Just a few weeks ago, a brand new IKEA opened in Colorado. This was big news. Such big news that while I was home for a few days this summer, several companies were using IKEA in their marketing. As in, we are located just three blocks away from IKEA. Of course, IKEA was yet to have actually opened, but a large blue and yellow box is hard to miss.
I took great interest in this. And by great, I mean I paid attention when my parents told me that people had camped out two nights before so that they could be the first to get into IKEA. You see, the first 30 people in would receive an IKEA couch. Yay.
Let me first say that I love IKEA. In a slightly creepy way. I furnished damn near my entire apartment in the US with IKEA products. It’s cheap, it looks halfway decent, and it’s cheap. But it’s cheap. And that seems to have been lost on many people in the US.
I have owned an IKEA couch. It was, without a doubt, the worst couch I have ever owned. Granted, it wasn’t the top of the line model, but let’s be honest, nothing is top of the line when it comes from IKEA. There are very few things I would sleep in a large asphalt parking lot for two days for. A couch from IKEA is not one of them. In fact, it shouldn’t be one of them for anyone.
You see, IKEA stuff is made with cheap materials so that it can be sold cheaply in flat packed boxes and put together with one magical tool. These are not handmade works of art. They just aren’t. Swedes know this.
Swedes know that IKEA allows you to get bored and redecorate your entire kitchen every other year without having to take out a second mortgage. Americans don’t seem to understand this. Yes, there are pieces of IKEA furniture that last for decades. I believe some old bookshelves/cupboard thingies that once sat in the basement of my parents’ home were from IKEA. But the vast majority of furniture from the blue and yellow giant lasts a couple of years. IKEA furniture is not handed down from one generation to the next. It is not a point of contention in last wills and testaments. It is sorted at the dump or thrown onto blocket.se. That’s it.
A few years ago, I found a short article claiming that IKEA and H&M played a role in the high rate of divorce in Sweden. Because Swedes were used to changing their interior decorating and their wardrobe for next to nothing, they were also used to changing their partners. It was the kind of pseudo-psychology that appeals to people like me. I can read a poorly written article that probably misrepresents actual psychological research and refer to it in conversation with friends about the recent study I just read about blah blah blah. But regardless of the correlation or causation between divorce and IKEA usage, the fact remains that these giants of Swedish design are designed to be tossed aside for the next great Swedish design. It’s genius really. But it’s something that seems to have been lost in the cultural translation from IKEA Sweden to IKEA US.
What does all this mean? Nothing. Except for that when the next IKEA opens in the US, don’t camp outside. And anyway, they sell stuff online.
Welcome to the US. And cultural translation problems.
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