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Black Friday – The new language of retail

At the end of last month we witnessed a brand new cultural juggernaut on these shores in the shape of Black Friday

With a thoroughly American pedigree, it’s remarkable that the British public has accepted the concept of Black Friday into their consciousness. What’s even more amazing is the uncharacteristic fervour with which British consumers have embraced Black Friday.

Traditionally, Black Friday falls on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday in America and is seen as the opening of the Christmas shopping season. The origin of the term Black Friday is often mistakenly cited as being a reference to the day of the year that retailers start to make a profit – shifting their accounts from the red to the black.

The correct origin comes from a 1951 edition of Factory Management & Maintenance magazine to describe the practice of so many employees calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving.

The first time the term came to be used about the annual shopping event was in 1961 by Philadelphia Police to describe the traffic chaos that descended on the city as bargain hunters descended on the city.

UK adoption of Black Friday

 The UK has a much shorter history with Black Friday. The first event in the UK to employ the Black Friday name was held by Currys at their Staples corner store on the outskirts of central London in 2003.

While the event was a success for the retailer, it was a further 7 years before another UK retailer, Amazon, started a Black Friday promotion – quickly followed by Apple and a handful of other retailers.

Amazon’s initial promotion was successful in terms of generating excitement but their execution was less than perfect, with many customers frustrated by lack of stock and deals selling out almost instantly after launch. Nonetheless, the buzz created by the potential for huge savings captured the publics’ imagination – Black Friday was here to stay.

While there are many similarities between the US and UK, there are also huge cultural and linguistic differences.

In the UK we have accepted and adopted many Americanisms into our everyday life and vice versa. Interestingly, the ebb and flow of linguistic sharing can be found regularly in English literature and publications dating as far back as the Edwardian era.

While strong regional accents may slow down and confuse the process; Brits and Americans are able to communicate with ease. The differing vocabulary is so widely known through popular culture that it never comes as a surprise. What tends to be the most jarring are the cultural differences between the two nations.

An Englishman in New York

If you’re going to find yourself working on the other side of the Atlantic, while you may be able to dispense with the phrase book, there are several things you may need to be aware of.

  • While tipping a waiter for good service has become commonplace in the UK, tipping in the US is on a different scale. Nearly everyone in all service industries expects a tip and there are quite strict social conventions on percentages. Not tipping is considered to be pretty unacceptable, even when you are dissatisfied with the service you have received.
  • Patriotism and religion. There are far more open displays of patriotism and religion in the US compared to the UK.
  • The British reserve. It’s true that Brits are more reserved than our American cousins, whose enthusiasm and willingness to talk with strangers may embarrass and confuse Brits; especially Londoners.
  • In the US, most things have been made as convenient as possible. Brits are used to Public transport, manual cars, walking relatively long distances, having to leave your car to go to a bank to name a few that most Americans never need do.

While these differences may not seem huge, they can take quite a while to get used to and can potentially be the source of misunderstandings.

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