Date with IKEA*
But now I wish to speak of IKEA. Back when I was in college in Pittsburgh, I actually enjoyed going to IKEA--the experience involved piling into the Roomie's Subaru and rolling out near the airport, loading up on $1.49 Swedish meatballs [photo], getting half-tanked on lingonberry wine and glogg, getting kicked out of Kiddee Playland by overzealous security (c'mon, those five-year-olds were having a great time with the ball-pit "snowball fight"), and buying some cheap fiberboard bookshelves plus some random knicknacks just because they looked cool or had a cool name. Look, dude, I got a RADVAART! Only four bucks! I think it's a pencil holder!
My dates with IKEA in France, alas, have no such charms. But like the victim in an abusive relationship, I keep coming back. Maybe it'll be different this time.
As I've mentioned before, furniture in France is very expensive. When you've got an entire apartment to fill, and you've got to do it quickly because you quite literally have no place to sit down, and you don't have a car to drive way out in the 'burbs to Conforama (the other cheap-flatpack-assemble-yourself-furniture source), IKEA is about the only option. Perhaps this is why the customer-service waiting area at the Lyon IKEA--a Sartrean existential limbo in which one confronts the Void, the horror of one's own exisitence, and minimalist Scandinavian design--is a Babel of Brits, Germans, and Italians waiting to make a new life for themselves with the aid of scalable modular shelving.
The very shopping center where IKEA is located is perhaps the least-French place I have visited in France. Centre Commercial Porte-des-Alpes is an endless parking lot at the very edge of town, ringed by big-box retailers. The stores are American (such as Toys-R-Us) or are French versions of American big-boxes: Leroy Merlin (analagous to Home Depot), Kiabi (Marshall's), Boulanger (Circuit City), Feu Vert (AutoZone). Most fearsome of all is Auchan, the Wal-Mart of France, in truth bigger than any Wal-Mart I've ever been in, and equally populated by the souls of the damned wandering the earth in search of price rollbacks. [photo: at Auchan]
In the times of the great Greek city-states, the undesirables of the population--the disfigured, mentally deficient, diseased, etc.--were labeled pharmakeus ("poisoned") and cast outside the city gates. Socrates himself was declared pharmakeus due to his hunchback and only later readmitted to Athens. From the looks of the clientele of Porte-des-Alpes, one might assume a similar program is still in effect in Lyon: Stunning women and stylish men fill the streets and cafes of the Presqu'ile, but here where Bron gives way to the industrial dead zone that stretches east toward the mountains, another population exists--the fat, the warty, the slackjawed, the trashy. Inside the doors of Auchan, where a sort of mini-mall gives way to Auchan proper, there are shoe shops and sunglasses kiosks, even a Claire's Boutique. Here, suburban guidos in Rivaldi tracksuits and 14K gold chains hassle hoochie-mamas with big hair and giant silver hoop earrings; harried overweight mothers whale on screaming kids; toothless grandmas push shopping carts groaning with cases of cat food and Diet Coke: If you squint, it could almost be New Jersey.
To recap, it's utterly lacking in charm or class, there's plenty of free parking, and there's a large variety of goods for sale at reasonable prices in a single convenient location: The antithesis of France.
It is at the far corner of this shopping center, at IKEA, where I have spent approximately $5000 and far too many of my weekend afternoons over the past year, despite the fact that each visit seems to find new ways to frustrate and disappoint me:
Desolee, our delivery service will not transport rugs. Perhaps you would like to rent a van to transport it yourself?
Desolee, all of our vans have been rented until 8 o'clock tonight.
Desolee, you will require a French driver's license to rent this van tonight.
Desolee, this chair has been discontinued. I'm not sure why it's still in the showroom. Perhaps when your son stops crying he will find another that he fancies as well.
Desolee, your child is not admitted to the play area without proof of age. Does he not carry his passport everywhere?
Desolee, you will need four doors for these cabinets, but only three are in stock. Perhaps in a few weeks we shall have another in the color you desire.
Desolee, the meatballs are not served between 2PM and 5PM.
Desolee, this armoire does not come with legs. You will need to buy them separately.
Desolee, we do not sell armoire legs here. Please check online at IKEA.fr.
Desolee, you signed for the delivery; why did you not open all 19 boxes to ensure that the hinges were included? You will need to purchase them again. The delivery fee for the packet of four hinges will be 55 euros.
Desolee, you will need to take a number to ask this question of our kitchen consultant. Also, none of our kitchen consultants are available today.
Desolee, you may not leave your vehicle unattended in this loading zone even for a moment. I understand that your wife has gone into labor in the office furnishings department, but I would tell her the same.
Desolee, you will need to have a French family member co-sign for you to receive our store credit card and frequent-customer discount. What do you mean you have no family members in France?
So it goes. I'm off to Ikea again this evening to pick up a rug for the playroom (Tater's lack of crawling prowess means his head goes *clunk* against the parquet) and schlep it home on the tram and the Metro. [Photo: On the tram]
May God have mercy on my soul.
[Postscript: We found a rug we liked for the playroom...not in stock. But we did get a ROKKITT storage shelf for Boog's room. I also neglected to mention that Auchan is also the only place I've seen in France that has U-scan self-checkout lanes. They're brand-new, have bilingual instructions even, and the French have no idea how to use them. Shorter lines for me.]
*Yes, Pavement, off the Brighten the Corners album. Give yourself 10 kewl points, hipster!