I’ve done my fair share of constructing flat-pack cabinets, and browsing aisles piled to the roof with random implements I can’t figure out a name or use for. Somehow though, I was never sufficiently motivated enough to go to the effort of travelling afar in search of amazing bargains to that great superstore in the sky that is Ikea. Despite the look of awe and rapture in other’s eyes as they spoke of treasures to be found… at heart, I’m just too lazy to make a substantial effort when I can just pop down the road to the local DIY centres and amble aimlessly through them waiting for something to make itself known as a potential purchase. That, and there’s no way the other half is going to have the patience to spend half a day getting there and back before even going through the ordeal itself. I had a spare day to fill, and a mother who had yet to visit the Dublin installation of the giant corporation. Before I ended up being the only person in the country who hadn’t gone, it seemed like a good time to see what all the fuss was about, and whether I too could be converted into one of the worshipping masses.
The store itself is massive – you can clearly see that from a distance. Surrounded by an abundance of car parking areas which give the not so subtle hint that this place is built for large numbers. This was a quiet Tuesday morning in the city of Dublin. The store was just about due to open. Speaking as someone who’s not fond of shopping in busy places, the sight of a substantial crowd lurking at the entrance was not a good omen. I kept well back as the tannoy blared into life and announced with great ceremony that the store was now open. People surged towards the door as if there was a danger that someone in front of them would manage to clear out all the good stuff. Leaving them to fight their way in, I sauntered back to the car park to locate my mother who was only just arriving. A short while later we joined the steady trickle of people appearing as if by magic at intervals. You can’t help but wonder how so many people can afford to be out buying this stuff if they’re not working during the day.
We were taken straight to the top floor, just to ensure there was no possibility of early escape via a window. As an extra precautionary measure, there were also no windows to be found at this level. We were then optimistically provided with large bright yellow bags to carry the load of items we were obviously expected to pick up during our trek through the murky interior. And so we started through the long winding maze, following the arrows and checking the maps periodically when it seemed like we might be infinitely looping around the labyrinth. Swedish efficiency dictated that we be able to pick up pencils and special shopping lists designed for us to indicate items and locations. Thus marking a trail of potential purchases, like breadcrumbs through the store. Unfortunately, they haven’t figured out how to prevent customers from rebelling against the clearly marked pathways through the sections, and persisting in moving against the heavy flow of traffic passing through the store. We wound our way past numerous display areas crammed with so many items that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees when it came to finding anything particular. There was a strong sense of being a small component placed on a large conveyor belt designed to force you to move slowly through the entire structure, viewing endless products until you were finally compelled to part with your cash in an effort to gain an exit.
Sure, there was some excellent value to be found, and some nifty features on show. Trying to appreciate this whilst being jostled along by the flow of people and tripping over those who were wandering about in a senile haze of perpetual confusion was another matter. The thought of repeating this experience on a weekend with who knows how many more aggressive crowds was almost enough to make me faint in horror onto the nearest display bed. A couple of times I almost considered picking something up, but the thought of lugging items an unknown distance was enough to deter me. I was quickly coming to the conclusion that this was definitely not the place for browsing. You would need to be furnishing an entire room (or better yet a whole house) for it to feel worth the trial. You could also do with a Swedish dictionary as Ikea seem to be under the delusion that Swedish is commonly spoken outside of Sweden, so they should display many larger store signs in a language that means nothing to most of the world. I can understand not repackaging the products themselves, but more prominent English signs would have been very useful. Some objects we examined in detail and still failed to come up with an explanation for what their Swedish label meant, and what kind of function the object might serve.
As we discarded yet another item whose purpose remained a mystery, we realised we’d been in there almost two hours and claustrophobia was starting to set in as we searched in vain around each corner for any sign of an exit. Perhaps we should have come equipped with camping gear and a packed picnic? Eventually, as we reached the bowels of the building we saw the long lines of customer units waiting to pay their dues before finally exiting. Being empty-handed, we scouted along until we found a small gap where we could squeeze through to freedom. At this point we were ravenous. We succumbed to the inevitable and made our way back to the restaurant area where we found a surprisingly small choice of dishes… all available for sale in the Swedish market downstairs. So, just another display of stuff to buy then. We made our selection and seated ourselves at one of the rickety tables provided. No matter how many items we tried wedging under the legs, the table surface rocked and bucked alarmingly with every move of a knife or glass. None of the neighbouring tables appeared to be in any better shape. Somehow we managed to consume the food without sending plates flying. This left us with quite a few qualms about the quality of the tables being sold in the store. Of course having finished our meal, we found that despite our best efforts, the only way to exit was to proceed back through the entire store again, watching intently for any of the minor shortcut options. Finally we staggered back out into the sunlight, leaving the mammoth blue and yellow building to its dedicated congregation.
My exit from the parking area and back to civilisation was slow. Just ahead of me one of the many elderly folk that had littered the walkways inside was chugging along in a laden-down car. Perhaps realising that I had failed to be converted, he endeavoured to prevent my departure by repeatedly coming to a stop at random points along the exit road. No lights, no junction, just felt like stopping suddenly. Cursing, I kept increasing my distance back from him. As we finally pulled out onto the main road and headed for the motorway, I decided to avoid the potential disaster of ramming into the back of his car and changed lanes so I could safely pass the obstacle. Slowly I accelerated along the lane, just to make sure I didn’t startle the obviously witless driver into more crazy antics. As the car drew alongside and was almost halfway past, he merrily turned on his indicator and swerved into my lane. Much frantic pumping of the brakes later, I slowed quickly enough for him to complete his insane maneuver without actually running me off the road. Sighing, I returned to my original lane and put as much distance between him and me as I could.
I returned home feeling older, and wiser. It’s safe to say I won’t become a regular member of the Ikea congregation. I’ll be happy to continue roaming the comparatively deserted aisles of the local DIY shops for my future small purchases. The next time there’s some major redecorating to be done, I’ll venture forth to Ikea fully prepared for war. With a compass, people-repeller, sandwiches and sleeping bag. Possibly an evacuation team on standby.