Unless you are among the fortunate few expats whose company offers to pack up all of your belongings and ship them overseas, you have probably had to visit the struggling expat’s best friend — otherwise known as IKEA.
I have a love/hate relationship with IKEA. I actually like their furniture — which is a good thing since my entire Belgian home is furnished with the stuff. I love flipping through the catalogue and picturing how new pieces would look in our living room. I even enjoy wandering through the store and admiring the display rooms — in theory.
I say “in theory” because I hate crowds and undoubtedly the only time we ever have to go to IKEA is Friday night or Saturday. You would think that expats would have better things to do on a Friday night than hang around eating meatballs and buying inexpensive home furnishings, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Every nationality that has relocated to Brussels is represented here on the weekend.
I mention the meatballs specifically because this is what I have to bribe my husband with. Andrew does not have the love part of the love/hate relationship with IKEA. Oh sure, he likes having a furnished house, but he would prefer it if we ordered it all online and he never had to set foot in the store. So, I wait until he is hungry and tempt him with Swedish meatball goodness. He falls for it every time.
Our last visit to IKEA was more of an ordeal than usual. We needed a bed for our visiting guests. We had wanted to get a new bed for ourselves and move our current one to the guest room, but in the interest of being budget conscious, we decided to save our money and go for a cheaper option.
The only problem was there was no cheaper option. The only alternative was to get a sofa bed for the spare room — the kind that can cripple you after one night.
So, resigned to spending much more money than we hoped, we decided to buy the bed we wanted and headed for the IKEA bed department. The bed frame we wanted was available. After a few tests, we found a mattress that would do the trick. The problem was the slats.
As we were standing in line to order our bed, we caught bits of the conversation that was going on ahead of us in Dutch. All of the slats in the size we needed were on back order — all across Belgium.
When our turn with the clerk came, he explained the situation to us in English (the poor guy had been telling the same story in three languages for days — one can assume with occasionally unpleasant results). He did have 2 single bed slats left that could be combined to work on our bed but (of course) they were the most expensive ones.
As we were winding our way toward the pick up area, realization dawned — we have only one set of bedding. Two more pillows, a comforter and a set of sheets latter we made it to the pick up area. The only glimmer of light was that all of the pieces we needed were there.
Beaten and subdued we headed to the cashier, trying to calm our breathing and maintain steady heart rates. On the upside, the cashier didn’t laugh and cut up the credit card and Andrew signed his life away to a Swedish billionaire.
Oh, but the story doesn’t end there. You see, after almost a year of waiting, we had picked up our new rental car, a Volvo wagon, earlier that week. The Volvo’s back end is about a foot shorter than our old rental. Getting the boxes in it was a feat of engineering masterwork combining my packing prowess and Andrew’s shear will and brute force. To describe the drive home as ‘uncomfortable’ would be an understatement at best.
The next day, we had to put the beast together. I usually tackle the IKEA furniture myself. I like the sense of accomplishment from the finished work. But this was a project that definitely required two (if not a small army).
To anyone who has put IKEA furniture together with their spouse and remained married — I salute you. Yours is a marriage made to last. The only other IKEA project Andrew and I completed together was our behemoth of a bookcase. It took an entire day. There was some kicking and swearing involved. But I’d say, without hesitation, the bed was even more frustrating.
It is always the things that look like they should be easy that end up the most difficult.
The end tables went together in a snap and the first part of the bed was smooth sailing. Then we came to the supports in the middle, meant to hold the slats — and it became a nightmare. The numbers and pictures in the instructions didn’t correspond. The screws were too short and half of them were stripped. We were baffled, frustrated and tired.
Eventually we decided to skip the supports and hope for the best. After two weeks of sleeping on it, I am happy to report that the bed is still intact — and so is our marriage.
Fortunately, all of our major furniture purchases are now complete — at least until the next catalogue arrives.