I have been to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island,Tower of London and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have something new to add to my list:  Ikea.

The sky was blue and filled with big puffy clouds. The Dutch clouds are famous for one very good reason—there are so many of them and they are so big. Imagine that cotton candy and marshmallows had children—those children would be Dutch clouds. This was a perfect day for a nice long drive and that meant visiting Ikea at the end of the day. All Dutch roads lead to Ikea.

I had never been to an Ikea in America. There was not one near my home and it sounded too complicated to go. Drive for a few hours, wait in line to get into the parking lot, find a space, and then fight the crowds…for what? For blonde furniture you have to put together like Legos and Tinker Toys? No thanks.

But then I moved to the Netherlands. At the customs desk at the airport, they don’t ask you how long you will be staying, they ask when you plan to visit Ikea. The Dutch take Ikea very seriously. 

It seems to me that every Dutch home has been built by Ikea. Go into any child’s room and it has toy boxes, beds and closets from Ikea. The kitchens are filled with Ikea utensils, containers and dishes. And the living rooms have couches, chairs, bookshelves and lamps from Ikea. When you visit someone’s home for the first time, all you hear is “Ikea. Ikea.”

I am confessing to you that I have drunk the kool-aid. The wooden shoe fits. I love Ikea. And I don’t even like shopping.

Everything is practical. The Dutch have limited space and they appreciate that Ikea furniture  will fit in a house, apartment or houseboat. The Dutch are also known for their frugality and the Ikea prices are impressive. Ikea offers two things that make it fun—the unexpected stuff that you didn’t know you needed until you saw it at the store and a restaurant.  I had heard about their meatballs and they are quite good. Imagine a Swedish cafeteria in the Netherlands with a very diverse group of customers.  It looks like a cafeteria in the United Nations and that is a good thing.

And here is the brilliant business move on Ikea’s part—when you are at the register, you face a mini grocery store where you can buy the meatballs (frozen) that you just ate. And then to top it off, you can get a hot dog for one euro and an ice cream for fifty cents. There is also a play area for young children called the “ballenbak”. There are thousands of colorful balls for kids to dive into, games, and many activities to keep them occupied. Parents get a beeper so that they can be contacted at any time. But there is also the greatest bribe in the history of shopping:  that famous ice cream cone. Good behavior can be rewarded and that ice cream at the exit door is simply a brilliant idea.

The last thing I saw of my Ikea visit was the loading area. People are now fortified with Ikea food and drink and they push their small or big carts out to their cars. Remember that Dutch cars are pretty dinkie. I mean a Yaris is considered a family car. So here is a typical Dutch dad with a cart load of boxes (all furniture comes in boxes) and he is determined to get them into the back of the car. The Queen should give a medal to the person who best packs his Ikea products in the car and still can take his children home too. It would be called the Ikea Inpak Award. Just think about stuffing bookshelves, patio chairs, sheets, a wok and two bags of meatballs into a golf cart. And then put the family in there too.

Here is the thing: Ikea has you for life. You will go back. As you unpack your car, as you lay out the pieces to a bookshelf on the living room floor, and as you cook the meatballs…you are already planning your next visit. Me? I have already started my list.

Recommended reading: The Used World by Haven Kimmel

Friday night knitting club by Kate Jacobs

Sima’s undergarments for women by Llana Stanger-Ross

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  • AledysVer  On May 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Lol! When I had just arrived in the NL I would hear everyone talking of going to the IKEA on the weekend – and I swear that at first I thought it was a theme park or sth like that! 😀
    I think I have 1 vase and 1 cheese grater from the IKEA… A couple of years ago I told my husband that I had to go see what it was all about… I wish I had tried their meatballs! ARe they served on a bun and they roll out when you try to eat them? 😀

  • Alison  On May 24, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Our whole house is furnished via IKEA. Considering we had to start fresh and furnish a house at once, they were the best bet. Plus, we actually like the design of their stuff, so it wasn’t really a difficulty for us. We did, however, make use of their delivery service, since we were buying too much to fit in our car, even though we have a station wagon. 😀

  • Jane Moore Houghton  On May 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I have often said there should be a marriage counselor at the loading area! Such a scene as couples negotiate which items will be returned be because there just isn’t room for that fabulous foot stool you didn’t know you needed. I once drove home from an IKEA with my nose inches from the windshield to make room for all our IKEA purchases. Well worth it !

  • Nancy P  On May 31, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Hi Jane – LOL we had our IKEA adventures in Netanya, Israel last fall – see Caleb’s blog:

    Netanya is like the 4th or 5th largest city in Israel but the joke in Israel is that Ikea is so popular that people say “I live in Netanya, you know, next to Ikea!”

    Turns out that right after we returned to the US, the entire place burned to the ground!

    Miss u!! XO

  • Pied Piper  On June 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    QUE BARBARIDAD! You’ve never been to an IKEA? I have my collection of IKEA catalogues dating back to the 90’s. Every single year. When I lived in Boston, I would drive to NJ or PA to go to an IKEA.

    I had thoughts of naming my kids after IKEA furniture: Billy, Ektorp, Karlstad, Ivar, Klippan…

    Funny thing is… there seems to be a cut-off age for enjoying IKEA stuff (at least for me). And it seems to be 30 years old. After 30, IKEA becomes like Lady Gaga to an adult who likes classical music: stylish from afar, even genius to others, but nothing beats Helene Grimaud and Beethoven.

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