Ikea fever

Recently, I was driving a visiting couple from Arizona to Loulé for the famous Saturday morning market. By chance, we passed a gigantic royal blue building with the word IKEA printed in large yellow letters on the side wall. “Wow,” our friend, who we’ll call Linda, said. “Do you guys want to stop in there?”

“No!” my lovely wife and I said in unison. Her husband didn’t seem that enamoured with his wife’s idea either. Thankfully, Linda found plenty of shopping and purchasing opportunities within the quaint pink walls with white trim of Loulé’s vast market hall.

Before we were done, Linda had acquired a nice bottle of Port, some Portuguese sausages, a cork handbag, a couple of T-shirts, several wedges of cheese and a Loulé refrigerator magnet. My lovely wife helped carry the bags we brought, just in case, while Linda’s hubby and I had our first beers of the day out at a sunny table.

That’s when I realized that I was a buyer not a shopper. When I go to a particular store, I have a need for a specific product, which that emporium is known to carry – socks in a clothing store or a bottle of rosé in wine shop.

Linda, on the other hand, is a shopper, somebody who would go to IKEA, for example, in a foreign country, just to see what they are offering. How different is it from the similar large blue warehouse in Phoenix?

Shopping is an activity that some people do for recreation – less strenuous than water-skiing but a much better workout than watching television. You don’t even have to buy anything. It is more like a survey, not unlike a visit to a museum or a gallery; certainly more climate controlled than a walk in the woods. “No, just looking,” the shopper tells the sales clerk.

Our dear friend Linda is not that unusual either, especially if a recent report in The Resident is to be believed, where it was reported that literally thousands of people flocked to see the new IKEA, that was so ruthlessly denied to our visiting friend.

I find it hard to believe that there was that massive of a backlog of demand for simple Scandinavian furniture and household items, with some assembly required, among the residents of the Algarve.

A neighbour reported that she had joined the throng of “Ikeans” and spent nearly an hour gaining access to a parking place and even longer jammed behind cars wending their way out of the underground parking. Most were curious, I’m sure, and many did end up buying something, but not everybody suddenly needed bunk beds or a dining set. Sure there were bargain hunters, hoping for introductory sales, but if you don’t need a futon, are you going to buy one, even at 40% off?

I, for one, am not enthusiastic about having to assemble stuff at home, since it always seems that I only have a flat-head screwdriver when a Philips head is required. Full disclosure, I’m now a renter, so I’m not in the market, but if I was, I never enjoy that feeling of doubt that accompanies having three or four screws left over.

I also wonder how some of the owners of villas up on the hills between Loulé and Santa Bárbara de Nexe feel about their sea views. Does the expanse of an ongoing construction site complete with cranes have any effect on their property values?

I know I used to enjoy the vision of that charming abandoned castle, viewed while speeding by on the A22, that overlooks the big blue blur. The castle is still visible, but now the azure monument to progress, convenience and commerce that dominates the landscape distracts the eye. Linda didn’t ask to see the old stone castle. I doubt she even noticed it…

By Pat, the expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.