It has been mentioned (by me, numerous times) how expensive pretty much everything in Switzerland is. I see it as three levels of pricing.
The first tier is for the über-wealthy, those clients my husband calls “ultra high net wealth”. Typically trust fund babies or successful entrepreneurs, they purchase their furniture in little boutiques off of Bahnhofstrasse – beautiful, bespoke pieces that only look better after years of wear, when the patina of quality seeps out and it molds to your body like butter.
The second tier is typically composed of those who work for the first tier. These people might be hipsters, scouting vintage pieces in Kreis 5 (the artsy district of Zurich) or hitting Redbox (not a movie dispenser), the Swiss equivalent of Restoration Hardware. The furniture is solid and unique, but you also pay a small fortune for the gallery and name.
And then there is my tier. I believe this tier makes up the majority around these parts. We are a hodge-podge sort of crowd, picking up deals when we can, passing pieces among the ex-pat crowd and knowing that sometimes, when you just want new pillows to change your mood, IKEA works well enough.
I’m not ashamed, I’m proud of what we’ve created for our home. Our home is a combination of beautiful, solid (American-made) items like our beds and couch, IKEA pieces, IKEA hand-me-down pieces, and maybe a leather couch we found by the dumpster. Maybe.
Anyway, all of that to say there are a lot of people in the third tier. And it seems like the entirety of them are at the Dietlikon IKEA on Saturdays. That’s a lot of divorces happening at once.
To avoid meeting that many people at such a dark time of their lives, I ventured to IKEA on a Thursday morning, by myself. Armed with an IKEA card and a list, I left home confident that I would conquer the day.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, namely, an accident on a two-lane highway and then construction on a two-lane road, my 38-minute drive turned into 110 minutes.
“But c’mon,” I told myself, “you have plenty of free time now and think about all the voice exercising you just did, singing your entire Broadway repertoire.”
I was not going to let anyone, especially me, ruin my IKEA Adventure Day.
I walked in the store, settled in with a doughnut and cup of coffee and immediately started texting mr. shoe questions about his parts of the list, questions I probably should have asked earlier, but so what…I had time.
The (first) problem with IKEA is the arrows on the floor. Look, I get that we need guidance to get through the behemoth of Expedits and Lilenhämers and Flurgs, but sometimes you need to go back to the Expedit with the display model of the Kompartment and see if it fits. And when you do that, you are immediately judged by those passive aggressive customers that look to the ground arrow, look back at you and your cart, and make you weave in and out of office desks because they will not let you pass.
I also could not lose two ladies and their screaming child. No matter how many times I went backwards, I seemed to catch up with Terrible Tom and his Oblivious Au Pairs. It’s like they had a tracking device on me at all times. No matter how fast or how slow I went, Tom and his screams of “NEIN” were always beside me.
At this point I had been shopping for almost 4 hours and was about to do my own scream of “NEIN” when confronted with the choice of 3 different colanders for our guest apartment.
Because I couldn’t possibly fit anymore in my cart, I followed the arrows to the checkout. But not before facing my final challenge. IKEA cleverly puts their clearance items right about 20 yards before cashiers, meaning if you see something on clearance that you like, you’ve only got three choices, ditch the more expensive option near there, buy both or fight the arrows to return the more expensive item. Knowing this, I typically ignore the small pieces like desk lamps or misfit espresso mugs, but as I turned the corner, I saw IT. A three level tv stand! On wheels! For only 40 francs! Perfect for a guest apartment! The problem was, I had a full cart and this was way too big to put into another cart. But make no mistake, this clearance deal was going to be mine. And it would be the cherry on top of my IKEA Adventure Day.
Like a train t-boning a car in an action movie, I stuck the tv stand in front of my cart and pushed it sideways to the cashier stand.
