Charlemagne informs me today of more European retail nonsense:
Pick the right European country, and no sales pitches need disrupt your festive cheer. Try France, where sales will by law begin only on January 9th. Or Belgium: not only are sales banned before January 3rd but, under “pre-sales” rules, for six weeks beforehand shops cannot announce price reductions, lest somebody jumps the gun.
During the twice-yearly pre-sales blackouts (there are also summer sales) a hundred inspectors from the Belgian economics ministry scour the country for advertisements, window stickers or price tags that even hint at discounts. A Prohibition-style speakeasy culture has sprung up in response. Gambits include putting question-marks on price tags and advertising “friendly prices”. Chic boutiques in Brussels telephone favoured customers or send them “privilege cards”, inviting them to pop in for an early visit. Controls must be “extremely severe” to ensure that the rules stick, explains Robert Geurts of the economics ministry, who glories in the title of director-general for regulation and organisation of the market. Inspectors receive many tips by telephone as rival shopkeepers denounce each other.
The proverbial horse is whinnying wildly, so I'll drop the stick and simply state that many transactions are illegal only because they happen to be against the law.