Monday, December 19, 2011

Culture clash?

I have to confess that my heart sank a bit when I heard that Ikea was opening in Bangkok. I wondered, what would be the point of living in a different country if everything in it were the same as everywhere else?

But it’s also true that I’d grumbled when I couldn’t find the right plastic clip things to seal bags – the ones where the hinge didn’t ping open when I’d squidged too much plastic inside - (Why is it that all the big ones disappear but not the little ones?) And hadn’t I, a few years back, whined all the way to Wembley’s Ikea to purchase those cheap, but really good, scissors in packs of three for next to nothing. It had seemed so necessary at the time: I simply must drive forty miles to get three packs of scissors or my life in Bangkok really won’t be worth living *in a Celia Johnson accent…*

In the end Ikea’s opening at the beginning of November was something of a damp squib; it’s thunder stolen by the floods. I’d been evacuated so I’ve no idea if there was the kind of hysteria prompted by the opening of Uniqlo or Krispy Kreme doughnuts but I suspect not.

I was intrigued by the difference in cultures too. Thailand is proud of its service culture; but hadn’t my experience of Wembley’s Ikea been a bit different? Hadn’t they carefully cultivated a snarl-in-welcome and a not-giving-a-tossness about customers? In a land where I don’t even need to go to the bar to get a drink, would they leave me to clear my own table after my Swedish meatballs? (Not that we shouldn’t…) Would I understand anything? Would the labels be just in Thai and Swedish? With product names like ‘obskropt’ would it matter?

I’ve been meaning to go. You can always do with more plastic clips, right? And long-term readers will know that one of my personal mottos is that ‘one can never have too many pairs of scissors.’ Last week, after a crack of dawn meeting at school and with no other plans, I decided I’d go…

These were my findings:

·  I could have been in Wembley

· The staff, though scarce, do care about the customer

· After six years of Thai food, Swedish meatballs are disgusting

· The girl in the restaurant couldn’t bear for me to have to put away my own tray

· The scissors; where were the scissors?


BEAST said...

Reassuring to know that those Scandinavian megalomaniacs haven't completely squeezed the Thai-ness out of the staff.

I think maybe the meatballs were always disgusting, but I viewed them more like a prize for reaching the centre of a maze.

Thought you might like to know that 'obskropt' in Thai would be โอษ์ครอบท์. I think either would be equally readable labelling. The closest meaning in English would be "too few screws"

Oh and one more thing. 'One can have too many scissors'. Or put another way, 'You have too many scissors'. And if you berate me for this remark, I will comment here tomorrow how many pairs I find in the house tonight.

Jenny Beattie said...

That picture is not you! Who is that man?

I laughed out loud at the 'too few screws.'

Daughter keeps stealing my scissors. Please, please do not tell my blog readers how many pairs of scissors there are in the vicinity of my office. Please.

BEAST said...

Ah, the photo, right...

After a short, and predictably uneventful spell as Blaze-man. My latest alto-ego was suggested by a few colleagues in the UK (can't think why)

It is a man who finds himself in South East Asia at the behest of his employer. At first they said it would only be for a year or less. But the assignment is repeatedly extended. He becomes acclimatised to the local people and the local customs. In the end he creates a little fiefdom all his own, until eventually after a few more years they need to send somebody over to find him and bring him home again.

-Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Jenny Beattie said...


Chris Stovell said...

I can imagine that a meatball would seem like a non-event after Thai food ... I wonder who will go for them there? Our 'local' (ie 2hrs drive away) Ikea is Cardiff and I always suspect that there are national celebrations whenever our car pulls into the car park as we stock up all those crazy things we never knew we needed!

Sue Guiney said...

But I must tell you -- I have always claimed that IKEA is where I plan to go for my nervous breakdown. Each visit has already brought me that much closer to it.

Anonymous said...

We have to buy a whole house of furniture in the next 2 weeks and were planning on Ikea....unless you can reckoned somewhere else....we have a budget and the furniture only needs to last 2-3 years so cheap as chips is fine for us

Jenny Beattie said...

Chris, yes, I'm familiar with that notion: it's usually scissors for me!

Sue, excellent plan. You won't be in pain for long...

The Expat Wife, oh dear, that was a badly timed post, wasn't it? Despite my poking fun, I think Ikea is pretty brilliant and actually it serves those needs perfectly. So I'd go for it... (So glad to hear you're loving Bangkok.)