petite anglaise

April 12, 2005

retail hell

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:05 pm

We are driving on the péripherique (translation: ring road of death) in a borrowed car and I am talking too much, as usual. Mr Frog rudely interrupts to enquire whether we needed to take the direction Charles de Gaulle exit which I can now see receding in the wing mirror. Clearly it was a mistake to assume that as we have already made this journey several times, my navigation skills would not be required. Never underestimate Mr Frog’s lack of a sense of direction. I remember one of our first dates, where he pointed at Notre Dame and asked me which church it was. He had been living in Paris for four months at the time, and lived nearby, a stone’s throw from the Jardins de Luxembourg. I hastily pull out the Ikea (French pronunciation: “ee kay ya”) catalogue and improvise. We’ll try to the one at Paris Est instead. For a change. Anything is better than having to retrace our steps.

Leaving the A4 at Champigny, as instructed, we drive around the roundabout four times before spotting a helpful Ikea advert on a bus shelter. I am very thankful for this, because even with my superior navigation skills I cannot make any sense of the relationship between Ikea’s map and the actual lay of the land in front of me. We find the right road, and sail past the carpark entrance, taking an impromptu tour of Villiers sur Marne. Finally, at 11.30 am, we pull into the carpark. Not at 10 am, as I had hoped.

The layout of Ikea Paris Est is cunning. Arriving at the top of the stairs, a delectable food smell greets your nostrils as you pass the restaurant. After visiting the vast showroom level, flagging somewhat and thirsty from the dry, air-conditioned atmosphere, there it is again, as welcome as an oasis in the desert. I resolve to stop there for a Tadpole lunch break before the lunchtime rush starts. We only need to buy a Tadpole bed, a Tadpole-sized bookcase and a mini table and chairs (also for Tadpole), but somehow we end up looking at everything, as usual. I release Tadpole from the confines of her pushchair in the children’s section, so that she can test her new bed for size. At first it is fun, watching her try out rocking chairs, a small wooden tractor and a wendy house, all the while clutching a large plastic piggy bank. I give other, equally powerless, parents a conspiratorial wink when Tadpole finally puts the pig down, attention caught by a wooden train set, and spirit piggy away, hiding him in a bin full of plastic plates. It soon becomes clear that there will be no way of getting her out of there which doesn’t involve kicking, wailing and a runny nose wiped on my clothing. Her flaming cheeks have teething pain written all over them, and when she starts crying on red-cheek days, she sometimes forgets to stop.

We arrive at the café. There are approximately fifty people in each queue. Tadpole is incapable of standing still, so this is a Very Big Problem. Mr Frog storms off back to the children’s section with her, leaving me to queue and make important lunch decisions alone. He motions to me that I should phone him, but when I do, I get his voicemail. I look around me and realise with a sinking feeling that I have missed my chance to grab a special tray-carrying trolley, resigning myself to either not eating very much, or pioneering precarious new methods of plate stacking. I pray that my credit card payment will be accepted at the till (in France there is often a minimum amount, usually € 15 – approx £ 10.00), as I have precisely 24 centimes in my purse. Some time later, I make my way unsteadily towards a table carrying a couple of salads, some bread rolls, a plate of heart shaped chocolate covered biscuits and some D’aim bars (Dime bars in every other language). Luckily Mr Frog chooses this moment to haul the still protesting Tadpole over. I ease her chubby thighs into the snugly fitting high chair, which has the advantage of immobilising her legs altogether, then stuff a piece of bread in her mouth, for some temporary respite from the howling. I sit back with my cup of tea, priding myself on my parenting skills, but wishing that this could all be over.

Lunchtime in Ikea is odd. I suspect some people must make the journey just to eat there. I see a suspiciously large number of unaccompanied adults carrying 2 euro kiddie meals off to remote corners of the dining area. Someone (who probably doesn’t have to spend the whole day in there) has had the bright idea of placing a piano in the middle of the dining area. I dread to think how much decomposing food is trapped between the keys. Lunch is eaten to a soundtrack of ‘chopsticks’ and random plinkety plonking as every greasy-fingered youngster takes their turn. Mr Frog and I snap at each other, toddler-stress getting the better of us. Tadpole, on fine form, refuses to eat everything but a breadroll and two chocolate biscuits.

After queuing for the (one) baby changing area, we descend wearily to the lower level, bracing ourselves for the moment of truth. Will they actually have Tadople’s lit évolutif and table and chairs in stock? I fear that if they do not, I may have to be dragged out of Ikea kicking and screaming. And foaming at the mouth. Luckily all is where it should be, and we unload our bounty at the checkout. Somehow along the way we have also amassed one wooden train set, two flower cushions for Tadpole’s chairs, plastic beakers, plastic plates, a throw for the sofa and a picture frame for my vitriolica thumbnail poster. It could have been worse: to our credit we have resisted both the scented candles and the ‘fun’ ice cube trays for the first time.

