Swedish for ‘I’ll kill you’

Ikea GuyI used to read a column in the newspaper called “Can this marriage be saved?” Both halves of a troubled couple would tell their side of the story, then the marriage counsellor would pronounce an opinion as to whether or not the relationship could survive, and what needed to be done. It was pop psychology at its poppest. Needless to say, I ate it up.

I have never felt the need for this kind of advice. I know my marriage can survive. I know it because we have survived the true test, the only one that matters. My husband and I have survived – you guessed it: Ikea.

Labor and childbirth, bringing up two kids, multiple cats and dogs, an international move, teaching me to drive a standard – all of this pales in comparison to the stress of the ultimate relationship test: Shopping for, loading and assembling furniture from the retailer whose ad campaign – ‘Swedish for common sense’ – I long ago transformed into: ‘Swedish for I’ll kill you.’

Not only have we survived Ikea, we have done it on two continents and in two different languages. No, make that three – we’ve also shopped Ikea in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

In our early days, we went there because we had no money. We urgently needed a fold-out bed that was cheap without breaking his mother’s back – Ikea was there. Then we needed a Billy bookcase because, well, we’re both readers – there were books. Whenever in the store we discovered we needed a whole bunch of bizarrely named items. Ektorp. Kvarnvik. Tidafors.

Then we needed a crib. Heavily pregnant, we schlepped through Ikea in Toronto. Biblical thoughts ran through my head: “She grew hungry in Kitchens, broke waters in Bathrooms, lay down in Bedrooms.”

Our different navigating styles became evident as I instinctively sought the shortcuts (long before they became official, going against the flow of packed humanity). He followed the official routes while moaning and complaining about the whole thing. Ikea for me was a challenge, for him it was plain old suffering.

Our different approaches became even more apparent when it came to loading the car. I wanted to strategize the trunk and figure out a plan, but before I could even think he had shoved it all in (what can I say, it’s a male thing!).

And our differences came to a head when it was time to assemble the f**ing things. While I methodically sorted the various parts, he had the main frame assembled and had thrown out boxes and instructions. Inevitably, there were tensions. We would be missing a screw (I always knew this to be true about myself) or some other essential widget. He would become furious about Ikea and its crap quality, swearing never to return. I would go back by myself the next day, swearing never to allow him access to a screwdriver again.

The crib got assembled. I did not give birth in Bedrooms. Miraculously, our furniture stood straight. Some of it has lasted as long as our marriage.

I have learned how to make the most of our differences. I let him do the heavy work while I hide the instructions and save them in a file. I shop by myself and just ask for his help in unloading the car. Solo, in my Micra, 5’2’’ of determination, I have managed to transport entire wardrobes. Where there’s a will, there’s a woman.

In the latest chapter of my love-hate Ikea relationship, the dog left his mark upon a footstool where the cat was lording it up. I felt love for the Swedes when I saw that the cover was removable and washable. Then I saw how (insert that word again) hard it was to remove the thing, ripping my cuticles in the process. Mostly husband is way more patient than me. And he has stronger hands. So when I washed the cover of the *unpronounceable name* he promised to put it back on for me when it was dry, then promptly forgot and left for the week. I waited three days and then decided to do it myself (did I mention patience is not my virtue?)

If he could do it, I could do it. First, I put on one corner. This did not work, as it would not stretch to fit the other corners. I tugged and I pulled and it started to rip. I cursed and I swore and examined my bloodied cuticles.

I reasoned the technique was just to get it over the entire frame more or less straight, then fix the seams. I did this, congratulating myself on the triumph of rational thinking. Then I tried to fix the velcro. It was upside down. I cursed and swore a bit more. Arv! Flört! Kortvarig!

Sometimes people ask: after so many years in France, which language do you curse in? Both, of course. And occasionally, in Ikea.

What’s your most memorable Ikea moment?


  1. cheergerm · June 25, 2015

    Laughing out loud at this post Mrs France! I walk in to IKEA and only walk out with 6 drinking glasses, every single time. Overwhelmed, underwhelmed, a bit of both, what’s the swear word for that?

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      ‘Berck,’ perhaps or ‘Bof’? (but you need to add a French accent!). I agree over the years I am less inclined to load up on cheap housewares but from time to time, I still fall under the old magic of design for the masses. Glad it made you laugh, Cheergerm!

  2. memoirsofahusk · June 25, 2015

    If, for any inexplicable reason, I really do have to go to THAT shop, I like to aim straight (as if) for the end of the route then slowly work my way back against the rules. Sometimes stragically placing my feet backwards on the ones marked on the floor. Or am I just imagining this? 😉

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      Indeed it is a detested, if somewhat inevitable, destination errand for me, too. I like the idea of walking backwards against the steps – kind of like an anti-Dorothy, unfollowing the yellow brick road!

