Archive for March, 2008

Life-Sized Concrete Sculpture Of Hell

So I went to Ikea for the first time yesterday. Oh yes. You see, I had this marvellous theory on buying furniture. I thought that it would be, if not easy, then at least a relatively straightforward exercise. One goes to a furniture store, one looks at the furniture on display, measures it, debates a little with any accompanying parties, and then orders it to be delivered on a particular date to a particular address. Hah.

Like many huge and glaring misconceptions it all began with a single completely inaccurate assumption. This assumption was that Ikea was based on the same principle as for example Argos, just on a much larger scale, and would therefore work approximately the same way. Obtain catalogue number of item, order item for collection or delivery, pay, and receive item. To be entirely honest, I presumed I could have just done it all on the internet, the only reason I intended to go to the store at all was because with such a major purchase as a couch or bed I wanted to physically see the thing I was buying. Essentially I assumed I was being overly cautious by not just ordering online. Oh the slightly manic laughter as I look at this thought retrospectively.

The Ikea display store is like what a giant warehouse would look like if you converted it into a labyrinth whose walls and passageways were constructed entirely of household furnishings. Essentially that’s exactly what it is, in fact. In a way this is ingenious, it forces you to look at every piece of crap in the entire place before getting to the end. In another, more relevant way, it is frustrating, annoying, and engenders a passionate hatred of slow-walking people with giant carts that I find it hard to describe in words. When we finally reached the end of the labyrinth (which geographically is about 2 minutes from the start, we just didn’t figure that out until later) we were dehydrated, irritated, and generally just glad the experience was over. On our travels we had seen a couch, bed and mattress that I was happy to purchase. I queued for the information desk, thankful that the ordeal must be almost at an end.

Alas, it was not to be. Upon making some enquiries I discovered you cannot order online, because they do not deliver online orders. (What?!?) Which meant that I would have to order right then. Ok, not ideal, but acceptable, where can I find a catalogue to get the numbers from? There aren’t any. Because as we walked through the giant furniture maze we were supposed to have noted down the article numbers of the items in question so that we could pay for them at the checkout. Back to the labyrinth, where we spend about 10 minutes actually locating the article numbers of anything, as for some reason instead of being printed in a bold font and labelled “Article Number, pay attention to this!” they are printed on the reverse of the price tag, in a font small enough as to be almost unreadable, and without a descriptor of any kind.

We subsequently discovered that this is probably due to the following fact. What they _tell_ you to do is write down the numbers and then pay. What you are _actually_ supposed to do, is find one of the rare and elusive employees on the display floor, tell them what you want, confirm when they show you the image on-screen that yes, you are not a moron, that is the thing, then specify what colour, size etc you would like it in, because the all-important article number written on the display item merely signifies precisely that item, ie. colour and size also. So to order say, a full-size bed frame in black, when the display item is a queen size version in pine is impossible to do without the assistance of a furniture monkey, or as they prefer to be called, ikea employee.

One part of the exchange went thusly:

Me: …and I would like this couch.

FM: That item is self-serve

Me: Wait, I can’t get it delivered?

FM: Oh no, you can get it delivered, you just have to bring it down to the checkout.

Me: You mean physically bring it? But… it’s a couch…

FM: Yeah, you need to load it onto a cart and bring it down to the checkout, and pay for it, then they can deliver it.

Me: There is no other way of doing this? Can’t I pay someone to bring it down?

FM: No, sorry. So you don’t want the couch ma’am?

Me: Oh no, I want it. I’m just horrified.

FM: Oh, we’re actually pulling that item ourselves at the moment.

Me: So I don’t have to bring it down?

FM: No.

Me: Great.

The last part obviously rendering that entire minute of shock and awe entirely pointless, but on the plus side, I didn’t have to carry a couch. When I finally managed to get my official “already talked to a monkey” form, and queue and pay for all this, there was then an entirely separate queue for organising and paying for the delivery of all my crap. By the time we left I felt like Persephone escaping Hades, and was afraid to look behind me lest I somehow be sucked back in, black hole style.

I have never been so drained of life energy by a retail experience.

