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?

My big fat French wedding

IMG_2632This week marks the 28th anniversary of the day I said oui to a certain Frenchman in Paris. Given the number of years and the copious amounts of champagne we consumed that day, I may be forgiven if it’s a bit of a blur…

Let me share what stands out in my memory of our wedding day.

It began with a lie, albeit a white one. My husband, who can never remember where he left his keys yet can still recite all our old phone numbers, reminded me of this when he caught me telling people we were married in the city of Paris. It all came back: we were supposed to tie the knot at the Mairie of the 7th arrondissement, where we resided, but it turned out they did not perform weddings on Saturdays. So we found a city hall in neighboring Choisy-le-Roi with an attractive building and more accommodating hours. A friend of the family who lived in that town wrote us an attestation sur l’honneur (declaration in good faith) as proof that we resided with her, and we were able to arrange our wedding on a Saturday afternoon in late November.

Rings BWIn France, there are two weddings: a civil ceremony that takes place at city hall, followed by a purely ceremonial church wedding, often with several days or weeks in between. We did not want a church wedding but we did want to make it official and celebrate the event on the same day.

We took our vows before a mustachioed fellow who may have been the mayor or his deputy. Only close family and friends attended the ceremony. Our rings came from Cartier: identical double bands of intertwined white and yellow gold. My husband would lose his within the first months of married life while repainting a bedroom.

I had never imagined myself getting married, much less as a bride in a white dress walking down the aisle. I did not wear a veil but I did carry a bouquet and had flowers in my hair. It was the 80s, so there were a lot of big shoulders and wide silhouettes. I make it a policy never to wear heels; instead I wore satin slippers which unfortunately were ruined during picture taking in the sodden park. My husband wore a tux, which the French call ‘un smoking’. When I look back at our wedding pictures, we look like little bride and groom dolls. Were we ever that young?

Mel and Stefan WeddingIt did not rain on our wedding day, something of a miracle for the end of November. It was quite cold with patches of sunshine as we headed back to my beaux-parents’ home for a short reception in between the service and the celebration. The Canadian delegation included my immediate family – my dearly departed Mom, my Dad, sister and two brothers, along with a maiden aunt (also departed, slightly less dearly) whose alcoholic outpourings had us all fearing a diplomatic incident. In the end she got sloppy but the language barrier prevented her more embarrassing comments from going further than our own ears.

My in-laws were by no means well-to-do, but my husband is an only child and his parents pulled out all the stops for our wedding. We convened for a gala evening at a private club in the Bois de Boulogne. We’d been able to reserve this through contacts of my beau-père who worked on the catering side of Air France. The sumptuous food and the endless flow of champagne and wines owed much of its largesse to the generosity of his contacts in the food and beverage trade.

SpeechesThe speeches were brief and, if memory serves, included a few words in my own fledgling French. Given my horror of emotional speeches at weddings, I was grateful for the fact that the father of the bride’s speech was rather succinct. I believe it was only two words: “Merci beaucoup!”

IMG_2634The high point of the evening, le clou du spectacle as they say in French, and the only time there was not a dry eye in the house, was when the dessert was served. It was well after midnight when several waiters came bearing a magnificent pièce montée stacked with dozens of cakes along with sparklers and dry ice. We all formed a circle and danced around the dessert, as it were, to the stirring music from the popular television show, Champs Elysées.

We sipped and supped into the wee (oui?) hours of the morning, dancing our hearts out to fabulous 80s music between courses. Somewhere around 5 a.m. we poured ourselves home, taking a bottle of champagne with us and unpopping a final cork as the sun came up.

Say what you will about the French, they sure know how to throw a party.

A few days later, we took off for French Polynesia and a honeymoon financed by gifts from our wedding guests. Then we returned to Canada for a second reception for the friends and family on my side who hadn’t been able to come all the way to France. Also a lovely evening, but that’s another story.

I kept my name, or attempted to. All of my French identity papers bear both it and my nom d’épouse. Like it or not, the French will call you by your married name especially when you have children. This doesn’t bother me, as the people who know me use my real name. My husband’s family joke that if their name had been ‘Rockefeller’ I would have taken it. I laugh along with them while knowing that this is simply not true.

Looking back at our wedding photos, unearthed from a box two years after our move, I couldn’t have wished for it any other way.

What’s your fondest memory of a wedding, in France or elsewhere?