  3. Osyth · June 25, 2015

    Once upon a time I was a house fixer … I helped people make the most of their biggest asset and turned it into eye-candy for people who might want to buy it. Ikea was my second home. This simple fact tells you just how mad I have been in my life. Last year they opened a new branch at Clermont Ferrand (about an hour and a half from here, so local) … we made the mistake of going on day 3. My marriage survived. Just! Great article … you made me laugh out loud which I rather needed today 🙂

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      Lol. Warms my cockles. And is there anything you have not done in a former life? 😉

      • Osyth · June 25, 2015

        Not much but I can emphatically say that I have not worked in Ikea 😉

  4. Kat · June 25, 2015

    Oh this is so true – the shortcuts vs the long, long route in a Ikea store. Btw, I can never assemble a Ikea product myself, I’d rather pay extra to have them assembled it for me! 😉

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      So would I, but it’s very hard to get that kind of service around here. 😦 I think there would even a business opportunity for professional ‘IKEA’ shoppers who buy, deliver and assemble it for you!

      • Kat · June 25, 2015

        They have that service in IKEA Malaysia with an extra charge 😉

  5. Suzanne et Pierre · June 25, 2015

    Great post and so true. Pierre & I have also survived shopping trips to IKEA and the putting together the stuff but it is always a time consuming activity. I do have a love-hate relationship with IKEA but in Canada they are about the only store that has reasonably looking furnitures at reasonable prices. Otherwise, you have to go to Leon and their ugly looking furniture or pay very dearly for nice looking stuff. I also have a problem with the owner being an almost neo-nazi and who moved to Switzerland so not to pay income taxes in Sweden…All-in-all, a strange place but it seems to work because it is always full of people…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      Hey Suzanne, I’m always amazed at how limited Canada’s furniture shopping is…given the plethora of every other kind of store. As for Mr. Ikea, it’s hard to believe he lives in Switzerland (although I’ve also heard this) as the stores there are possibly the worst I’ve ever experienced in terms of service. Delivery takes forever too! But you are right – they have a winning formula as the stores are always full. BTW, I read that they are going to open smaller stores on a trial basis in the UK – so that people can shop closer to home and just go there to pick up merchandise they order.

  6. BigLizzy · June 25, 2015

    CRACKING ME UP at this post! Ikea is absolutely the test of any relationship, no question! I’ve had a few trips to the mega store with my Hubby over the years and I’m telling you, either one of us could have killed the other and stowed the body in any one of the cleverly designed, brightly colored furniture floor models, walked away, and been fine (at least until caught). By the end of our last visit to a store in northern CA, we realized that all the delectable Swedish meatballs they could serve us would not mitigate the stress of the Ikea shopping experience to purchase four measly pieces of furniture. We have not stepped foot in an Ikea store in over ten years, which explains why we’re still married and hitting year 22. LOL! Thanks for the chuckle today, honey. My ektorp is smiling so huge right now. 🙂

    • MELewis · June 25, 2015

      Interesting twist, Lizzy. Had not yet imagined an actual murder scenario but I could certainly imagine the scene. Did they use an ikea kitchen knife or maybe just choked on a meatball? Hmmm…. So glad you smiled — and made it to year 22. Long may you boycott! Bises xxx

  7. nessafrance · June 25, 2015

    My husband is Swedish, but of the pre-IKEA generation, i.e. he left Sweden in the seventies, before IKEA was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Our IKEA moment is when we lived in Birmingham more than 20 years ago and they opened a new store in Wolverhampton. Not only could you not get into the car park that day, so we wenst home, but, apparently, the computer system crashed mid-launch. Our closest IKEA store is in Toulouse. We mostly go for the Swedish delicatessen, where my husband can buy the delicacies he remembers fondly from his childhood.

    • MELewis · June 26, 2015

      They do get a lot of things right – especially the food! – but are often a victim of their own success. I don’t know any Swedes personally so it never occurred to me that a visit to Ikea could bring back childhood memories. How lovely for your husband. And maybe he can even make sense of some of those impossible names!

  8. A.PROMPTreply · June 26, 2015

    I thought we had outgrown the need for IKEA as we matured, but now my son is enamoured of all things IKEA…..am beginning to think it’s a cult….once you’re in, you never really get to leave…….

    • MELewis · June 26, 2015

      That is true. I also swore it would be only ‘real furniture’ for awhile, but there is always something that gets me back there. Maybe they’re putting something in the Pepparkor! 😉

  9. fandina · June 28, 2015

    Oh I so agree!! I too know the same about our marriage because of flat packs! Love this post 🙂

    • MELewis · June 29, 2015

      Maybe it should be a required test before getting a marriage license. Glad you enjoyed!

  10. Maison Bentley Style · June 29, 2015

    It is the place that exists between heaven and hell..why do I still have to go there?? xxx

    • MELewis · June 29, 2015

      One of life’s mysteries. And I love that the dreaded experience is so universal!

  11. Sheri · July 17, 2015

    The idea of swearing in “Ikea” is hilarious! I might try it…

    • MELewis · July 17, 2015

      Yes, some of those names are irresistibly profane, aren’t they? Thanks for commenting!

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