11 November 2008

It's approa... no, encroaching

Boy was I stupid yesterday. (No wisecracks please.) I decided to go back to Ikea in Tours. Walt was smart and stayed home.

When I say in my title that it is "encroaching," I mean what passes for civilization in the wider world beyond Saint-Aignan. Shopping. Big-box stores. The Ikea megacenter in Tours is the prime example. A week or two ago when we were in Blois we saw, for another example, that the big Auchan hypermarket there will soon open in even more spacious quarters, which will include a whole new shopping mall, from the looks of the place. On the west and the north, Saint-Aignan is being hemmed in by the 21st century.

A prunus tree in our back garden on November 4

When we were at Ikea last Thursday, however, the store had piles of hundreds — no, thousands — of little 36"x24" cotton throw rugs in different colors and patterns for €1.99 each. We bought three of them, plus a bigger cotton rug that will be perfect in one of our bathrooms.

I had reverse buyer's remorse over the weekend. I wished we had bought half a dozen more of those little cotton rugs. You can never have too many throw rugs on the cold tile floors we have pretty much throughout the house, and especially in the main bathroom in winter. I also wished I had bought another one of the bigger rugs (at €9.99) in green, for our main bathroom as well.

The same prunus on Nov. 10

Since I had another couple of stores I needed to visit over in Tours, and since I needed to go out to the supermarket anyway, I thought I might as well make the drive over to Ikea and get the rugs too. It takes about an hour to drive to Tours from here, along the south bank of the Cher River past Montrichard and Chenonceaux to Bléré, then across the river and along the north bank of the river past St-Martin-le-Beau, La Bourdaisière, La Ville aux Dames, and St-Pierre-des-Corps. It was windy and threatening rain, but the drive was fine and I arrived at the Ikea store at about 10:20.

Now when we were at Ikea last Thursday, which was the first day that schools re-opened after the Toussaint holidays, the store was by our standards a mob scene. But we found parking easily — there must be 5,000 or even 10,000 spaces in the close-in and outlying lots all around the gigantic blue Ikea building — and we managed to looked through the store as we had planned to do. We congratulated ourselves for waiting until schools were back in session, figuring crowds were smaller than they might have been.

November vineyard scenes

We are not used to crowds any more and it was exhausting to have to step around and over so many shoppers in the aisles and display areas of the store. People were huddled in little crowds, blocking passageways, to ooh and aah over the color of this or the price of that. And I noticed couples squabbling with each other over whether it was a good idea to buy this thingamajig or that bobble. It was tense, and Walt and I were starting to get short with each other too. It was time to get out of there, and so we did.

Nothing could have prepared me to the sight I saw upon arrival at Ikea yesterday, though. And I never even made it into the store. Long lines of cars inched their way along two access roads to get to the parking lots. Negotiating the traffic circle at the entrance I chose was taking your life, or at least the fenders of the car, into your own hands.

The Renaudière vineyards in November

I nosed the Peugeot into a long line of creeping cars. Other cars, with drivers as clever and nefarious as French drivers can be, were racing down rows in the outdoor parking lot to get ahead of those of us who were in line on the outer access road and then forcing their way back into the line farther up. Nerve they do not lack.

I finally made it into the covered parking area and drove around it a couple of times, up and down the rows, with no luck. There just weren't any spaces. Besides all the cars racing around desperately seeking parking, there were hundreds of people on foot up and down the rows who had parked in the outer lots and were making the long trek to the store entrance. It was downright hair-raising to see the confrontations between crazed drivers and frantic groups of pedestrians trying to thread their way through it all.

It didn't take long for me to realize it was hopeless. They should have illuminated signs saying: "Abandon hope all ye potential parkers who enter there." Luckily, there was no line at the exits. People were far more determined to have the Ikea experience than I was.

As I left, I noticed that people were parking in the big Carrefour store across the four-lane highway that leads into Tours and then walking the equivalent of a couple of blocks — in the wind and rain, because a strong squall was passing over — to Ikea. Again there were hair-raising scenes of pedestrians trying to run between speeding cars on the highway, their line of sight obscured by their own and each other's umbrellas and hats and hoods.

