Why I love IKEA

IKEA is my friend. IKEA and I have been together for several years now. IKEA helped me redecorate my room at my mom’s house. IKEA helped me redecorate my apartment with Isaac. IKEA is cheap, and everywhere. I think we cried tears of joy the day the catalog showed up here on our doorstep advertising the grand opening of a new store a mere hour away. I think IKEA does a great job of creating basic furniture that’s insanely easy to personalize to your desires. No, it’s probably not the furniture I’d have in the house of my dreams. No, it’s not antique, and no, it might not last forever, but it’s the only place I can find a decently priced white countertop measuring exactly 60x120cm with two skinny adjustable legs that will fit in the tiny space between our tiny stove and tiny fridge, where before there was a gaping hole. But the reasons I love IKEA go way beyond furniture:

I think IKEA really knows how to do the big-box store thing. They know it’s going to be a giant pain in the butt no matter what, and I think they try to make it as easy as possible. They put all the information for you right at the front, with little pencils and catalogs and bags and tape measures, because they know you’re an idiot who left all that important stuff at home sitting on the kitchen counter.

And they feed you. Obviously, this is very important to me. I hate shopping in general and, like a parking meter, have about a two-hour time limit before I run out. I need to be recharged with cookies and coffee, or in this case, ice cream and hot dogs. I don’t think Isaac and I have made it through a single IKEA trip without a snack. The last time we went, we had planned on eating dinner somewhere in the large mall where the store was located, until we realized that we hadn’t brought any money, just credit cards (all the cash was probably on the kitchen counter with the pencils and the tape measure). We roamed around for a while until we realized that IKEA was the only place where two of us could eat something with the collective 4€ we had in our pockets. Seriously, for 4€, we each had a hot dog, beverage, and ice cream, which leads me to the other thing I love about IKEA:

The crunchy onions on the hot dogs. Seriously. I tried them for the first timeat a hot dog stand in Berlin and it’s been my favorite hot dog topping ever since. It must be a Scandinavian thing, because unfortunately, I never see it anywhere else. Luckily, I imagine they’re pretty simple to make – just like onion rings, but with the onion finely diced instead.

But I’m not writing this as a promotion for IKEA or anything. Actually, it’s so I can complain about my least favorite store – Hipercor. The last time we went to this place we had such a bad time that we actually coined a new term for the effect of shopping there – hipercrisis.

Hipercor is a regular department store like any other, part of the great Spanish department store chain El Corte Inglés, but while IKEA and Hipercor are similar in size, the shopping experiences are polar opposites.

When you walk into Hipercor, you are immediately bombarded by two things: insanely loud music and very high heat. Any and every appliance that makes noise is turned on and every single one is tuned to a different channel. Plus there’s the overhead system of music, which I believe changes every two aisles, so there’s this general cacophony in the background that you might not actually even notice until you wonder what’s caused your raging headache. It’s called noise pollution.

And the temperature is always set very high, so you start to feel weighed down and listless and uncomfortable the longer you spend in the store. This is especially true in winter when you enter with a coat or heavy sweater on.

And while Hipercor sells a variety of electronics and appliances, there is NOBODY in the store who knows anything about them. Don’t bother asking. They have no idea. Actually, good luck even finding somebody to ask in the first place. There is nothing more frustrating to me than a store full of products its salespeople know nothing about. This makes looking for any kind of specialty item practically impossible, especially because stores in Spain are not nearly as forgiving as American ones when it comes to returns and exchanges when you realize you’ve bought the wrong thing. (IKEA, on the other hand, will give you 120 days to return most products! 120 days! Which is as long as it’ll take you to figure out the instructions, but I like knowing I don’t have to rush back next week because the curtain rod I bought was 120 cm instead of 110.)

But the worst thing about Hipercor is the fact that they sell the exact same product at two different prices. They basically have the Corte Inglés floor (which is like shopping at Marshall Field’s), and then right above it, the Hipercor floor (which is like shopping at Target). And they sell the exact same products at drastically different prices. The hand mixer I bought cost 88€ on Floor 1, and 65€ on Floor 2. The exact same mixer. Our water purifying pitcher cost 36€ on Floor 1, an 25€ on Floor 2. Shouldn’t this somehow be illegal?

So why even shop there, you ask? Well, because I’m American, and because Hipercor is so big, it has the largest variety, and unfortunately it’s the only place in Santiago that I can get yellow cheddar cheese!, and bagels!, and cranberries!, oh my! It’s a hassle, but it’s worth it for really delicious macaroni and cheese. I have priorities, people.

Anyway, the point is, there are too many stores (unfortunately, Hipercor is not alone in their crimes) that make shopping a complete nightmare and could learn a few things from IKEA. Thank you IKEA, oh and by the way, we just love our new curtains!

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