Although the purse didn’t cost $38,000, it was pricey for my budget as a graduate student. But it was my birthday, I’d been in Spain for all of 7 months and I really wanted it. As a matter of fact, I’d been walking by the shop window for weeks, changing my mind, then coming back to this particular purse, with its mixture of black and brown leather, and its double strap with a sophisticated magnetic clasp. It was definitely a cool purse.
I practiced saying my numbers in Castilian Spanish, chanting “cuatrocientos cincuenta” under my breath, or I should say, “cuatrothientos thincuenta” for a solid week until I could say it easily, as that th-s-th sound is very difficult, and re-worked my budget one hundred times until at last, I was ready to buy this purse. Then I walked into the shop, asked the sales lady to get it down, which she didn’t do because she thought I could not afford it–just kidding, I wasn’t in Switzerland! She got it down and for a moment I just admired its beauty, the supple leather, the excellent sewing. Hand-made in Spain. My dream purse.
I nodded, quieting my conscience, which was still feeling guilty about deviating from my budget. The shop keeper must have picked up something in my hesitation for she said gently, “You know, if you wait till the rebajas, the sales, this purse will be half price.”
Well, that was an interesting proposition. I had worked at K-Mart as a teenager, and I was familiar with the concept of store-wide sales, which were fairly regularly scattered across the calendar, often centering on holidays.
“Oh,” I said, “when are the rebajas?”
She studied me, almost as if she thought I was trying to trick her. What did I mean, when are the sales?
“Las rebajas,” she said, by way of answer. I had noticed that often when people observed that I didn’t understand something, they would say it louder, as if the problem was with my ears instead of with my brain. I could see that she was starting to do the same.
“I honestly don’t know when the rebajas are.” I hurried to clarify. “Next week? Next month?”
Now she smiled. She had realized that I hadn’t misunderstood the word.
“Pues, en Agosto, claro.” In August, of course.
August! This was April! August was still 4 months away! This shopkeeper was trying to talk me out of buying this expensive purse and waiting for the fall to purchase it at a lower price? What if I changed my mind between now and then? What if I moved? What if I found one I liked better at a different store? She could lose a potential sale!
“Are there any rebajas before then?” I asked, in case she was forgetting what a long time there was between April and August. I was still close enough to my youth for 4 months to seem an eternity. But, no, she informed me, no sales before then. The only sales in Spain were in August and January.
It boggled my mind that nation-wide sales occurred only twice a year. Period. According to the blog site 20minutos.com, the idea of having sales in the first place was copied from a New York business person, Fred Lazarus, Jr., who, in the 1930’s, decided it was better to sell clothing stock at a discount than store it. In Spain, in the 1940’s, two huge department stores, Galerias Preciados (which I remember, but which is now out of business) and El Corte Ingles, instituted the practice of sales after the high seasons (Christmas and summer.) Apparently the tradition caught on, and as the consumers embraced the idea, sales progressed from consisting of what was in stock, to becoming meticulously planned events where the stores even brought in stock for the sales (not unlike what happens here on Black Friday.) And it’s been that way ever since.
So, if you’re in Spain right now, lucky you, by all means, go have fun shopping, and be sure to take advantage of the magnificent rebajas. As for me, well, I still have that birthday purchase!