I thought they must be literally giving things away at Ikea to generate some much enthusiasm and foolhardiness. Prices there are low, but not that low.

Birds over the vineyard, flying south. Smart birds.

Walt says there must be a lot of pent-up shopping energy ready to explode in this part of France. I suppose he's right. I can't even imagine what the inside of the store looked like. I'm sure it was wall-to-wall people shuffling around, pushing and shoving, stepping on each other's feet, and biting each other's heads off.

To add injury to insult, the Peugeot started making strange noises as I rode up and down the rows in the Ikea parking garage looking for a space....

More tomorrow.


  1. Always best to go to IKEA when the children have returned to school, and never on a Sunday..really I should say, never at the weekends...

    We always try to go mid-week..or later in the day if a weekend.

  2. Ken, The large crowds yesterday were probably due to the fact that most people in France made 'le pont'. It's Armistice Day today (end of WWI) and a holiday in France, Belgium ... Our local Ikea (at Zaventem, 3 km from my house) was closed yesterday due to a strike. Employees are fed up with the lousy working conditions and the increasing stress. So it's not only the customers who are suffering from stress :-)! Martine

  3. I feel physically ill in this type of atmosphere. We've only been to Ikea once, and made a point of going during the week. I don't think I could take it on a Saturday.

    Also, I remember that when we were living in Montbazon, I didn't go into a "hypermarket" for over a year. There is that huge one in Chambray -- I can't remember what it is now, but it was a Mammouth when we were there. I was once nearly knocked over by an employee whizzing by on roller skates. From then on, I just went to the smaller supermarkets.

  4. Ikea seems the same no matter where in the world you are - what you describe could be Lakeside (near London). Same crowds, same lack of manners, same domestic tensions.

    Why do we allow ourselves to be sucked into Ikea? I have shopped there three times, and each time I have suffered the "shouldofs" the next day. Luckily, because we didn't have a car at the time, I wasn't able to give in to them. Now I daren't go, just in case...

  5. They were doing what they could to help the French economy by going out and buying things.

    I gave up going to big bow retailers about five or six yeras ago because, like others, it sapped all of my energy. Now, other than Home Depot, I go to big box stores maybe four or five times a year and the mall two or three times a year. With Christmas approaching, I think there are some visits in the near future, but we do most of our shopping online now and only go to the store if we want to see the product before purchasing it.

  6. As Anne has said, go to IKEA only at opening time on a non-holiday weekday. (Or not at all, which is an excellent solution to the problem.)

    Also note that you don't have to wend your way through the entire store to get to the kitchen or rug department downstairs (at least in the East Palo Alto store; I suspect all IKEAs are exactly the same). Instead, use the unmarked doorways located here and there. These are wormholes to another department that save miles of walking and crowd-jockeying.

    I've never found any workable solution for the awful checkout lines though.

  7. The first time we went to an Ikea was about a month after the store in Emeryville opened. We went with Jill and Ben and made an outing of it. Our intent was to watch the show and look at all the stuff, but not to purchase anything. We parked about 1/2 mile away and hoofed it to the store. After wandering the maze for a while, we discovered that our cell phones didn't work in the store.

    Hmmm. Maybe it is a black hole, after all. We've been back a few times, always at odd hours, and it's been the same energy-sucking experience that everyone else describes. Ads you discovered with the rugs, there are some things at Ikea that are quite worth having, but the vast majority of it is pretty junky.

    You were smart to get the heck out of Dodge and keep going.


  8. Those luscious grapes almost look like Dale Chihuly glass.

  9. Is it your reflection I see in the grapes? A little farfetched?

  10. Simon, two things come to mind re: Ikea: the stores are victims of their own success. It's hard to blame them for the hordes of people wandering their aisles and handling their merchandise. What can they do to be come less successful?

    The other is an old saw: Nobody goes to Ikea any more. It's too crowded.


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