I giggle at a family struggling to stuff a king-size matress into the back of their small hatchback car. I feel a little less smug when we attempt to load the Tadpole bed into our borrowed Yaris verso. The front of the box arrives at gearstick level. I secure some rope around the seat headrests and across the front of the carton in a pathetic attempt to make the car less of a potential deathtrap.

FOUR WHOLE HOURS from door to door. I give thanks to the Lord that this bed can be extended to a maximum length of two metres, and may even see Tadpole into adulthood.

I don’t plan to repeat that experience again in a hurry.


  1. to our credit we have resisted […] the scented candles

    I’m impressed! We never seem to be able to reach that level of self-control.

    Comment by Iain — April 12, 2005 @ 4:34 pm

  2. My second day in France I went to eekaya, as my “bijou” flat did not come with storage space other than bookshelves, and I could finally fulfil my catalogue inspired fantasy of living out of a rack of bright, stripey boxes. Living in the wilds of scotland and then out in the boondocks in the states meant I had never been to an Ikea before and I had imagined it would be retail heaven.
    Unfortunately, it was the thursday night before the 11th of November, so the world, his wife, their tadpoles and their grandparents were there. I felt like Dante descending to the 6th circle. You exit the parc des expositions RER and look around wondering “where did france go?”
    I came out with some very pretty boxes, but I too, Iain, alack, have scented candles that I can’t use because they make me sneeze.

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — April 12, 2005 @ 5:12 pm

  3. Ya, well. I can’t stay the big shops like for instance Ikea, even though I admit that can suit everybodies needs.

    Being in my company in such a store isn’t really interesting, you know? I kind of rapidly get stressed… So basically what I want to say is that perhaps the snapping between Mr. Frog and you wasn’t only due to Tadpole, but perhaps as well to the general atmosphere in the store.

    It may however be, that I didn’t get your point clear, even though I thought I had… :oops:

    Comment by maradong — April 12, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

  4. Dear Web Host

    I love it when you do this. You know, that thing where my site drops off the internet for, say, five or six hours. Sinks without a trace. At the same time as your own ‘service’ client pages. So that the handy ‘état du réseau’ page is inaccessible too. I receive no sympathetic email apologising for this suspension of the service I am paying for, no reassurance that everything possible is being done to get it working again. I can’t contact anyone by telephone, because you have to pay for the privilege of finding out what is going on from an actual person, and even if I wanted to subscribe to that service in the throes of my mad panic, that part of your site isn’t working either…

    And so, instead, I agonise for a few nail-biting hours over the fact that it’s a while since I backed up the site files and SQL. So if you have inadvertently erased petite anglaise altogether, I really will have something to be upset about.

    Thank you for pushing me to the brink of insanity. And graciously allowing me pay you to do it.


    Comment by petite — April 12, 2005 @ 10:30 pm

  5. Hmmm, not sure if I’m more panicked about the mere idea of going to Ikea or the reality of petite having disappeared off the face the web for a few hours…..

    Comment by Lauren — April 12, 2005 @ 11:02 pm

  6. Apparently all the sites I know on Amen were down. Probably a DNS server issue. Maybe it’s time you considered moving to another webhost?

    Comment by shellorz — April 12, 2005 @ 11:17 pm

  7. Petite, if I may, Daim bars are “Dime” only in English! The beautiful things are originally Swedish, and called “Daim”. Sorry for the nit picking..
    (I am also know as the Swedish Sweeties Expert in some circles, with a specialisation in Salty Liquorice studies).

    Comment by Zebulette — April 12, 2005 @ 11:20 pm

  8. Thank God those teething/crying days are behind me now! My children can now be reasoned with and fetch and carry their own trays of food! You just have to grit your teeth for a few more years, Petite! (:lol:!) Love from Smug Older Mum…

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — April 12, 2005 @ 11:40 pm

  9. We’ve gone with the children, but it’s almost a 2 hour drive to the nearest IKEA, so we try to go without them. What a difference! In fact, much better to go alone! But we always bring so much stuff home! My kids go wild for the Swedish Meatballs, and thankfully we’ve never had to wait in line for them. Isn’t it weird how this place is an international experience?

    Comment by Kathy — April 13, 2005 @ 1:36 am

  10. Ah – Kathy, I go mad for the Swedish Meatballs. And the Lingonberry Jam/Sauce/Stuff that they serve with them. Almost makes queueing all the way round the store worth it…

    Comment by dafyd — April 13, 2005 @ 1:53 am

  11. What is it about men and directions? IT’s taken as a sign of weakness to look at a map or ask directions. Beats me!

    Love your blog.

