Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Most Sacred of Consumer Holy-days: Black Friday

As this was my first Thanksgiving I naively imagined the day after the big meal would be all about sleeping in, and eating leftover turkey sandwiches and /or pumpkin pie while watching made-for-TV holiday movies on CBS.

Silly me.

In fact, the day after Thanksgiving is a distinct consumer holy-day unto itself.  ‘Black Friday’ marks the beginning of the ‘Holiday Shopping Season’ and is supposedly the point at which the budgets of the major retailers will lift from the ‘red’ into the ‘black’ with all the profits.  My “research” tells me that originally the moniker came from the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1950s and 60s which had to patrol the huge crowds and traffic coming to and from shopping malls alongside football traffic. They hoped the negative connotations of the phrase ‘Black Friday’ might discourage too many people from joining in.

No such luck.

In Store Crowds

Trolleys lined up

In fact the whole event is so popular that retailers have given up on the midnight or 5am openings, and instead they are now opening a little earlier.

Macys opening times

But there is hope. Not everyone is blinded by consumer culture. If you object to shopping on a day meant for family and community gatherings, then you can take this pledge.

The silver lining pledge

A beginners’ guide to Black Friday shopping

From what I observed, participation in Black Friday shopping rests on two essential underlying principles.

Firstly,  ensure one is in the mood to jolt oneself out of any sense of peace and goodwill towards others.  Secondly, one must erase all memories of the blessings for which one had expressed gratitude over the Thanksgiving meal just hours before.

Then proceed as follows:

1. Thursday shoppers: Finish Thanksgiving dinner early, or skip it altogether.


Friday shoppers: Set alarm clock for 3am.

2. Pack loved one/s in the car and sit in shopping mall traffic queues.

3. Hunt down a parking spot.

4. Line up outside the doors for hours in below freezing temperatures.

5. Jostle with fellow shoppers and fiercely defend place from ‘line cutters’.

6. Elbow one another out of the way in order to get the 50-inch plasma TV for $299 or Xbox thingamy.


  Discover that the item desperately wanted is all sold out so search for something else you don’t need, then buy it to make the all the bother worthwhile.

7. Line up for hours to pay for your sale goods. Work your way backwards through steps 6 to 1.

Optional step: In some cases you may choose to push, shove, snatch and grab at people and things in order to secure the consumer goods you desire.

George Foreman Grill-Mania 

Unfortunately in 2013 many people chose to exercise the last optional step. You can view some of the ugly scenes as collated by the Huffington Post here.  Be warned it is not pretty.

Postscript: There are a couple of positives I can see out of this phenomenon.

  • ‘Shop local Saturday’ to support small businesses.
  • ‘Cyber Monday’ for online sales. Shop from the comfort of your home instead.
  • You can actually do all your Christmas shopping in the sales, rather than in Australia where the sales start on Boxing Day.

Thanksgiving is coming…

Thanksgiving Snoopy

So far Thanksgiving on campus means…

  • No lectures this week.
  • My residence hall is empty and (blissfully) quiet.
  • Carpark is vacant.
  • Everything is pumpkin flavoured – coffee, ice-cream, cakes, and of course pies.

Very soon, you will find out about the tradition of ‘Black Friday’ which follows hot on the heels of Thanksgiving day. Stay tuned…



Helpful Americans: Bob’s Lesson of the Week

One of the quirks of being an international student is that each Monday I receive a ‘lesson of the week’ email. They come from Bob*, the Director of the International Student Center, and tell me how to live in America. You may be familiar with some of Bob’s earlier wisdom from the ‘Advice for international students’ post, or the ‘They do things differently here’ page. My parents told me from their years of living in USA, that Americans are the most helpful and hospitable nationality of people they have ever met.  I have to agree. And Bob is a charming example of this.

In this post I share with you the titles of Bob’s ‘lessons’ and the salient point/s from each.

 The Yard, Tag and Garage Sales

  • People sell used stuff. You can pick up a bargain, or make some money.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  •  Everyone takes holidays in December. Prices go up. Book ahead.

