What’s in store

We should outsource the entire Middle East peace process to the Swedes – at IKEA.

Ikea cartoon 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ikea cartoon 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I like television. Brainless entertainment has a way of absolving one of the responsibility of thinking for oneself. But the idiot box is refusing to cooperate at the moment.
Tunisia. The Palestine Papers. Mubarak. I ought to have an opinion of my own about the developments in the Middle East, I know. But I just can’t deal with the pressure.
So, reluctantly, I switch off the television and do the next best thing: I go to IKEA.
What I like best about IKEA is the manner in which the store serendipitously divines my desires even before I’ve articulated them to myself.
One pops in to get a new set of cutlery and a set of wine glasses, and ends up spending a few hundred shekels on stuff one didn’t even realize one needed. From a marketing perspective, it’s utter genius. From a personal financial viewpoint, less so. (But let’s not get hung up on detail.) Yet I’ve always suspected that there’s more to the store than the unerring accuracy with which it homes in on the consumerist instinct and squeezes to within an inch of its (and your) life.
When we arrive, we head to dump the Small Noisy Child... sorry, that should read “to offer our son an enriching social experience in the crèche whilst we go about our business.”
There’s a queue of patient parents and children waiting to do likewise. Yes, you read that correctly. An orderly, patient queue. Not something one gets to see in these parts very often.
There’s a little religious boy, a bit older than ours, standing in front of Mrs. Goy.
He looks our son up and down, then speaks to Mrs. Goy.
“Perhaps it’s a girl,” he says about our son, apropos of nothing.
Mrs. Goy peers down at her inquisitor.
“No, it’s a boy, actually.”
The SNC is in mid-haircut mode and, with his Afro, could, in the wrong light, be mistaken for a girl – albeit an exceptionally scruffy one.
“But he’s not wearing a kippa,” the little religious child observes.
Mrs. Goy looks down at our son. Indeed, no kippa.
“Maybe we’ll call him Goy,” the child ventures.
Mrs. Goy purses her lips.
“No, we’ll call him Adam,” she says firmly.
“What’s your name?” It’s Itamar. And in a few minutes, Adam and Itamar will be playing happily together, the child of observant parents and the child of heathens.
Where else could this happen? I MOVE ON ahead of Mrs. Goy, trying hard to focus on the task on hand – we want just a lampshade, and absolutely nothing else. One catches my eye, and I bring out my phone to take a photograph as an aide-mémoire in case we can’t make up our minds on the spot and need to discuss it at home.
A burly, shaven-headed masculine fellow, the kind that I have in my limited and stereotypical imagination whenever I read about the anti-immigrant protests, looks over my shoulder.
“Nice lampshade,” he says. “But you need to upgrade to the iPhone 4. The camera is haval al ha zman...”
I make a face. I’ve been banned from buying new electronic toys until I get round to earning my keep, I explain.
“I know what you mean,” he says. “Meanwhile...” he plants himself on a nearby leather sofa. “What do you think?” It suits him very nicely, I assure him. I almost add that it would be very comfortable for watching Maccabi Tel Aviv football matches, but check myself just in time. The last time I made the mistake of misidentifying someone as a Maccabi TA fan, he took serious umbrage. He considered it a slur on his manhood and said as much, although in less delicate language.
“Toda,” he says. “Now, where is my wife...”
Mrs. Goy arrives. I ask why she took so long depositing the Small Noisy One at the crèche. It seems the queue was so long because parents often struggle to remember their children’s birth dates.
“Observant families only remember the date of birth according to the Hebrew calendar,” the attendant explained to Mrs. Goy when she asked about the delay.
“And then there are the fathers....” I surmise her meaning to be that fathers are hard put to remember their children’s names, let alone when they were born.
I generally struggle to remember my son’s date of birth. According to the secular calendar. I have not a clue what it is according to the Hebrew calendar. But I’m intrigued, and make a note to look it up on the Internet later. No information is ever wasted, after all; and I must admit I’m a bit surprised that I’d never thought about it until now.
Somehow, we make it through the store without buying anything other than what we wanted. (OK, this is a lie. We wound up buying two lampshades. But they are in the same category, after all, so I think we deserve a pass.) But by this time, we’re hungry. Well, I’m hungry, but I convince Mrs. Goy that the Small Noisy One would be hungry too by now. We agree that I’ll stick our purchases in the car and then head off to the restaurant.
IKEA can be a confusing place if one is not familiar with the layout, and I try to exit through the entrance. A security guard stops me and directs me to the proper exit. In English. Then he stops the couple behind me, and does the same. In Hebrew.
Then again, to the mum and dad with squabbling teenage children. In Arabic.
And everyone demurs without argument – particularly impressive since this demands a lengthy detour.
Come on, you know this is unusual. How many times have you seen people try to bypass security checks at the mall for one fictitious reason or another? Exactly.
So – and against my better judgment – I wound up learning quite a few things from an hour of shopping. Aside from it being a happy multicultural experience, I picked up a rather important lesson in corporate psychology: People generally have more in common than things that distinguish them. And it seems that these Swedish fellows have cottoned on to the fact that nicely designed and attractively priced household tchotchkes can bring Israelis together in a way that politics, ethnicity and religion never will.
I say we outsource the entire Middle East peace process to them. At least they can’t make a worse mess of it than the present lot.
Full disclosure: No gratuity, emolument or other benefit was received by this writer from IKEA for this column. But if they do feel like thanking me...