Last week, we shopped at the IKEA store in Portland. Had lunch in the cafeteria, too - always a treat - good food and a great value.
I'm a sucker for IKEA's meatball platter - mashed potatoes with meatballs, cream sauce and lingonberry jam, all for under five bucks. (I drank a can of made-in-Sweden Pear Cider. Shoulda stuck to water. Or Diet Coke.) But to get to the restaurant, you have to wander through IKEA's meandering Orwellian maze of furniture displays along with all the other
lemmings ... ummmm ... shoppers.
The IKEA experience is always interesting. The prices are very good and many of the items sold are unique and not available elsewhere. And all have peculiar names - mostly Swedish - like Boalt, Malm, Björkås, Tiktak, Brekke or Patrull. It all sounds like the Swedish Pig Latin used by The Muppets' Chef. Do Swedish visitors to the U.S. go to an IKEA store just to get a good laugh?
The designs are somewhat Bauhausian and it's always a hoot to see the photos of the designers in the IKEA catalog. Many sport those narrow, how-do-ya-see-through them eyeglasses - often tinted - and have Euro-trendy bowl haircuts. (How to you describe that in Swedish? Bøwlhåår?). No wonder IKEA's stuff looks like it does. Many of the product offerings have a certain minimalist elegance mixed with a light dusting of whimsy and/or a dash of cleverness. Some plastic items have the cheesy look and feel of 1970s-era kindergarten furniture.
There is a vague whiff of socialist utopia about the place. You now have to check-out everything yourself with no assistance from clerks because, if you didn't "we'd have to raise prices" - so says the printed notice. Plastic carry sacks are 5¢ each. Or pay nothing and try to hold everything in your arms without breaking five of your newly-purchased Björkås. Or falling on your Hëinië.
It was fascinating to observe the vehicles in the IKEA parking lot - our cafeteria table had a parking lot view. These models were well-represented: Civic, Element, Prius (natch), Volvo wagon and Scion. VW Buses - of all eras - were also to be seen. All are icons of the Oregon pseudo-intellectual, faux-hip set. But, there was also a plethora of 10+ year-old Buick sedans (80% were maroon), driven by white-haired geezers who are always on the lookout for a cheap place to dine and/or a furniture bargain: "Hey, this crap will fall apart in five years but I'll be dead by then. Or living in a fully-furnished care facility."
The company is owned by Ingvar Kamprad; he is a Swedish billionaire but drives a 16 year-old old Volvo 240GL. Looking out the cafeteria window, I saw two Volvo beaters (a fairly common sight in hippie-filled Oregon) cruising IKEA's parking lot and exclaimed to my wife, "Look! There' goes the president of IKEA!"
IKEA offers a unique retail experience and has a cult-like following. Some people claim to be in love with it. I dunno ... if you were going to fall in love with something Swedish, I think Agnetha Fältskog - the blonde from ABBA - would have been a much better choice. (posted 7/11/08)
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