I go to Ikea for a cultural break. The blue and yellow bastion of order speaks my language in the midst of a chaotic culture. At Ikea I know how life works. I understand the products that sit on the shelves. The model apartments reflect the dream I dream of one day achieving order in my own home. The prices allow me to take home a little piece of Swedish brilliance. And, they take care of some of my kids for an hour so I can browse in self-centered silence! What’s not to love?
Ikea surrounds me in western-conceived orderliness. I understand the world for the time I walk their halls. I relish the way I know how things work for once and it’s not just a knowledge gained over time but a deep-seated knowing rooted in the basics of my identity and western upbringing. For an hour or two I retreat from Eastern thought and indulge the part of myself that will never quite be put to rest overseas. I vacate in the walls of a store where I need no passport or expensive ticket to feel more at home.
Now that my daughter exceeds the play area age limit, Ikea means mother daughter time. She finally appreciates shopping and she understands that our family mostly looks. We laugh at the 5 aunties chatting it up on a model king-sized bed while the baby in the middle sleeps. We exchange ideas about style–good style, not-our-style, bad style. We notice some furniture is very, very inexpensive and some quite expensive. We define quality.
We pick up the few things we came to buy and try our hardest to resist the intriguing but unnecessary items. We fail…often. The arrows on the floor herd us along. We note the items we might purchase next time if they receive approval when discussed at home. We never miss the “as is” section. I still wonder who buys the mattresses no one wanted after their 90 day trial period! We purchase and pick up the boys and follow the path to get hot dogs and an ice cream cones that are too cheap to refuse. Everyone wins at Ikea.
At Ikea I embrace a part of myself that I can never put aside completely no matter how long I live in a foreign land. I speak the language, grasp some of the mindsets, eat the food, survive, and often thrive but I am foreign and always will be a foreigner. Escaping to Ikea for a few hours a month used to feel like a personal weakness. Now I just enjoy Ikea for what it is…a break and an acknowledgement of my identity.
What escapes exist within your host culture? Do you take advantage of them? Why or why not?