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Today my friend Sheri and I went to Starbucks. We decided to go to the farther Starbucks because it has more cushy chairs, and we’re all about sitting in overstuffed chairs with our feet up and talking for hours. We don’t see each other all that often. But I forgot that the further Starbucks is right next to the mall. It’s a small mall, but I don’t go anywhere near anything even remotely retail (coffee is different) on the appropriately named Black Friday. Neither does Sheri. So we drove back to the closer Starbucks, because we are in America, where it seems logical to the Powers That Be to put Starbucks upon Starbucks upon Starbucks, so that you never have to go more than 3 blocks without having access to a double shot of espresso or a froufrou faux-coffee sugary drink. I hate Starbucks marketing but I just can’t hate Starbucks–it smells so good in there, like espresso. You might be getting the idea that I like coffee. I do, a bit. (I don’t mainline it though–that is just rumor)
We had fun driving around this small town in the California desert, mocking the names of various stores. Like Smart & Final! What would this store sell? Presumably, no returns either.
Another one is called Big Lots! I can hear the marketing strategy now…Americans like things big, and they like lots of ‘em! Let’s call it Big Lots! Uh, yeah.
There’s also Fresh & Easy. I’m not even going to start.
I just want to take a moment to whine about America, and I’ll begin by telling you a little story.
When I was in college, I got a job at a Hallmark store in Tacoma Mall. I worked there summers and holidays, including Christmas break.
I hated working in a mall over Christmas. I can imagine no quicker way to squelch whatever joie d’espirit might have existed. I remember two women fighting over a place in line. “Where’s your holiday spirit?“ one shot at the other. “Well, where’s yours?“ the other shot back. I was glad neither was armed–it could have gotten really ugly. Plus, I had to wear an apron that said, “Santa’s Helper.” Once, a woman asked me if I worked there, and I said, “Would I be wearing this apron if I didn’t?” I refused to wear the hat.
The worst of all was December 26th. I begged not to have to work, but didn’t have a choice. On December 26th, all Hallmark Christmas merchandise goes on sale for 50% off. Why? Because Hallmark doesn’t want to have to store all that clutter for a whole entire year. Soulless corporation they may be, but at least they have some sense.
I was never so ashamed to be a woman as I was at 8 a.m. on those Boxing Days. There, lined up in the mall outside the store, would be hundreds of women, all women, no men. (The men were home asleep. Sorry to say it, but the men had some sense) These women would be crowding each other, pushing up against the metal barrier, clutching enormous black garbage bags. I would think, “Go home. Be with your families. Enjoy watching the kids play with their toys, make a big breakfast. Relax.” But no. With crazed eyes roaming back and forth, sizing each other up, they would wait till the metal barrier began to creak up, then they would duck under it and run to the Christmas section, elbows out, pushing the hapless out of the way.
I would hide behind the counter till the manager saw me and made me come out and ring up sales.
It seems to have only gotten worse since those long-ago days. I understand the thinking behind Black Friday. It’s the official opening of the Christmas shopping season. I get it. But what I don’t get is things like Midnight Madness, or the Come at 5 a.m. For Special Deals. It seems really sadistic on the part of the store owners, who presumably are home in bed dreaming of money. The poor workers don’t want to be there. The shoppers don’t really, deep down, want to be there. Why not just have the same sales from, for example, 10 a.m. to noon? Or, catch people off guard, from 1:45 to 2:57?
I was also mystified by all those stores now open on Thanksgiving. Ok, food stores being open for a couple of hours makes sense, but more and more stores are beginning to stay open for the holiday, in order to…you got it…start on the Christmas shopping season. Again, it doesn’t really make sense. Why not just wait a day? Who is going to go Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day?
I know you all agree with me, and yet I’m wondering…if we all agree, why does it keep getting worse? How can we stop this madness?
Me, I’m going back to Africa, but what can you do? Tell me if you’ve got any ideas.

November 2007

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