A US tradition invades Britain, and other news

The British are (generalization warning here) touchy about cultural imports from the US, and some people are downright sniffy about them. Halloween? I can’t get through the fall without someone telling me that not all that long ago kids wouldn’t have dreamed of going door to door asking for candy. So it’s interesting no one has yet felt the need to remind me about Black Friday’s roots in the US, although it was brought over far more recently than Halloween candy. Maybe that’s because it involve shopping, bargains, and adults, so it slots into the culture with fewer rough edges. But an import it is. 

Irrelevant photo: I almost remember the name of this, but that’s not quite enough. It’s a flower, and I didn’t grow it.

 

Black what?

The Black Friday tradition started in the 1950s, and it wasn’t until 2010 that the US shipped it to Britain. If you’re in the mood, you can blame Amazon for either the introduction or the delay. I’m always happy to blame Amazon–for anything. Still, it wasn’t until Asda joined the mayhem, in 2013 (or 2014 on other websites), that Black Friday really took off in Britain. 

The tradition–for you few happy souls who have no idea what I’m talking about–is that stores slash their prices massively on the day after Thanksgiving (that’s always a Friday), and when shoppers get a whiff of those bargains they go mad. Periodic post-Black Friday headlines in the US involve crowds breaking down doors or trampling innocent grannies in their frenzy to get to the discounted whatevers before they run out. 

What’s it like in the UK? Well, now that Black Friday’s safely in this year’s rearview mirror, let’s check in with a study by the oddly named British consumer group Which? that (or which) nibbled the numbers behind some 200 supposed Black Friday discounts and came back with the news that 86% of the items were either cheaper or no more expensive in the six months before they went on sale. To put that in simpler terms, they weren’t a bargain. A full 98% were either cheaper or no more expensive at other times of the year. None–0%–were cheaper on Black Friday alone.

Don’t you just love a deal? 

Some retailers raised their prices just before Black Friday so they’d be telling the truth when they claimed to have cut the price. 

Which?’s retail editor, Reena Sewraz, said, “It’s rarely the cheapest time to shop and you’ll probably find the things you want are the same price or cheaper as we head towards Christmas, the New Year and beyond.”

 

The history of Black Friday

If I’ve taken the fun out of bargain hunting, let’s talk about where the name Black Friday came from. 

Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey tells us that the most widespread explanation is this: The shopping day after Thanksgiving is when stores count on crossing over from the red (debt) into the black (profit). But Hawley’s Small and Unscientific etcetera also reports that this isn’t the only tale around.

An alternative explanation, from no less a source than the Britannica, is that it originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, when the police used the phrase to describe the chaos created by masses of suburban shoppers descending on the city to start their Christmas shopping. 

It wasn’t a compliment.

But we can go back further than that and trace the history to the 1951 edition of that rivetingly titled magazine, Factory Management and Maintenance, which wrote about workers’ habit of calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving. 

“‘Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis’ is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects,” it said in an editorial. “At least that’s the feeling of those who have to get production out, when the ‘Black Friday’ comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick —and can prove it.” 

The editor recommended using the day as a bargaining chip in union negotiations, since employees were taking the day off anyway. 

“Shouldn’t cost too much,” he (and odds are a 1951 editor was a he) wrote.

For all you would-be union negotiators out there, there’s a lesson in this: If they’re happy to give you something you didn’t think to want, be suspicious. 

 

Another way to invade England

In France, a group called the La Mora Association is recreating one of the ships William the Conqueror sailed in. They plan to sail it across the channel in 2027, more or less the way William the C did in 1066.

William came over with (probably) 14 vassals–that’s vAssals–who brought an average of 60 vEssels each. Probably. One chronicler says W the C had 3,000 ships. Modern estimates are in the neighborhood of 700, 800, or 1,000. Still, that’s a lot of floating boatage.  

The ships would have been Viking-style longships–those long, narrow things with both a sail and oars, not to mention a dragon head. At least mostly. The Bayeux Tapestry shows a few, but it doesn’t show all 700, not to mention 3,000.  

Whatever they looked like, the ships carried something like 7,000 men and 200 horses, plus armor, weapons, shields, bacon (no, bacon was not used as a weapon; yes, bacon is the beginning of a new category), hard-baked bread, cheese, dried beans, and wine. Plus water and feed for the horses. 

The men were a mix of knights, foot soldiers, and servants. It would’ve taken a lot of servants to keep an army functioning. And a lot of beans.

When the recreation of W’s ship sails, it will leave the weaponry, the horses, and most of the men behind, along with the other 999 ships. And its crew will set a different tone than W’s did.

“We want this to be a symbol of Franco-British friendship,” the association’s president said.

Is he aware of how that worked out last time? 

Well, yes. He even knows about Brexit. But he thinks the ship can, “in the wake of Brexit . . . reunite our two countries,” although my best guess is that the rhetoric comes after the fascination with building an eleventh-century ship, using historic techniques, on the basis of not much more than a picture in a 230-foot-long tapestry and some reproductions of viking ships in a Danish museum. 

 

And in another story very marginally related to ships . . .

Want to vote on the word of the year? You’re too late, but Oxford Languages did open the contest to the public–sort of–so you had your chance.

Having learned from the Boaty McBoatface fiasco (or glorious success, depending on your point of view), in which the public voted in their gazillions to name a serious research ship Boaty McBoatface, forcing the serious research organization sponsoring the contest to publicly overrule them, this contest’s sponsors gave us three choices and only three choices:  metaverse, #IStandWith, and goblin mode. 