    Comment by Omykiss — April 13, 2005 @ 6:00 am

  12. I did miss my morning dose of Petite when I got to work this morning! On the subject of Ikea, I can’t get out of there without downing a plate of meatballs; I never have any difficulty passing up the scented candles though. Here in Toronto, there’s a new subway line that stops near Ikea, but it’s less convenient than the bus it replaced, so Ikea now has a little shuttle bus to the subway station for its carless customers. I’m not the least bit nostalgic for those frozen nights I waited at the bus stop with the uprights for the Ivar shelving unit slung over my shoulder…

    Comment by Louis — April 13, 2005 @ 7:14 am

  13. ‘I don’t plan to repeat that experience again in a hurry’.

    Ah but you will Petite. We all will. Not speaking from experience here, obviously, but I reckon visits to IKEA are akin to childbirth- an excruciating experience that you swear at the time you will never allow yourself to go through again, but after a year or so, when the pain is a receding memory, you decide that what your bijou apartment really needs is another ‘decorative little adornment’- and so off you go again. And when you get home you find that your new acquisition takes quite a lot of time to assemble into its finished condition (18 years in the case of a baby, just slightly less for an Elstrom shelving unit).

    But having said that, I will admit that the meatballs are absolutely lovely.

    Comment by jonathan — April 13, 2005 @ 10:31 am

  14. dammit! I’ve never even tried the meatballs so I’m going to have to go back next weekend just to eat there…

    Comment by petite — April 13, 2005 @ 10:44 am

  15. You won’t regret it! Be sure to get plenty of cranberry sauce- and whatever you do, resist the temptation to venture back into the actual shop. Those scented candles can wait!

    Comment by jonathan — April 13, 2005 @ 11:18 am

  16. Apparently, the correct pronunciation is ‘Ick-key-ya’, which rhymes with ‘thick ear’. Makes sense as the IK bit is the initials of the founder, Ingvar Kamprad.

    And yes, I’d vote for the Swedish Meatballs and Lingonberry (?) sauce. The accompanying chips and gravy are also very nice :smile:

    I’ve also had a ‘big pack, medium-sized car, where do we put the child’ experience as well! But there must be something wrong with me as I’ve missed out on the candles experience :wink:

    Comment by David H — April 13, 2005 @ 11:33 am

  17. FYI Petite:
    Pollution in NE Paris

    Ça craint dehors !:cry:

    Comment by Ria — April 13, 2005 @ 11:55 am

  18. yuk. we are not too close to that actually – that’s the section they are planning to cover over soon if I remember rightly.

    There were days during the heatwave of 2003 when Tadpole and I were trapped in the flat, as the pollution alerts were worrying, with shutters and windows closed from midday,to keep out sun/hot air(temperature in our bedroom at 11pm 40°C) in at all.

    When you have children, you seriously wonder what you are doing living in the city sometimes.

    Comment by petite — April 13, 2005 @ 12:54 pm

  19. Four hours is getting off lightly in Ikea terms! The nearest one to us, Bristol (UK), gets queues of people waiting outside just to get into the building at weekends, and is a truly terrifying experience once you’re in there – there’s no way out! No!! :)

    Comment by Kitchen Witch — April 13, 2005 @ 12:59 pm

  20. Without meaning to gross anyone out, there’s this will self short story in grey area which is set in a super polluted future, and the children are so miserable and unhealthy and the main character asphyxiates on his own mucus. It’s awful.

    Comment by easyjetsetter — April 13, 2005 @ 1:09 pm

  21. My Ikea rule is never to go on a weekend.

    I imagine that if I had children, I would have another rule to add to that: never take a child.

    However, going on your own is interesting. They arrange it so that you have to move your car to the loading area whilst leaving all your recent purchases unattended because the trolley won’t go through the bollards.

    What’s clear is, whether you go on your own, with or without children, they don’t want to make it easy for you.

    Comment by witho — April 13, 2005 @ 1:23 pm

  22. Petite: Heard about the IKEA stampede when they opened a new one in London recently?

    A few friends of mine were there and nearly got trampled over!! IKEA definitely makes people go a bit mad! :roll:

    Comment by Vero — April 13, 2005 @ 9:47 pm

  23. I miss IKEA so much here in NZ… Since I’ve been here (3.5 years) I’ve heard about 6 different rumours that a IKEA shop would open somewhere. The latest one was that one had opened but in the middle of North Island (which is the middle of the middle of nowhere :shock:). The oprices of second furniture here is probably twice a smuch as the luxury range at any IKEA store in the worls :roll:
    Anyone wants to open an IKEA shop downunder (and an H&M pendant que vous z’y etes :twisted:).

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — April 14, 2005 @ 5:17 am

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