Twenty years ago, while visiting Sweden on business, I ended up spending a couple of hours with the wife of one of my business associates and her two female friends.  They were going shopping and wanted me to go along.  Shopping is the last thing in the world that I have ever wanted to do, but my business was done and I was bored, so I agreed.  That was my first encounter with a place called IKEA near Stockholm.  Since then I’ve been to an IKEA in the United Arab Emirates, their new store in Bloomington, Minnesota and an IKEA store in Schaumburg, near Chicago.  The Swedes have built IKEA’s all over the world, so they must be doing something right.

Before I launch into my thoughts about IKEA, remember one thing.  I HATE shopping.  That’s why I got married in the first place, to get someone else to do my shopping for me.  Boy did I succeed!  But that’s another column.

For me, a confessed non-shopper, IKEA is like walking into a hellish maze.  Once I’m in the place I don’t know where I am or where I’ve already been.  There are no windows or doors so you cannot reference the direction you are going.  I’m pretty sure that the Swedes purposefully designed IKEA so all their customers feel lost in the place.  Heck, I even lose track of what floor I’m on.  I’m not sure but I think that IKEA really stands for “Idiots Kept Everlastingly Ambling”.  After wandering through an IKEA store for what seems like hours, going around and around in circles, I finally arrive at the Promised Land, the checkout area!  I am elated because there are windows and doors.  I see light coming from the street outside.  I am so excited!  Through those windows I can see the parking lot, and freedom!

Then there is that famous IKEA merchandise. In addition to knick-knacks of all kinds, IKEA sells all kinds of furniture including tables, chairs, bookcases, closets, beds, and virtually anything else you can sit on, lounge on, eat off of, or sleep on.  But there is one catch; none of it is assembled.  You see customers loading flat boxes full of monstrously heavy veneered fiberboard panels into their vans or pickups.  These boxes contain well-engineered panels, fasteners, and a detailed 90-page instruction book.  As the customers leave with excited smiles on their faces they are unaware that their IKEA experience is only beginning.  Depending on which furniture item they have purchased, they may be spending up to 5 additional hours at home assembling the thing.  On second thought, maybe IKEA stands for “I keep endlessly assembling”.

If you think you’re a handyman, take the real test.  Try assembling a Rakke wardrobe closet in less than four hours!  I’ve heard from credible sources that even skilled cabinetmakers and carpenters have been known to see shrinks after trying to assemble one of those Rakke wardrobes.  There are wooden dowels, aluminum turn pins, posts that are grabbed when the pins are turned, door mounting hardware, hinges, slots, grooves, and over 250 pounds of panels and pieces to assemble.  A psychologist friend of mine told me that at the last meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, they had a session on “assembly frustration”, which is now officially known as “IKEA Syndrome!

To further add to the confusion the Swedes give everything in the store a weird name.  I assume the product names are in Swedish, or perhaps they come from some Star Trek episode.  Either way, these names are downright weird.  For example, a rug is called an “Amorf”.  A bathmat is a “Toftbo”.  A wall clock is a “Svid” and a clear glass bowl is called a “Blanda”.  Blanda?  The only Blanda I ever heard of was George Blanda, a legendary NFL kicker!  I believe that these confusing names are probably some diabolical Swedish plot.  The Swedes are apparently trying to teach the world how to speak Swedish.  Not realizing that they have miserably failed to establish Swedish as the international language of business, they are now trying to teach our mothers and daughters this strange dialect, hoping that we will all end up speaking Swedish.  Or, God forbid, we might end up thinking like Swedes.  If that happens we will wake up some morning thirsting for a 70% marginal income tax bracket and salivating as we brag about our 26% sales tax!  But our health care will be FREE!

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