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La France

The retail experience

LanguedocLiving, Oct 21

By Ronnie Smith 

I’ve spent a lot of time recently considering the ways in which South West France differs from the many other places I’ve been and the reasons why I like it so much.

As readers of Languedoc Living will know very well, one must contemplate the intoxicating light during the long summer days. The utterly unique sculpting of the clouds created but whatever magical force that exists between the sea and the mountains. The survival of the extraordinary man-made legacy of the medieval period and the resistance of the culture of wine-growing to the changes that blight and disfigure many other regions.

However, the idyll was disturbed the other night when I visited IKEA in Montpellier.

IKEA the brand, the concept and its execution has always affected me in some pretty strange ways. The vast blue featureless buildings appear alien when seen amidst the many landscapes around the world in which they’ve landed. The village of Loanhead near Edinburgh was somehow chosen as an IKEA landing site. The shocked inhabitants responded by producing postcards for passing visitors with a photograph entirely of a deep blue wall, “Greetings from Loanhead!”

The windowless synthetic interior denies the customer any idea of time and place. Once you pass through the big revolving door and climb the stairs to the first floor, you enter IKEA world set to IKEA standard time. I usually succumb to an attack of sensory deprivation and identity loss at that moment and I have often wondered if the interior designers at IKEA advised the CIA on how to break down their prisoners.

The sterility of this particular shopping experience makes me think of an early episode of Star Trek, I’m talking about when it was in black and white on television in the UK and the alien monsters were made of papier maché. There was a planet whose population had outgrown the available space and, as James T negotiated with planet’s United Nations, an endless procession of people could be seen through a window, shuffling and pushing, shuffling and pushing…

Particular horror is invoked when I look at the desks tables and chairs, crockery and cutlery, rugs and vases that remind me of all the offices and apartments I passed through during the international business phase of my life. Whether I was in Croydon, Budapest, Prague, Kuala Lumpur or Moscow, I’d hear the same thing about the same things repeated through a proud smile, “Aren’t these great Mr Smith, we just got them from IKEA.”

Nonetheless, despite all of my personal gripes, symptoms of a general dislike of shopping itself, I enjoy sitting at my bekant reading with the help of the light from my arod or is it a tral (?), comfortably enthroned in my torkel.

And, very importantly, the IKEA store in Montpellier differs from all of the other deep blue alien ships that I have visited because it has a multi-story car park stuck onto its side. This means that one may not witness the breakdown of marriages, as one eats one’s Swedish meatballs and chips while looking out at couples melting under the pressure of squeezing an aircraft carrier-sized flat pack into their tiny car. Thank God I say, as that only added to the depression.

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