Britain, we really need to talk…

As a youngest of four brothers I learned fairly quickly that life was filled with unwritten rules. Although they were not always easy to understand at first, once you discovered one you didn’t soon forget. This was mainly because learning a new rule, unlike in the moralistic cartoons I watched on Saturday mornings, generally came with painful reminders administered by older siblings. One of the more memorable of these undocumented axioms was ‘copying leads to trouble’. ‘Trouble’ in this case could come in many forms, worst of which was a complex series of dead arms and legs that left you with an unerring sense that life was not fair. One memorable example of me breaking this rule was when I bought the same jacket as my older brother. My brother kindly explained the error of my ways via a hail of what I was convinced were laser guided fists. So well was this lesson taught that I have had vivid flashbacks every time I see a bomber jacket on sale. Although a painful lesson to learn, it has kept me in good stead. However, for some this lesson was never learned.

Brothers and sisters will always copy each other and, as it turns out, so will people who are not even related. We live in a culture of copy and paste, with everyone from anonymous internet contributors to even countries going out of their way to recycle not just good, but also the bad. As I casually flicked through my Facebook feed on Friday evening, I came across someone complaining about the disorganisation of a “Black Friday” sale. For those of you who might have missed this peculiar phenomenon, “Black Friday” is the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US (last Friday). Traditionally it’s the start of the Christmas shopping period and sees massive reductions on hundreds of items that lead to what can only be termed apocalyptic levels of consumerism. Americans will shrug off their turkey comas and form up outside shops such as Wal-mart, Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us et al and charge in with the hopes of grabbing a shopping trolley full of discounts. When I say charge, I mean charge. The run up to the big day sees Youtube videos, GiFs and images swirl around the web showing people literally trample their fellow citizens in order to get a 77% discount on toasters. Given the context, I was not too surprised to see this post, that was until I discovered that the poster was writing from Britain. 

A quick search brought up an article that explained what was going on; Asda, a subsidiary of Wal-mart, had initiated the first “Black Friday” in the UK. The result was easily predictable, chaos. Unable to properly organise themselves, the shops had opened to massive crowds who proceeded to reproduce a British variant on the yearly American tradition. The article was headed by an image of a man being restrained by several security guards in an Asda car park. Classy. Now, I’m not the type to denigrate the traditions of other countries or complain if some of those traditions happen to infiltrate different cultures. I have no problem with cultural copy and paste. Then again, there are negative cultural imports that we should be wary of importing wholesale. “Black Friday” is one of the negatives. It was easy in the past for aloof British commentators to view the day after Thanksgiving as a typical example of American consumerism, dispassionately describing it as narrators of nature documentaries describe a pride of lions devouring a gazelle. Painting Americans with a broad brush is fairly common in Britain, but it’s a little harder to turn your noses up when we are inclined to do exactly the same.


It would be common at this point to bemoan the desire of people to grab a bargain. Perhaps I might patronisingly describe the bargain hunters as “sheeple” and some how distance myself from their obvious failings. Well, actually, I like stuff too. Pointless stuff, useful stuff and especially discounted stuff. However, there is no stuff that I would feel I need to get up at six in the morning to buy, no matter how cheap it is. I’m not better or worse, I’m just not motivated. Far be it from me to prevent someone getting a cheap TV or a discounted Kettle. What’s more, it’s not only happening in Britain. Germany, although not importing “Black Friday”, still managed to summon the spirit of the event. With the release of the PS4 last Friday, some moron at at Mediamarkt thought it wise to announce a new shipment in their stores over the radio. Instead of attempting to maintain a level of control, they proceeded to copy the American tactic of simply placing a pallet of PS4s in the middle of the store and allowing customers to rush in. What transpired was a carbon copy of what often happens in America and now Britain. The zombie like horde bore down on the pallet, beating a kicking their way through their counterparts. All this in order to pay €400. Maybe it’s just me.


In the end, this shouting into the internet hole will change nothing. By next year, I imagine Britain will have had the second “Black Friday” with more shops opening to massive crowds. I don’t pretend to have any influence over events, but if you allow, I would like to give some advice. Consider this a verbal dead leg that might give you pause to think. Please, don’t allow an entity as obviously odious as Wal-mart turn us into insane bargain hungry monsters. Please, we don’t need to have a “Black Friday Death Count” as they do in the US. If you happen to be in a sale and someone grabs the last item that you had wanted, take a deep breath and walk away. It’s really not worth it.

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