Does anyone here speak Ikea?

2012-06-12 13:32

Europe might be able to live without Greece, but it couldn’t live without Ikea.

Ikea is the Swedish assemble-it-yourself megastore that sells everything from kitchens to coat hangers. Contemporary, stylish and affordable, Ikea is what Mr Price Home would probably like to be when it grows up.

Visiting Ikea for the first time can be overwhelming.

Like going to Disney World with children who round off a sugar-spiked tour of Camp Minnie-Mickey by throwing up their fudge sundaes on the Giant Teacup, it is an experience best enjoyed afterwards. Long afterwards.

When we bought a house in France and had to kit it out from scratch in a week before returning to South Africa –beds, sofas, teaspoons, pots, the lot - a trip to Ikea was a no-brainer.

My husband, Clive, and I hired Europcar’s biggest van and set off down the highway to Toulouse with a hand-drawn map. We didn’t have a GPS in those days.

Two hours later, a suspiciously long way past the Toulouse turn off, we must have missed a critical off ramp. We bickered about whether we had or hadn’t for another 100kms until we saw a sign that said “Barcelona next exit”. Then we pulled over and had a domestic meltdown in a lay-by.

Let’s just say that three hours and a trial separation later, we arrived at our destination. Ikea shimmered like a mirage, parallel to the highway.

The entrance was via a low-lying bridge that we realized was made for nippy little French cars when our vast, conspicuous van scraped its underside and came to a halt with a sound like someone opening a tin of sardines.

As several Ikea security guards ran towards us waving their arms, we argued about custody of the children before getting out to inspect the damage.

The guards, now busy on their walkie-talkies, were shouting at us to do, er, something. These were early days and our French consisted of saying things like “where’s the toilet?” and “what do you mean we have to put petrol in the car ourselves?”

Still, at least they weren’t shouting in Swedish and finally they made us understand that we would have to let down the tyres to unstick the roof of the van from the belly of the bridge.

Now watched, with impatience or amusement, by an audience of nippy little French drivers who were stuck in the traffic jam behind us, Clive made an executive decision that was purest Johannesburg.

“Get back in the van,” he ordered me, nodding at the guards and making helpless tourist gestures.

“What do you mean get back in the van?” I said, in that stupid way people repeat what’s just been said to them when they can’t believe what’s just been said to them.

“You can have the Kentridge in the divorce settlement,” he said.

“Done,” I said, scrambling back into the cab.

As the expressions on the guards’ faces changed from officious to disbelieving, Clive put his foot down and we tore through the rest of the bridge, bursting into the light of the Ikea car park. It felt like giving birth.

A couple of guards ran after us, but as it was nearly sacred French lunchtime, you could tell their stomachs weren’t in it.

Arriving at the altar of Ikea caused us to renew our marriage vows and, along with the rest of middle Europe, we proceeded arm in arm along the one-way aisles with arrows on the floor showing customers the Ikea way. You don’t need a GPS to navigate Ikea, just blind obedience to the rules.

Ikea is more organized than Home Affairs.

You take a pencil and an order form and write down the mysterious Swedish names and codes of the items you want. “Ektorp sideboard aisle 19. 114.5.06”. “Isala chair aisle 7 678.4.998” stuff like that. Big ticket items like sofas have to be ordered separately, from a human sales assistant.

Then you follow the arrows to the basement and source your smaller items, which are neatly stacked and flatpacked on the relevant shelf in the relevant aisle.

Then you go to the checkout and try to remember which trolley is allowed through which till depending on whether you have cash, a credit card or a disability.

On the other side of the checkout you get a 5-minute break at the food stand where you can buy a hotdog and a bottle of water for 50 centimes and then burst into the tears that were not possible before because you were dehydrated.

Then you dry your hollow eyes and drive to the warehouse where you collect your big ticket items.

It’s easy when you know how the system works. Laugh laugh.

Finally, when you get home very late that night, you will need to assemble your bed before you lie on it.

We spent the next couple of years trying to de-Ikea our home, or at least disguise it.

Ikea makes some beautifully designed things, but once the novelty’s worn off, you see it everywhere. On BBC TV dramas (aren’t those the Karlstad cushions?), on websites for other guest houses (They’ve got the Stockholm table too!) and in your friends’ houses (everyone’s favourite Kivik kelim).

Recently I met another South African couple living in this region. Christopher and Ingrid have renovated and decorated four village houses they now rent out to holidaymakers.

Ingrid’s taste is exquisite and her houses have appeared in décor magazines. She has filled their doll-like rooms with bric-a-brac from markets, art, antiques and objects she has turned to other effects and purposes in dazzlingly original ways.

I gush.

“Well, I didn’t want that Ikea look,” she says innocently.

“Gosh, no, of course not,” I agree. “What a horrible thought.”

Now I’ll never be able to have them here for tea.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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