November 16, 2004
Those cagey Swedes — known chiefly for meatballs, pancakes and massage — are now the dominant culture in the world. Don’t think so?
Thousands of years from now, when archaeologists brush the dirt from our settlements and find thousands of modular coffee tables and goose-necked lamps with names like Jürtngen and Zorgløf, what will they conclude?
IKEA (a Swedish word meaning "surrender your will") is only in its second week, and already local husbands are clutching their overstuffed chairs in terror. The blueand-yellow siren song is turning East Valley wives and girlfriends into pod people. They stare past their coffee. They drop their magazines, murmuring about standing lamps and spice racks. If they look at you at all, guys, they’re not looking at you: They’re wondering what kind of sculpted living room set would make you look thinner.
First, the bad news: Resistance is futile. IKEA is catnip to any estrogen-bearing lifeform. Remember Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"? It’s like that. Ignore it if you will. But one day soon, you’ll look up from the dinner table to find your wife sculpting a sectional sofa set out of her mashed potatoes while your children look on and cry.
Surrender may be inevitable. But three years of living in the awesome, Nordic shadow of IKEA/Burbank gave me a guy’s guide to survival in the belly of the blue-and-yellow beast.
Meatballs: You will hear a lot about IKEA’s Swedish meatballs. Don’t be fooled: This is man bait! They lure you to the center of the store and before you can lick your fingers, you’re surrounded by hip storage units and trendy recliners. Forget the meatballs, they’re not even that good. OK, they are. But get them to go! (They’ll be useful later; see "Trail markers.") And don’t let her leave you there! Many a credit rating has foundered because a wife ran loose while her husband fell under "the trance of the Swedish meat."
Trail markers: Like casinos and adolescence, IKEA is very hard to get out of. It is windowless, and you wander in concentric circles until suddenly you realize: 1. You’ve seen this trendy bedroom before; 2. You have a beard that reaches your ankles; and 3. Your children are now wards of the state. The best way to counter this is to leave some kind of trail marker, to let yourself know you’ve been here before. (See "Meatballs.")
Lingonberry jam: Half an hour after submersion, phrases like "Let’s wrap this up" or "Honey, we should go" sound like "la-la-la-lala." The best thing to do is to buy a jar of lingonberry jam (near the cash registers), carry it with you and, when the time comes, say, "If we don’t leave now, I will eat this jam with my hands!" This usually works because wives fear public embarrassment. If not, it’s a really good jam to eat with your hands.
Swedish names: Every IKEA item has a sign with its English name ("End table") and the Swedish name just below ("Nåargfliß") Dully reciting each Swedish name will, over time, induce a migraine in your spouse. And, once incapacitated, you can carry her out of the store.
Just follow the meatballs.