Thursday, March 17, 2005

Northern Lights

The citizens of Scandinavia respect the environment. At the same time, they have been able to create large, successful business enterprises. Volvo, Nokia and Ikea are well known brands in much of the world. The region also has a deserved reputation for progressive government, respect for liberty, and social justice. Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Prime Minister of Norway has discovered a clash in values, however. The problem seems to be that Ikea is ignoring women’s rights.

Taking on Ikea and its founder and owner, Ingvar Kamprad is a tall order. Mr Kamprad has just made number 6 in Fortune’s Richest Billionaire list. He controls an empire of over 200 stores in 20 countries. Ikea sells trendy home furnishings with clean design lines at affordable prices. To keep the prices affordable, the furniture is sold in pieces that are designed to be assembled at home. As a young man, Ingvar supposedly had links to Sweden’s Nazi Party. There is no evidence that he ever committed any War Crimes. But anyone who has ever had the ‘Ikea experience’ might suspect that he is guilty of Crimes Against Humanity.

On entering an Ikea car park one can get an idea of what the atmosphere must be like at a food distribution point in a Darfur refugee camp. You are joining a million people who share the same desperate hope and you are at the back of the queue. After finally parking, you enter the store and proceed to follow the little arrows on the floor through the maze. Scandinavians are orderly; the arrows work. Everyone else assumes the arrows are decorative floor tiles. Proceeding through the store, the customer is presented with assembled samples of every conceivable piece of furniture. To make things more interesting, the various product lines are given names like Rödgaardlingste and Österbrådenburg. This might be helpful in Stockholm but it’s likely to be of less use in Woodbridge, Virginia.

After selecting your new furniture, you are directed to the ‘pick-up point’. Since a lot of Ikea products are packaged in huge, flat cardboard boxes, the shopping trolleys in this area are about the size of the shipping container the products arrived in when delivered to the store. Thousands of people are trying to steer these behemoths to the check out counter where the queues are longer than the Bataan Death March (and just about as much fun). If you selected a baby crib for junior you might exchange it for a queen size by the time you actually check out. The penultimate part of the Ikea experience is to be found when you exit the store. They don’t deliver. The choice is simple. You can hire one of the illegal immigrants near the exit who borrowed their brother-in-law’s van or pickup (as well as his driving license). Or you can attempt to get four rooms of furniture into your Volkswagen. After getting your purchase home, you follow the cartoon-like, language free instructions and proceed to assembly. There is the possibility that the parts bag (and you) will be one dowel short of a bookcase when you are finished, but the price was right.

But the ‘Ikea experience’ is not Prime Minster Bondevik’s concern. Women are only depicted helping men in the cartoon assembly instructions. The implication is that women are not capable of assembling furniture. Any man who has ever assembled a Bjärdinglingförderung end table will fully support equal rights for women. And perhaps Ingvar will name his new line of toilet accessories Bondevik.


Blogger emily said...

Fantastic piece! And perfectly accurate. (I've been to the one in Woodbridge!)

6:30 PM  
Blogger lovedoghell said...

Crimes Against Humanity? You failed to mention the meatballs!

7:13 PM  
Blogger Ken Grandlund said...

I have never been a big fan of the Ikea experience or their products. But I suppose if I were a "tight budget, college student, newly married person" I'd just bite my tongue and deal with it.

I have some friends though who continue to shop there, simply because the price is "right." How many times have they ultimately been less than satisfied when their purchase didn't go together quite right or broke shortly after they bought it only reinforces my own opinions about Ikea.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Fidget said...

and yet for some reason I still yearn for a near by Ikea... I think it's all the brain cell killing that Walmart is responsible for... Excellently written piece, i was hooked or should I say Hooochkjstinked

11:07 AM  
Blogger Abby Taylor said...

A more accurate cartoon-instruction might be:

Frame 1: Woman asks man to put furniture together. Man mumbles something that seems like a "yes."

Frame 2:
Frame 3:
Frame 4: Weeks pass.

Frame 5: Woman drags box into foyer.
Frame 6: Man comes into house. Steps over box. Asks what's for dinner.

Frame 7:
Frame 8: Weeks pass. Woman and man both step over box in foyer. Man is oblivious.

Frame 9: Woman finally puts furniture together, following the cartoon-instructions found in Frames 10-15.

Frame 16: Man comes in door. Says "Hey, I was going to put that together!!"

Frame 17: Newspaper with Headline: Homicide in Suburbia. Man found bludgeoned by small blunt instrument resembling a dowel.

Okay, that might have been more insight into my relationship history than I should have given. Good thing I'm not going to hit "enter" on this comment.

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