My recent visit to the mecca of affordable furniture, IKEA, reminded me that there are two kinds of IKEA shoppers: me and The Others. Our universes have been predestined to collide in eight-hour shopping marathons that, frankly, have become unbearable.
Despite my love-hate relationship with the megastore, I am at IKEA for one reason: I am woman on a furniture-shopping mission. I have a goal. I have needs. I have a list.
You already know The Others. They have nowhere to go and all day to get there. Better yet, they have nowhere to go and all day to get there with their kids, who, without exception, have obviously been raised by wolves.
Without the din of screaming children, it would be hard enough to concentrate on the Swedish names of the items I covet. The Swedes are unusually promiscuous with the umlaut, but the consonants-to-vowel ratios in IKEA product names are ridiculous: Falkhöjden. Yddingen. Älvsbyn. Strandkrypa. None of these items can be pronounced by humans without first channeling the Swedish chef from “The Muppet Show” – who I’m sure is now gainfully employed upstairs, cooking meatballs in the IKEA cafeteria.
Hell was closed, so I ended up at IKEA on a Saturday, just in time for the början av nya skolåret (back-to-school shopping). A jungle gym in the entry reminded me I’d need a shopping cart equipped with Ben-Hur spikes if I hoped to keep a tactical distance between The Others and me. There were literal miles of concrete between me and my goal – the cash register – all through a sea of humanity that mingled and meandered before me, beside me, behind me and on top of me.
The entryway jungle gym also doubled as the dropping-off point for decorum and civility, it seemed. From that starting point, it was every shopper for herself. Running children would not be bridled by attentive parents. If someone wanted a closer look at the item you might be inspecting, a heedless arm would swiftly push itself between you and the object for a close-up gänder.
Before the staff reached their saturation point with pushy customers, they were sometimes helpful and remarkably fluent in IKE-ish. “Are these the last of the Kvitteras?” I’d ask. “Actually, there are a few more over there, next to the Grönsaksbullar,” they’d chirp in response.
Four hours in and only halfway through my Båtaan Dæth Marjtch, I noticed the staff was becoming surlier by the minute, no doubt grøwing impatient as The Screaming Young Øthers were hopping on beds and swinging from the Tjusigs to the Hejnes while The Parent-like Øthers ambled about in complete öblivjion. Asking for assistance this late in the game was probably ill-advised, but I did it anyway. “Could I ask you a few questions about the Börja Smågli?” I’d say, with my best Swedish Chef inflection. “Nej!” the associate snapped. “I’m too busy!”
Six hours in, I had barely rounded the three-fourths marker indicated on the store map. Veins in my calves and forehead bulged. My only defense was to drape myself over my cart and drag myself along with the Gullklocka Fjådrars I’d amassed. Fatigue had dulled my reaction time; there may or may not have been a few children caught under the wheels of my lumbering cart. All bets were off.
Exhausted to the point of plummeting blood sugar, I consumed my compulsory Kyckling Köttbullars in the cafeteria and planned my attack for the warehouse, where I would put my T-rex arms to the ultimate test of upper body development by schlepping my own massive boxes onto an oversized cart with a penchant for left turns. There may or may not have been a few children caught under the wheels of my new, wayward cart. It had a mind of its own.
Out of nowhere, the announcement came: it was only 15 minutes until closing time. Panic set in as I realized I’d have to ask the ståff to point out locations of all-consonant worded items. By now, the employees had mörphed into the angry elves from A Christmas Story, manhandling customers hastily to the exits.
I was swiftly dealt with and processed to the checkout line, which wrapped around several aisles of the warehouse. A nearby sign read, “From here, it is 1.25 hours to the exit (where you’ll have to load your own car).” Amazingly, I mustered the wherewithal to spend the next hour in line, trampling The Others and their offspring to reach a well-stocked inventory of “last chance” impulse items that separated the lanes.
There may or may not have been a few children caught under the wheels of my overloaded car as I cursed the IKEA experience on my way out of the parking lot. It was dark.