You would think buying a bed would be a pretty straightforward process. Not in France.
My husband and I had rented a small apartment in the 14th and were then faced with the task of furnishing it. Most urgently, we needed a bed. We began with our local Maison de Lits and were shocked by what appeared to be the equivalent of several months rent, for a mere mattress set.
We scoured Paris, looking for a bed. The darling Tatami bed in the Japanese furniture store cost the equivalent of a small car (just for the frame), the mattress discount stores did not actually provide discounts, and our neighborhood mattress stores sold beds costing a small fortune. We were left with no option but to go to Ikea.
My previous two expeditions to Ikea in the USA had resulted in mental meltdown and near divorce. I hate shopping to begin with. