black Friday is “while supplies last.” In many places, shoppers have to wait in line for hours to get into the most popular stores, and some even camp out overnight in order to get the jump on the best buys.
This situation sometimes leads to discourtesy, strong language and unpleasantness of a physical nature as sleep-starved, discount-crazed shoppers shove aside the meaning of Thanksgiving and each other in a mad dash to get their mitts on the merchandise.
In 2008, a Walmart employee in New York was trampled to death by a horde of overeager consumers who had been waiting in the cold for the 5 am opening time. Last year a California woman pepper-sprayed 20 fellow shoppers in an attempt to cut ahead in the queue for the new Xbox, and this year two people were shot in a dispute over a parking space outside a Walmart in Florida.
So somehow the event’s original nickname, Milk of Human Kindness Friday, never caught on. But despite its inconveniences — the crowds, the lines, the harried employees, the still-bleeding corpses blocking the aisles — people continue to throng the stores, and Black Friday has become a firmly entrenched tradition in the United States.
In fact, a constitutional amendment has been passed requiring every American retail establishment to offer a Black Friday sale. Or at least that’s what I concluded after seeing the morning newspaper at my mother’s house on Thanksgiving Day: the advertising supplements outweighed the paper itself by about seven to one.
The first four or five B.F. flyers I examined had one unexpected thing in common: they all featured guns. I was, of course, in the United States, the country where the right of the people to blast their way to the game console counter shall not be infringed, but I was kind of surprised at the quantity and front-page placement of the firearm listings in advertisements that are supposedly for Christmas gifts. Maybe an assault rifle is considered to be requisite equipment for bagging one’s first choice of stocking stuffers.
And to go with all those guns, a lot of the stores were also offering gun lockers, like the ones on the left of the photo at the top of this article. Here’s a more visible example:
I guess it’s good that someone who feels the need to possess no fewer than four dozen firearms would also feel the need to lock them up, but somehow I failed to find this reassuring.
In the 25-plus years that I lived in the United States, I was never even aware of the existence of gun lockers, and now it seems like it just wouldn’t be Christmas without one. My sister happened to be in a department store on what I suppose could be called Gray Saturday and sent me this photo of that retailer’s offer in the deadly weaponry storage department:
Let’s get a closer look at that label:
“Gee, honey, I don’t know. Only 14? What if we have more kids?”
And now let’s get an even closer look at the little sticker in the corner:
Two problems here. First off, the makers see fit to remind the purchaser that the locker won’t have the intended effect if it is left open. Isn’t that like putting a sticker on a swimming pool that says, “Must be filled with water before use”?
Secondly, and to me more disturbingly, the instructions also appear in French. I do hope that this is for the benefit of the manufacturer’s neighbors in Canada and not my neighbors here in France.
All of that was alarming enough, but then, back home in Paris, when I sat down to catch up on my e-mail, I found that I had received an ad from my local computer store for something called “Les Soldes Black Friday” (soldes being the French word for sale).
Uh-oh. Is this unfortunate American custom, this paroxysm of acquisitive lust, this gladiatorial circus of greed, coming to France? Judging from the 31,000 matches I got on Google for “Soldes Black Friday 2012,” and according to this article on a French high-tech site, the answer is eh, oui.
But there's a silver lining to this day-long dark cloud: so far vendredi noir is only for online sales — the briques et mortier outlets have yet to adopt the habit. So for the moment, at least, here in France we can hunt for Black Friday bargains without worrying about getting gunned down by a gunman on his way to the gun store to buy more guns for less money.
We can all give thanks for that. Hey — maybe there should be a national holiday...
David Jaggard would like to thank his sister, Candace Chesler, for the gun locker photos.
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Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes:"I suppose it is a good thing to keep guns out of reach, but most people would be dead, and the killer, burglar, thief or rapist would be long gone before they could get their AK47 out of the safe.
"It's also notable that Black Friday is now becoming Black Thanksgiving Thursday Afternoon. Soon Americans will have to do their Black Friday shopping before they put the turkey in the oven. They might even have to set up camp in front of their local Mallmart on Labor Day when they get back from their summer vacation in order to make sure they get some expensive junk they don't need or want.
"Of course, merchants could start pushing Black Fifth of July to get the sales rolling early."
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