Have you been selected for Jury Duty?

  • International students cannot serve on a jury. This violation of your student visa could bar you from future US citizenship.

The Ice Missile Law

  • You are legally obliged to remove snow from your car before driving it. This is dangerous.

What does RSVP mean?

  • It is common courtesy to respond to an invitation that requests an “RSVP”.  Failure to do so reflects poorly on you and may cause undue stress and problems for the host /hostess who cannot adequately plan for the event.


  • Traditionally it is time to celebrate the end of a bountiful harvest season. Typically, one should buy, distribute and eat candy.

Grocery Saving Tips

  • Coupons are an invitation to save money. Buy a folder and file your coupon clippings by categories to save time at the checkout.


(this had two sub-categories – daylight savings, and punctuality)

  • Turn your clocks back on Saturday 2nd November. Also known as ‘Fall back’.
  • Americans place particular value on promptness and punctuality.
  • Direct from the horses’s mouth: ‘Time is a very important commodity in our culture.  Think of “time” as money, where we try to “save” and “spend”.’

Now, where would I be without Bob’s lessons? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, after receiving a $120 fine for driving to class with a snow-filled car bonnet, and having not ‘fallen back,’ I would be an hour early to my lectures, wearing something I bought new at a store instead of second hand at a yard sale. I would have missed the chance to eat lots of candy at the end of October, and I would have upset my friends by not bothering to RSVP to their Halloween party. I may have served on a jury and convicted a felon only to have the decision overturned on a technicality (Australian student clause), and later had my green card application rejected. Finally, I would be stuck on campus over the Thanksgiving break because I hadn’t thought to book a plane ticket.

Actually, that last one is true.

*Bob’s name has not been changed.

Whiteboard Wisdom

Every Monday I have a team meeting with my co-workers* in room G427. It appears that G427 is also the venue for RAs (Residential Assistants) to gather on the last Sunday of the month to review and plan their programs. The left over meeting notes on the white board have been  amusing and informative for myself and my coworkers. And even better they have provided material for this blog post.

In September the RAs reviewed the success, or otherwise, of the orientation sessions in the first month of the academic year.

Showing good leadership, they realised that while it is important to reflect both on what went well…

Went well

… one should also be honest about what went poorly.

Went poorly

Hmmm… sometimes demand exceeds supply. And as my friend Loaf remarked “I wonder what they were doing with the ice cream that made it uncomfortable?” Indeed.

In October the RAs stopped to think about the needs of each particular cohort of students.

The Freshman…


The Sophomores


(I wonder if the Sophomores have an identity crisis because they are ‘forgotten’?)

The Juniors


and the Seniors. ( To support the end-of-an-era mood cue Greenday track here )


But it appears the RAs became stumped when considering the needs of their older student cohort.


I think I’ll manage okay.

* I have learned co-workers is  the preferred term here, not colleagues.

PS: My friend HSLC has shown some initiative and proposed what might go in the graduate column. Thanks for chiming in!

Graduates filled in

Fall Foliage Photo Essay


“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

William Cullen Bryant

I first noticed myself doing it in September, but it wasn’t until October that the habit really took hold. I started to walk around campus with my phone in my pocket, ready to slip it out and take photos at any given moment. The colour palette of the landscape was changing daily. Green… yellows… orange…red… grey. Click, click, clickitty-click.


I found myself wandering off the path to kick my feet through the leaves like a school kid.


 I became drawn to the ‘shadow’ that the leaves create underneath the tree from which they fall.




One day I was driving on a narrow and winding road, through the woods, colours in full bloom, the sun setting in the distance, and leaves were drifting across the bonnet of my car. One even stuck on the windshield before flicking off. I felt like I was in the opening credits of a movie.


When I saw yet another tree I had been watching shed its final leaves the sadness hit me unexpectedly.



I am scared about the winter that lies ahead. Everything will be grey, and bare, and dark and cold.