This post stems from a conversation the Doctor and I had the other night about how, in America, nothing is ever priced at what it supposedly costs.
Not only do most shops appear to have a permanent sale on; but it is not unusual that you pick up an item in, say, Gap, and go to the checkout to find that it costs a completely different sum - usually about $10 less - than the price tag. (This is, of course, always a pleasant surprise and tends to make you feel positive about the shop, so I wonder if it is deliberate.)
The Doctor has a colleague who has some iPhone app that lets you compare prices in different shops. So, for example, he was in Staples, and found that an item actually costs less around the corner in Rite-Aid. Apparently, when he pointed it out to the store manager, they simply lowered the price for him. This has also happened to me - I recall one occasion when I wanted to buy a marker pen that didn't have a price tag, and they just gave it to me for free.
In fact, I am constantly surprised that store staff seem to have complete free rein in these matters. I'm sure that in Britain, lowering the price of an item would require lots of tutting, hours of computer research and quite possibly a phone call to Head Office. Can you imagine trying to bargain down the price of stationery in WHSmith? Er, I don't think so. Whereas here, you could probably go around a shopping mall behaving if you were in a Moroccan souk, if you had the nerve.
I suppose it's all part of the American culture of customer service; 'the customer is always right' and all that. (Apart from in government offices, places like the Department for Motor Vehicles and the US Post Office, where the customer is regarded like a highly dangerous criminal).
We Brits are, on the whole, not that good at it. For example - I hate being followed around clothes shops and asked questions, and nothing is more likely to make me leave without buying anything. I'm also bad with coupons - the staple of any shopper on Long Island. We're used to supermarket loyalty cards in the UK, but redeeming a printed coupon you get sent in the post? I always forget to take it with me, and by the time I do, it's out of date.
Our family had one particularly shameful episode where we had a meal at a Wendy's burger restaurant (a slightly nicer version of McDonald's) on our way to Vermont and received coupons for a virtually free meal next time. What happened? The Doctor immediately threw them away in the bin along with the rest of the packaging on his tray. This didn't stop us going back to Wendy's the following week on our return journey - but, we agreed, the meal was so cheap it wasn't really worth losing any sleep over.
We are clearly bad bargain hunters.