Statistics (note: past performance is no indication of future performance…)

Muggings – 0

Meals actually finished – 1

Apartments found – 1

Longboards purchased – 1

Longboard related injuries sustained – 0

Subway cards mislaid – 2

Average number of minutes sitting alone without someone talking to me – 3

Number of times hit on by complete stranger – 4

Friends acquired – 3

Burgers eaten – at least 8

Shows seen – Regrettably 0

Offers to apply for credit card – 4

Adjoining states visited since I arrived – 1

Holiday plans made – 2

Days I can actually take off – 15

Impending visitors – 8

Impending family members – 4


Moments of small but significant culture shock – 762 (approx)

The Idiot’s Guide To NYC

So titled not because the target audience is clueless about the subject matter, but because the author is. Because so far I have been here for a little over a week, but it is in my nature to have an opinion regardless. So please find below my observations so far, though they may vary vastly in terms of accuracy and relevance.

New York is different to anywhere in Europe. Ok, duh, of course it is. But this sort of fact still doesn’t really hit home at first, people still speak English, they have a culture we at least recognise and understand if not share. We’ve been seeing it on television our whole lives for a start. Nonetheless, things are distinctly different.

First off, men are polite to the point of inefficiency. I was standing in the back of a lift yesterday, and there were 5 guys in said conveyance, all of whom were closer to the door than I was. When the door opened, instead of exiting, they practically formed a tunnel so that I could leave before them. I was slightly taken aback by this, and then realised that even in the little time I have been here men have been allowing me to pass first on the street, opening doors for me, and even on one occasion which shocked me, offering me a seat on the subway.

The significance of the subway gesture may be lost on anyone who has not lived in London. On the tube, no-one gives up a seat. A hale and hearty young man will retain his seat, even if an 8-month gone pregnant woman is struggling to stay on her feet right beside him. In the entire time I was in London, someone offered me a seat once. I was horrified, because I assumed they thought I looked pregnant.

Of course there are the traditional American oddities, like tipping everyone for everything, saying sidewalk and trashcan instead of footpath and bin, remembering that nothing includes sales tax, and receiving a metric ton of food when you think you have ordered a snack. There are also specific New York oddities, like making sure you walk down the right entrance to the subway, not pointing and laughing at all the small dogs wearing coats, and the wonderful phenomenon of people yelling vaguely well-intentioned observations at you in the street. (the other day when it rained someone shouted “Hey lady, you getting’ wet there, you need a umbrella! That’s right girl, you get yo’self a umbrella”. Apparently he thought I wouldn’t have known how to deal with the situation if he had not informed me).

I have seen pizza for a dollar, and food sold by weight at $10/lb. I have had to fill in a form to buy a bagel with cream cheese across the street from our office. Despite my intention of brevity this entry is becoming ridiculously long-winded, so I will attempt to summarise what I learned this week:

  • Subway entrances are frequently direction dependant. If you walk down the wrong one, you may find yourself on a train to Queens instead of Brooklyn
  • New York real estate agents will carve out a hole in a building wall, call it a junior studio, and charge you a thousand dollars a month to sleep in it.
  • Estate agents do not charge landlords a finders fee for tenants, they charge the tenant, so for a $2000 a month apartment, the fee to move in is usually in the region of $3500.
  • While rent is through the roof, everything else is extremely cheap, even if you are earning dollars.
  • The standard NYC pavement is about 15 feet wide, and so ideal for skateboarding
  • The fact that the sign says you are allowed to cross the street does not mean that cars will not drive out in front of you if they are making a right turn.
  • Times Square is quite frankly hideous
  • Contrary to my previously held belief, it is in fact possible to be lost in Manhattan
  • If anything comes with cheese, it is “American cheese”, ie. processed slices of orange goo.
  • You can open a bank account with id, and a letter from your employer, but you cannot immediately get paid into that account, presumably in case you for some reason decided to invent an account and send your money into limbo. They need to prove it exists by having you cash a cheque into it first. Or something. Not entirely clear on this yet.
  • You need a social security number for _everything_ and it takes up to 12 weeks to obtain one.
  • Approximately 80% of US online booking/payment systems do not accept foreign credit cards.
  • You even tip barmen here. Yes, just for opening a bottle.

I think I will have to stop now, as this has already become ludicrously long. I have decided to distil my apartment related rant into a separate entry, lest this one become so lengthy it spontaneously combusts.

At the risk of sounding self-contradictory, I do in fact love it here. It’s different, it’s fascinating, and I am looking forward to getting settled in and enjoying the hell out of it. It does make the title of this blog somewhat inappropriate, but then I have never really been a stickler for appropriate titles.

Odd as it might sound, so far New York has been pretty relaxing.