And now we come to another IKEA problem. When you start to put your items on the belt, you realize that you have more room at a QuikTrip counter to put your Big Gulp and Donettes. Yet somehow you are supposed to fit the 291 items in your cart on this tiny thing BEFORE running to the other end and re-loading your cart in the EXACT same way you had it previously packed to ensure everything fits as the cashier is throwing your 1,000 napkins at you. By this time, I was having a hot flash, stripped down to a t-shirt and doing my best, determined to get through this last hurdle before packing up my car in victory.
While getting the evil eye from the housefrau behind me with two candles (Um, lady, there are 4 self-check lanes to our left – check ‘em out fo yo self), I triumphantly pulled out my IKEA card to pay. The cashier looked at the name and looked at me. In Swiss-German, she asked if I was “John”. I said that it was my husband. She said more, but it was too fast and too Swiss for me to follow. In high German I apologized and asked if she spoke English. I got the typical “bah” as a response so I gave her my residence card / ID card. She looked at it, looked at me and ran the credit card. That’s right, she ran the credit card after looking at my ID. I was in the clear…or so I thought.
When I went to sign the receipt, I made the mistake of signing my own name. That’s when she went ballistic. There were calls over the loudspeaker, Housefrau Who Won’t Use Self-Check stormed off in a flurry of what I assume were insults and I’m standing there in total confusion. I asked again if she could call someone who spoke English when a Customer Service representative walked up. I gratefully asked if she spoke English, only to find out that when she said “very little”, she was the only person in all of Switzerland who literally meant “very little”.
I explained the situation as best I could in German and English. She asked if I wanted to use another card and I said “no”. The whole point of shopping at IKEA with an IKEA card is to earn discounts and use their rates. I didn’t want to use another card. I argued that my home address was on the credit card and MY HUSBAND was the credit card holder, but she wouldn’t budge. I asked to call the HotLine and add myself to the account immediately but wasn’t allowed. I volunteered to open my own card, but she said there wasn’t time.
At that point I was so angry and so red – both means tears for me. (I was also so hot, but I’d already stripped down as far as was allowed.) I wanted to just walk away, but I thought about all the stuff I had gotten for our home office and how John was excited to get organized and how hard it had been to pack the stupid cart and how long I had taken to choose the items I had and I said “fine, whatever, I’ll pay another way.” I thought this would solve the problem. Silly girl, this is IKEA.
I was taken to Customer Service, dragging a cart and a tv stand, where they made me UNPACK my shopping cart so that she could return every single item by hand. At that point she had taken a nicer approach and after a conversation with a co-worker that I could only half-follow, and her asking for my address and phone number, I thought she had changed her mind. Nope, once we got everything scanned for return, she hands me the return receipt and says, “Go back to cashier. Pay there.” So, PACK THE CART AGAIN, UNPACK IT FOR SCANNING AND THEN PACK IT AGAIN TO LEAVE.
With my head held high, I looked at her, mustered every ounce of kindness in me and, in the wise words of Terrible Tom said, “Nein. Danke.”
I went out to the car and cried. Hard. I was tired. I was angry. I was frustrated at my lack of language skills. I had been terminated from my job that week, but IKEA is what blew me up. Seriously?! Why? For stuff?!
I sat there and thought about the stuff in the cart. It was stuff. Yes, there were useful stuffs, and cute stuffs, but it was stuff. And if we came back and got that stuff or never saw that stuff again, it just stopped mattering.
I’m not going to lie. Mr. shoe and I returned on Friday night to get the stuff. It wasn’t quite as fun to put the pillows in the cart. Getting the right colander no longer flummoxed me.
We came home and put together our guest apartment and it looks nice. But what makes me excited is the idea of the guests, not what they see in the apartment. I want to see the people, not the stuff.
If I stay in the third tier of shoppers, I have way more than I need. Sadly, I have more than most of the world. I want to get past wanting stuff. Maybe this trip to IKEA finally caused a divorce within me. I don’t want to be that person who thinks the bird pillows are necessary for a happy life.
I guess I've got some stuff to deal with.