I Am Afraid of IKEA

furniture \Fur”ni*ture\ 1: that with which anything is furnished or supplied. 2: articles used for convenience in a house or apartment.

I have tried to beat FLARKE to a pulp. I have attempted to master all that is ENETRI. I have collapsed while reading the instructions for JARNA and have (I think) caused a blood clot on the left side of my brain while trying to screw together FAGERUM. In every single instance and experience with the foreign-furniture-food serving-amusement park they call IKEA, I have ultimately ended up in the corner, shaking with fear.

Normal furniture stores have certain characteristics you can count on. Friendly overweight salesmen, small homey living-room like showrooms, germ-free mint dispensers and furniture that is so sturdily assembled that it takes two huge men in uniforms to put it in a huge truck and drive it over to your house. Aah, the old world of furniture. Those were the days when a bookcase could fall on your head from a second story window and crush you while still remaining intact. These days, the comforting end tables and bookcases have taken a backseat to furniture you have to forage for in a labyrinth of blindingly happy colors, dead-end corridors and hard-to-pronounce furniture.

I am afraid of making it out of IKEA alive, and they know it. Because of it, they have hired their hucksters and wordsmiths and clever advertising executives who are really good friends with some clever designers who as a crack-team of specialists can turn a barren warehouse into a happy, fun experience. You are about to go on the ride of your life! Please make sure your hands and legs stay inside the cart at all times.

The ride begins as you enter IKEA, where you’re welcomed by very happy people bearing yellow-supermarket carts who stand in front of a huge glass box filled with multi-colored balls. There, children (who I believe have been hired through local casting agencies) play endlessly in the hill of balls. For what sells furniture more than children playing in a sea of plastic orbs? “Hahahaha,” they laugh. “I love plastic balls,” they scream. Sadly, it is the last English I will ever hear as my cart and I am latched into a rollercoaster-esque escalator that will take me to the top, leaving the real world far, far behind. I hope the children will be okay without me.

IKEA has seen fit to plop you into the middle of their own amusement park, show you their wonderful pieces of hip/elegant/comfortable furniture and then expect you to try and order them by name when the names they’ve given them make no sense to everyday English speaking citizens.

Feel like a leather armchair? How about TULSTA or POANG or EKTORP? Or KARLANDA or LAHOLM or MALUNG? Sure, there are some medically challenged senior citizens with breathing issues stemming from years of smoking who would love MALUNG, but do they really know they’re getting a swively-leather chair instead?

From beds and bookcases to chairs and stools… From rugs and lighting to tables and textiles… IKEA has done all they can to stick you in the middle of the most incoherent, unpronounceable furniture warehouse that they can. Secretly, behind those shiny mirrors and shaded corners are a thousand IKEA executives giggling and laughing as you try to convince the woman at the information counter that you want NASTVED and not HULTET. Really, you want NASTVED. Or was it HULTET? Maybe it was RINGO. Even word-association or rhyming will do you no good (believe me, I’ve tried) in remembering which thingamabob you wanted in the first place.

And yet, pronunciation (or lack thereof) of their products is just the beginning. Because there’s one little catch to the whole IKEA model. Once you’ve learned how to pronounce the piece you want to buy and are intent of paying for it at the register, you’ve got to find your way out by following the colorful arrows on the floor. Hope you’ve got some time on your hands. And a compass. Because, the Donner Party had it easier than you will.

In your life and death quest for the exit, you’ll have to make it through what seems like an exhibit on “The History of Furniture.” From furniture’s modest beginnings with stools and chairs and end tables to the gilded age of lighting fixtures and all the way to the “we have too much time on our hands these days” age of plastic fish ice cubes.

You’ll be paraded past what seems like a thousand sit-com sets – three-walled kitchens and bedrooms and bathrooms and rumpus rooms. Each and every one has windows and doors and escape hatches that, surprisingly, lead nowhere. “Just follow the arrows,” the voices will tell you. “As long as you follow the arrows you’ll find your way home before dark.”

But you won’t. Seriously. No, I’m telling you the truth. Even if you do follow the floor arrows to a T, you will double-back numerous times, find yourself trapped in rooms with other famished and nervous IKEA travelers. At every turn you will see something that you think looks familiar… With each step you will attempt to look for that furniture-mark that will help you find the exit. “If I can just find the leather foot stool that was next to the pink blanket in front of the kiosk with the catalogs,” you’ll scream to anyone who will listen, “…if I can find that landmark and head North…I know the exit isn’t too far off from there!” It is a never ending circle of kitchen stools and rugs you wouldn’t never admit to buying that will slowly and methodically strip from you the will to escape. Sooner or later that Queen-sized LILLEHAMMER you keep passing at the twenty-sixth arrow on the third floor, will start to look mighty comfy.

But if you’re the kind of person who can learn how to live off the land like a true explorer you just may eventually find your way to the IKEA warehouse, where that hard to pronounce leather foot stool is waiting for you to retrieve it. Once you do, you’re home free.

This is where our good friend “the dwarf” really comes in handy.

Really, IKEA should just allow you to purchase dwarves at their warehouses before you take home the flat boxes that supposedly contain your furniture. Because when you get the damn things home and pour out all the flat pieces of wood and bags of screw-type metal rods and the picture-only instructions and realize that the only tool you need to use to put the thing together is included (how great!) but that it’s an L-shaped rod the size of two toothpicks (uh oh!) and there are no children in your life to bribe into handling said L-shaped rod…you’re gonna wish you had some connections with Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. Because you, strong American adult, will be able to manipulate this small tool-thingie about as well as you can program your VCR.

