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An American experience: the yard sale

Nancy (not her real name) is a Chinese woman married to an American of European descent. * She is often lonely in her new land. Her friend, Susan (not her real name), is also a Chinese woman married to an American.

One day, Susan called Nancy on the telephone and said to her: “There’s an interesting thing I want to show you. Follow me. It’s a street sale.” If we get up early in the morning on Saturday, we can go to the sale and buy things for half price.”

Nancy is a good shopper but she had never heard of half-price sales on Saturday. She was very excited about this. What Susan called a “Street Sale” is called a “Yard Sale” or “Garage Sale” by most Americans.

On Saturday morning Susan drove her car west on Olson Highway toward Minnetonka. Nancy followed in her car. They turned off Olson at a street just beyond the Driver Testing station. Soon they saw lots of people standing in the street near furniture and clothes of many different colors.

Susan and Nancy found a place to park. “Here, here, sister Nancy,” Susan said. Susan’s friend, also a Chinese woman, was waiting for them. The group of women went into a church.

Susan offered Nancy a piece of advice: When you are deciding what to buy, don’t be too serious. Don’t spend time looking at each item. Just hurry through the sale and put what you think you might want into one of the cardboard boxes lying around the church. (The people who donated the items for sale used these boxes to bring them to the church.)

This was a strategy for saving time. If you put things in a box, then they are reserved for you. Other people cannot buy them while you are making up your mind. Susan was very smart. At yard sales, it’s important to be fast and keep what you might want to buy out of the hands of other shoppers.

Nancy was excited to learn this shopping tip. She quickly filled up a cardboard box with curtains and clothes. Then she took another empty box and did the same.

Just when she was beginning to think she was so smart, Nancy saw another woman, an American, who had another way to shop. This woman did not use a cardboard box but instead threw what she wanted on the floor. She was making a large pile of clothing that blocked the path of shoppers in this area. What was thrown in the pile was reserved for her. Maybe this was a better technique than using boxes.

The church was selling donated items for $5 a bag. The trick was to stuff as much merchandise into the bag as possible. Nancy had spent about an hour and a half wandering through the church with her cardboard boxes. Now she bought a $5 bag from the rummage-sale officials and began sorting through her two boxes to decide what to keep. She had bought clothing, curtains, shoes, vases, and other ornaments.

Nancy saw another lady who was carefully folding clothes and squeezing them so they would fit into the bag. This is another trick for yard sales. Therefore, Nancy took her time in looking through the boxes and deciding what to keep. Then she also folded the clothes so they would fit in the smallest possible space in the bag. For just $5, she had a bag stuffed to the top with valuable merchandise.

Nancy was very excited and happy to buy so much for only $5. This was her first yard sale. She had never seen anything like it in China or any other country she had visited. Yard sales were an example of American culture. Not only did Nancy have a chance to learn about this culture, she was able to learn new English words. She met new types of people that she would never have met had she stayed in her room watching television - old people, young people, families, people of different races. For these three reasons, garage sales are a good idea. She was glad to be introduced to this activity.

Nancy began thinking about how yard sales benefited everyone involved. First, there are the people who donated the items. They may have bought too much at stores and not have enough space in their homes to keep everything. Yard sales are a way to make more space. Second, there are the yard-sale shoppers like herself who can buy wanted merchandise at a low price. Yard sales have some of the lowest prices anywhere. Third, there are the churches which earn money from the rummage sales to pay for useful projects.

From this time, Nancy liked garage sales. Each week she checked the newspapers to see where a sale would take place. After learning the address, she would ask her husband to give the directions to the sale following a map. Sometimes she would take off in the car without having any location in mind. She would drive through the streets of a city or suburb looking for signs that advertised yard sales.

There were many different situations. The sales might take place in churches, on the street, in front of homes, or in garages. Sometimes several families would host a yard sale together to save on advertising costs. Nancy’s favorite was church sales.

A big part of yard sales is knowing how to bargain. You can’t bargain at the church sales but you can at most other places. One day, Nancy was driving around city streets when she saw piles of clothing and furniture in the yard in front of a house. She parked the car. There was a beautiful table that could be used with a sewing machine. It was a small, yellow table. Nancy wanted to buy it.

An old woman, perhaps fifty years of age, stood behind the table. She was slightly overweight and seemed to be unhappy. There was a price tag of $10 on the table. Nancy wanted the table very much but had only a small amount of money. Flashing her best smile and in a quiet tone of voice, she asked the unsmiling woman: “Could you give me some discount? For me, ten dollars is too expensive.” The woman had no expression. In a low voice, she said: “seven”.

Nancy was thinking to herself that this represented a 30% discount. Maybe that was enough. She reached into her purse and found a $10-dollar bill, a $5-dollar bill, and four or five quarters. She pulled the $5-dollar bill out of her purse. “May I give you $5,” she asked. The woman answered: “OK, go ahead.” There was no expression whatsoever in her face or voice.

Nancy had bought the table at a bargain. If the woman had refused the $5 offer, she was prepared to throw in all the quarters as well.

Nancy had happy feelings after this experience. She thought this was her lucky day. She liked the table very much. It had a small drawer where she could put sewing materials. The table was clean and just the right size.

Nancy has also run into situations where the yard-sale host refused to bargain. When her counteroffer is turned down cold, she often feels she has lost face and is unhappy. Even if the person does not want to bargain, she could at least give Nancy a smile. These people seem to think that Nancy is low because she is poor. She may be poor, but she is not low.

Therefore, the experience of bargaining has both its good and bad moments. It is a part of yard sales.


* Note -The American of European descent is William McGaughey, proprietor of this web site.


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