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