Once again, IKEA has turned a normal assemblage scenario into a game where a printed rebus puzzle is your only hope at having a chair to sit on. Here, you’re presented with pictures instead of actual-worded instructions. You’re given rods and L-shaped tools instead of screws and nails. You’re given plastic doohickeys and wooden pill-shaped connectors. You’ll stare at the pieces for hours, continually telling yourself that “it can be done” and that you “are a high school graduate with keen problem solving skills.” Eleven seconds after confirming to yourself that you are indeed smart, you will have realized that subconsciously you’ve already decided your next step in the matter.

IKEA, you’ll be happy to know, is more than happy to accept returns.
And as you sign that receipt (informing you that all your funds that were once sucked from your credit-card have been graciously returned to you) and turn towards the exit doors (just past the big box of multi-colored children and balls), you’ll suddenly find that you’re famished. I mean, hell, attempting to put together furniture is tough work.

But as your stomach tells you that you’re hungry, your mind tells you that you’re going to have to wait until you get home because you’re in a furniture store and there’s no sustenance to be found at such a place. Yet, just then, your eyes see the yellow and blue colored countertop. The fluorescently-lit menu boards. The rapidly rotating rods of beef. Yes, it’s true. IKEA serves food. But here is where famine turns to fear.

After spending a day finding my way to the exit of IKEA, after spending hours trying to figure out what name goes with which piece of furniture and do I pronounce the two dots over the “e” or not, I am faced with a menu board filled with items called HOT DOG and SHRIMP SANDWICH and SODA and FROZEN YOGURT.

After a day of mispronounced words, confusing directions and innocent children locked in a clear plastic box, am I to simply believe that a HOT DOG is a beef frankfurter? Is a SODA a carbonated beverage? Or are these names yet another ruse in the creative branding of IKEA? God knows, on my way out the door, after purchasing GLUNOX and its matching OOHTUP, I’d much rather sit down with a TOHGOD and a OSDA. At least then, I’d feel like my surreal day abroad was somewhat consistent. I mean, really – would you ever buy something called a “PB&J Sandwich” in Mongolia?

That’s what I thought.

The whole IKEA experience is like being dropped into an amusement park inside of a café inside of a foreign country whose language you don’t speak. And then, once you’ve arrived there, you’re immediately put to work assembling furniture with toothpicks and instructions that look like Dali sketched them out. In the end, it’s like a huge real-life version of a Twilight Zone episode.
Well, except for the strange rotating beef kabobs and the kids trapped in a huge plastic box. I mean, Rod Serling liked to scare people… But he definitely didn’t want to freak them out.

In other news, tomorrow is yet another edition of “Words For Your Enjoyment” — the feature where you supply an idea for Friday’s post and if I use it, you get a link to your site, your name in lights, and a half pound of your choice of deli meat!

9 comments on “I Am Afraid of IKEA

  1. Ruggybabs - July 1, 2005 at 12:07 am -

    I once bought ‘FRED’ from IKEA. Simply because it was the only thing I could pronounce.

    Took me 3 weeks to put the bastard together, mind you.

  2. Pauly D - July 1, 2005 at 8:17 am -

    Yeah, FRED is one tough bastard.

  3. anonymous city girl - July 3, 2005 at 7:25 am -

    Hey… my studio looks like one of those rooms at IKEA… and I put every piece together (and they have survived 4 recent moves without a scratch).

  4. Rattling Widget - August 9, 2005 at 2:42 am -

    Here in the Uk they nail all the ornamental display stuff to the shelves….walls….etc, The book shelves are full of books printed in Swedish. How odd?

  5. nic - August 9, 2005 at 9:29 am -

    Are ALL those words un-scrambleable or should I continue with what I was doing before you drove me TSNU? Jesus!

  6. Sam - November 20, 2005 at 8:52 pm -

    The store was OK to me, but the furnitures they sell look fragile and odd-shaped…

    But the meatballs they served me was cheap and about “average” in quality…which I don’t think the real Swedish people would eat in Sweden…

  7. Andrew - September 5, 2006 at 11:03 pm -

    Ikea: Swedish For Wobbly…

  8. Apologiesallround - April 18, 2007 at 10:34 pm -

    The last time I had existential angst was when I went to the new Ikea in Sydney.

    Vast, vast, vast space and sooo many people. I got that same feeling of absolute insignificance I get at LAX. Interestingly I don’t get this at Heathrow or Gatwick. Just Sydney Ikea and LAX.

    Actually I generally have the whole angst thing in LA. All those freeways; I feel perenially left behind, left in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The Getty also has that vibe of impersonalness. Even Tate feels like it cares that you’re there just a teeny tiny bit. Ditto the Louvre. But the Getty is indifferent. What’s the curvy one …that one in New York …that one loves you, it wants you in there, but the Getty seriously doesn’t give a fuck whether you visit or not. That’s the Sydney Ikea vibe.

  9. Seriously? - July 18, 2008 at 12:15 am -

    Really? Dude, if you can’t put together Ikea furniture than you’re an idiot. Seriously, Ikea is the shit. You can furnish your apartment for like, 20 dollars.

    I mean, I’m not saying it isn’t a pain in the ass to put together, because it is a pain in the ass. But with a little patience and effort, you’ve got some cheap, (and I don’t mean “piece of shit” cheap, I mean it literally costs next to nothing) decent furniture.

    And how hard is it to get a god damn pencil and write a name on it? KLUSTOFF…write it the fuck down dude.

    I mean, holy shit, I realize that I just wasted my time reading a humorous story about Ikea written over a year ago while I was trying to find something completely different, but dude, settle down.

    Ikea is the shit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.