My pharmacist here in Copenhagen boards a plane on Thanksgiving Day and flies eight hours to New York just to shop the Black Friday sales; she does this every year. So does one of my neighbors.
When I first heard about this, four years ago, I put it down to the crazy prices that prevail in Copenhagen, where everything costs three to five times as much as it does in the U.S. Even taking into account the cost of a round-trip plane ticket and a few days in a hotel, people could still save quite a bit by arbitraging the dramatic price differences between the U.S. and Denmark on clothing, cosmetics, and especially electronics (though they would have to buy a lot). Go with an empty suitcase and come back ahead in terms of total expenses.
Then I found out that this phenomenon isn’t unique to the Danes. The travel industry has built a niche market around this event: There are a whole suite of package tours catering to foreigners who want to participate in the Black Friday bacchanal. Over the past few years, tourists from all over Europe, Asia, and Latin America have paid to fly to the U.S., get up in the middle of the night, and wait in long lines to shop.
The first shopping day after Thanksgiving has evolved from a practical matter of snagging great deals into a spectacle that outsiders find exotic and entertaining—the capitalist equivalent of Spain’s Running of the Bulls. In Pamplona, you get frenzied crowds, violence and death; a Black Friday trip gives you all that, plus the chance to score a plasma television.