Zzzzzzzzzz.

But hey, after its snooze-making fashion, it is democratic. 

51 thoughts on “A US tradition invades Britain, and other news

  1. I don’t think it’s my imagination that Black Friday is less of a thing now than it was when it first arrived. We do get these reports every year to tell us that there aren’t any bargains involved, so people might be less interested these days.

    Liked by 1 person

        • The problem with letting people know ahead of time is getting the press to pick up on the information. Journalism runs on timely stories: Quick, Black Friday’s coming up. Go get me a story. And I added another delay, unfortunately. The story sat on my coffee table until I found enough lunacy to make a full post. As I often tell myself, defensively, I’m not a newspaper or a real journalist, so I’m not remotely timely.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, For all I know Which? does tell people this every year in plenty of time. I’m not a subscriber and it’s not probably something that newspapers are interested in. It’s probably far more entertaining for people to read about how gullible other people have been.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think you’re onto something with the idea of reading about how gullible other people are. The problem with trying to publicize anything is that you have to play the game: Find a hook to hang your information from or no one will pay attention. It’s why writers–some writers–have started to talk about themselves as brands. It makes my skin crawl–I’m not a beer or a soft drink. They and their books may get more publicity than I and mine will, but I’ll come out of it as myself. I’m not sure who’ll they’ll be after an extended exercise in branding.

              Like

  2. At least Black Friday makes Halloween look an almost acceptable import. There is actually a history of celebrating Halloween in these islands before the pumpkin frenzy arrived, or certainly in Ireland, anyway, when it was called Samhain (pronounced ‘sowen’, or somesuch). I forget how it was celebrated, although it was probably something to do with hard liquor or human sacrifice or something equally interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never been tempted by Black Friday, nor the Monday thing I can’t remember the name of, ?Mad Monday? – can’t think of anything worse than queuing up with a herd of people, especially these infective days. I hadn’t heard of the word of the year, thank heavens for your posts for my continued education! Now I shall wish you and your menagerie a Happy New Year and go full goblin mode whilst I await the French invasion! Bon jour!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Boaty mcboatface is perfect !! I always volunteered to work on Black Friday because nobody was in the office so I could get alot done and have an extended pizza lunch with a few like minded coworkers. That became a tradition too since none of the bosses worked. Plus we had screaming flying monkey toys that we’d sling over the cubicles at random times. Ah memories…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Screaming flying monkey toys? Why didn’t I work there? I just this afternoon saw a pizza slice costume for sale that I didn’t buy, although I would’ve on Black Friday if I’d worked there.

      I wouldn’t get through the job interview, would I?

      Like

  5. Without the family parties on the Thursday, what’s the point of Black Friday? We the people of the Consumer States used to squabble about who should visit whom. Black Friday resolved this by positioning all family gatherings in the city that had the best sales. Now we all, at least stereotypically, gobble till we noddle off on Thursday afternoon, rumble in the TV room all evening, wake up in the morning and waddle out to the shops, and dawdle home with our minivans stuffed full of new stuff. It’s not pretty, but at least it’s logical. But in the UK, where’s the logic?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Logic? LOGIC??? I think that expectation wandered in from some different discussion. Especially when you take into account that the sales aren’t saving people money. People are driven by a kind of compulsion–must. spend. money–and off they go.

      Like

  6. Thankfully, I left the black hole of BF several years ago. However, I just chucked Cyber Monday 2 yrs ago.
    I believe the flowers are called Alstroemeria or the Peruvian Lily. I have a few in my yard in various shades of pink.
    Wishing you a happy New Year and look forward to a post about NY rituals in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For better or for worse (or more likely, for both) I’ve never been in Scotland for the post-New Year’s mayhem, hogmanay. It sounds vaguely like a way to extend a hangover, but I wouldn’t trust me on the subject. I’ll keep you posted if I hear of anything else interesting.

      May the new year be kind to you, and alstroemaria does sound right. Thanks.

      Like

  7. No tradition Over There of begging door to door ? You need to refer those people to last year’s discussion on soaling

    This year Black Friday talk began in September. I have no idea why and didn’t care to look into too deeply, so I can’t contribute any links. There is a large retailer expanding into our area that offers 11% discounts on virtually everything from paper towels to power tools. So I bet the prices are 12% higher to start with.

    But the “cultural exchange” goes the other way too : That’s why so many people here sing “Auld Lang Syne” and have no idea what it means. Hurrah for Bobby Burns ! I have an instrumental version that is bagpipes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a hunch the history of people going door to door and singing/dancing/whatevering in exchange for food, drink, or money, but with a threatening undertone if they don’t get anything, is why people are so touchy about their kids trick-or-treating. Because they’re not that kind of people.

      Cultural borrowing does go in all directions, and there’s usually some amount of mistranslation involved.

      Like

  8. I never went shopping on “black Friday” because I can’t stand dealing with crowds. And that was in the days when there were actual bargains to be had on that day. Now most stores start their black Friday deals in early November, so it’s a tradition that is dying out here in the States. And ever since Covid hit, the “deals” have been noticeably absent…stores figure that people are willing to pay whatever they can to get what they want.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve also noticed that Black Friday has escaped Friday and infiltrated other days of the week, but for some reason I never thought to check the month–my mind snagged on the Friday part and never got any further. But I’m with you on the crowds. I can handle crowds, and even enjoyed them pre-pandemic–but to shop? Nah.

      Liked by 1 person

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