It took months of isolation to do it, but I realized today that I actually miss wandering around IKEA, that behemoth store full of things you did not know you needed until you saw them.
I went back in my archives and found this story, written long, long ago for a wonderful Seattle-based news website called Crosscut. (It is even more wonderful now. Check it out.)
This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote when IKEA was new and exciting in my then-home city in Portland, Oregon.
I know all about Swedish people now. No, I didn’t go there. I didn’t have to. I went to our new Ikea store, which is housed in a building about the same size as Sweden, only with more parking.
Here’s what I learned:
Swedish people have small behinds. I know this because every chair I saw had a seat that would accommodate half the normal American behind. So remember, that dining set for six will really only seat three of us.
Swedes are not self-conscious about aging. When a middle-aged Swede heaves herself up and off a typical IKEA couch or bed that sits two inches off the floor, her knees will make noises that sound like gunshots, and she wouldn’t care a bit.
Swedish people are big party animals. Their cocktail napkins come in packages of about 10,000 and only in very bright colors. Their ice cubes are shaped like stars and triangles. They did not stop using fondue pots in the 1950s like people in the rest of the world. They have a corkscrew called “Groggy,” which is Swedish for “how you feel if you use this too many times in one night.”
Swedish people do not believe in gym memberships. They burn calories by wrestling 91 pieces of wood out of two boxes and spending seven hours turning it all into an entertainment center. They are a very proud people: To a person, they insist they can follow assembly directions for an end table that resemble schematics for a high-rise building.
Swedish people are very, very absent minded. To remember where things are, they use special separate containers for shoes, oatmeal, dog food, laundry (light and dark), file folders, Christmas decorations, CDs, toothbrushes, knives, toilet brushes, tiny little socks, garden tools, magazines, garbage (paper, food, metal, glass), spaghetti, and batteries.
Swedish children are raised under very strict rules. They are forced to play with finger puppets shaped like sea creatures, making up stories using imagination and creativity, while their American counterparts develop repetitive-stress injuries from playing video games like Parent Decapitator 2.0.
The most important thing about Swedish people is that once you wander onto their turf, they will do just about anything to keep you there. If you’re foolish enough to stray off the beaten path in an IKEA store (marked with large, painted arrows on the ground), you might never find your way out.
There are worse things, though, than eating meatballs and lingonberry sauce in a nice, clean cafeteria for the rest of your life.