By Mordechai Schmutter
I always get lost when I go to Ikea. I don’t even go to the one in Sweden. I go to the one right here, in New Jersey.
There are Ikeas all over the place. Ikea is the biggest furniture retailer in the world, and is extremely popular with frugal people who don’t mind putting their furniture together themselves. It’s basically the grown-up version of buying a craft project for a rainy Sunday. They provide everything you need in a kit, including these things that look like screws, but aren’t screws, which are held in place by little round things. I would tell you the names of these pieces, but Ikea doesn’t label any of its parts with words. Their entire manual is a series of pictograms, so that customers of any nationality can all fail to understand it equally. It’s like when you go to a foreign country, and you’re trying to mime your questions so the people you’re asking will understand you. But they don’t, and they think you’re just doing a weird dance for their amusement. Americans.
So if you’re putting it together as a family, you kind of have to make up names to call the pieces: “Can you please pass me four of those round thingies so I can put them in the zachen that hold the smitchicks?”
And there’s no way you can get on the phone and order more if your kid swallows them.
But in the end, you’re left with a sleek piece of furniture, as well as some extra pieces that you have no idea what to do with. And you can put a ton of stuff in it. Ikea has this magical technology that makes storage units that are bigger on the inside than on the outside. That’s great when it comes to furniture, but they build their stores that way too.
And that’s why I always get lost. You figure that sometimes you get lost on the way to a store, but you never get lost in a store. Most stores have aisles, and to get lost you’d have to be really dense. At one end of the aisle you can actually see the cash registers.
The Ikea store is built to look like customers are walking through people’s actual furnished homes, which I think is very disconcerting. It looks like you and a bunch of complete strangers are rifling through these people’s apartments, opening every drawer, touching everything while the owners aren’t home, and commenting on the quality.
And there are no aisles. The entire store is an intricate one-way maze with arrows on the floor, and you can’t go backward or rely on ever finding your way back to the item you’re looking at, so you kind of just have to load up on everything that you might conceivably want, just in case.
Ikea calls this setup “the natural order,” because they figure that people buy furniture the way they tour homes—first they look at living-room furniture, and then kitchens and dining, and so on. But it’s a furniture store. No one does that. Most people come because they’re looking for specific things that they need, and that’s the section they want to look in. It’s not like if you’re there for dining-room furniture, you’re going to say, “Ooh, look! A bed!” Furniture is not an impulse purchase.
At certain points in the maze, you can actually find a map, which will show you shortcuts, as well as where to find extra lives and health packs and such. But the shortcuts just confuse you. Some of them take you back to the beginning of the maze, and by the time you realize it, there’s a whole stream of people coming through one way and stopping in the doorway and saying, “Wait . . .” And you have to go around the whole store again.
And the shortcuts don’t even make sense. “How did we cut through one wall and end up HERE? I thought we were upstairs!” I’m afraid of going through one of them and ending up in an entirely different Ikea, possibly in Sweden.
The displays are supposed to show what life would be like if you bought the pieces, but the truth is that what your life will be like when you buy the pieces is that you will be sent down to a dreary dungeon to look through thousands of nondescript boxes until you find, say, your sofa, broken down to its smallest possible components, each of which is no larger than a piece of Lego, and crammed into a pizza box. And that pizza box is heavier than your car.
Every time I go to Ikea, I find myself dragging behind my wife, who always walks like she knows exactly where she’s going, and I’m saying, “You know, this is the fifth time we’ve passed the bjoergen farsts. I know this, because I made fun of them the first three times, and then you told me, ‘That was the third time you said that joke.’ And that was two times ago.”
Because that’s the other thing about Ikea—the product names. I think that maybe at some point they were using actual Swedish words, but eventually they ran out, so now they’re just making them up. I don’t think that if you went to Sweden and used these words, they would know what you were talking about. You’d probably have to start dancing.
They also use a lot of weird letters, like that “o” with the two dots on top. Apparently, the two dots are called an ümlaut, which I always thought was a kind of German deli meat. (“I’d like a pound of ümlaut, please.”) But on top of an o, it looks like a guy screaming really loud. Ö! Is that a pronunciation cue? Am I supposed to do that in middle of the word?
My most recent Ikea purchase was a big dresser called a MALM, which is actually the sound I made when I dropped the box on my toe. So now I’m thinking that a lot of the products are probably named after the sounds you make when you drop them. That explains the little screaming guy in the middle of some of the words.
Anyway, the reason I mention Ikea is that the Ikea Corporation recently announced that they’re going to build cities, beginning with one in East London, which I thought already was a city.
But I can see it. You know how it is. Sometimes you’re in Ikea, dragging behind your wife, it’s been hours since you’ve seen the light of day, you have no clue what time it is, your cell phone doesn’t work, and you think, “You know what? Maybe I should just live here. There’s plenty of furniture.”
So a town isn’t really a big step up from that. I picture a place where all the homes have three walls, and when you’re at work, people come in and rifle your stuff.
But according to Ikea, this town won’t be anything like an actual Ikea store. It won’t be full of angular furniture that is easy to draw, and no one will have to put their house together themselves from a nondescript brown box that is 6 inches tall and 200 feet long. They say it will look like a regular neighborhood—1,200 rental homes, some stores, a hospital, a school, and some office buildings—all between two waterways. And aside from buses and emergency vehicles, there will be no cars allowed. Residents will have to park in an underground garage and walk.
So yeah, it’s not going to be anything like an Ikea. Except that Ikea is very big into making people walk. And if you want to leave, you have to go down into a dungeon and find your car. So in other words, it’s a lot like an Ikea, except that the buildings are already assembled. I admire the no-car thing, but I can’t imagine schlepping all those kids’ worth of groceries, plus all those kids, several blocks to my home. Maybe they’ll give people those wagons to transport their groceries—the flatbed ones on which all four wheels turn so that you end up fighting the weight of the cart as it slowly drifts sideways into one of the waterways. Or maybe they’ll have a little area near the front where you can leave your kids so they can play in a ball pit. And then they’ll give you an enormous pager, and you’ll have an hour to get back and claim your kids, assuming you can make it back in time, even though it will probably be a very easy town to get lost in, and all the streets will be one-way.
But don’t worry. I’m sure there’ll be shortcuts. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. His newest book, Cholent Mix, will be released soon. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.