I had a rough morning. I think anywhere in the world, a morning spent winding through the labyrinth of an IKEA store can be described as “rough”. I’m positive it’s an orchestrated attempt to attack the consumer from multiple directions. Somewhere in Sweden there’s a well designed room of blonde people eating meatballs and discussing how to best debilitate various consumer groups into subjection.
I don’t understand how a 2-meter wide path with no forks, no detours, and very few shortcuts can be so disorienting… yet at the same time magical. So many things to look at. So many rooms to explore and drawers to pull open. So many interior design ideas to consider. So many ethical dilemmas to set aside.
There’s this mix of desire, awe, anger, and guilt, all delivered by a little voice whispering in your ear, “Get the Expedit shelf… maybe no one will notice it’s IKEA”.
In my vast IKEA experience (having lived in over 6 cities around the world with one or multiple IKEAS), I can tell you that there are a few slight differences in an Italian IKEA… an Emilian IKEA to be precise:
1. Italian coffee culture supersedes consumerism
First of all, there are more people in line for a coffee at the bar than in the entire Marketplace section. If you go with Italian friends on an IKEA shopping expedition, it starts at the cafe.
Secondly, the shelf where they stock the French Press coffee makers looks like it hasn’t been touched since the store opened. Meanwhile, the products from every other shelf have been mixed and moved and redistributed around the entire store.
2. Italian communication and traffic patterns pervade
The IKEA employees who are responsible for setting up the mini rooms on the top floor are usually in a state of constant disarray, yelling across the store at each other with hand gestures to match.
When the girl on the PA system announce that the cafe is open for lunch, customers literally leave their full baskets in the middle of aisle and headed up stairs for some traditional Swedish prosciutto Parmigiano. For the next two hours, the store is virtually empty.
After lunch, most people return, enjoying the stroll through the showroom just as they would a stroll down the Via Emilia on a Saturday afternoon – window shopping, but not purchasing much, and arriving at the warehouse check out line with only 3-5 items in hand.
3. Italian fear of advanced machinery overshadows attempts at efficiency
First of all, there is usually only one of the 14 cashier lines open. Then there is the “express” checkout where you can scan your own items (15 items or less) and purchase with a Bancomat or credit card. However, instead of using that, there is a line of 20 people, each with their 3-5 items, waiting for the one open cashier… and an empty express checkout scanning line. Each of those 20 people is shaking their hand at the person in front of them and complaining, “che palle“, that the line is so slow.
As far as I can tell, there is a similar phenomenon going on here as there is at the Autostrade toll booths. I’m pretty sure that almost every single one of those people is paying with a card or at least a Bancomat. Yet none of them want to use the scan-it-yourself machine for some reason. I’d love it if someone could explain this.
Today I had more than 15 items (as a sane person is wont to do on a trip to IKEA, lest you have to return a month later), so I waited in the long line and shook my hand at the person in front of me while listening to the person behind me exclaim, “che palle!“. (I do always try to blend in with the natives!)
An employee helping in the express lane noticed the imbalance and loudly asked the line of customers, “Anyone paying with a card or Bancomat?” No one made any indication one way or the other, so I raised my hand and said, “yes, but I have many more than 15 items”. She says, that’s ok, come on over.
4. Italian ability to work the system
Once I was half-way through scanning my items, everyone who was still in the previous line (watching me from the other side of the line barricade) decided… “hey, that looks pretty easy, let’s go get in that line instead.”
An old woman who I had passed earlier and overheard her say how much she prefers the morning market in the town center to this place, then attempted a bold move. Little signoras are always trying to cut in line, but I think maybe she didn’t understand the concept of the scanning. She stuck her item in front of my scanner while I was putting something in the bag.
20 minutes to sort that one out.
I then got yelled at by the people behind me for having more than 15 items, and the girl who had convinced me to come over there in the first place had scapatta via‘d to avoid getting yelled at by the little signora who didn’t understand why she couldn’t pass her item through the scanner in between my items.
5. … this:
Only in Italy (Emilia to be specific) does an IKEA store celebrate its first year anniversary with a huge cake upon which has been drawn a wheel of Parmigiano- Reggiano, and the guest of honor is a soccer player who then has to construct an IKEA table while everyone watches. (Not joking)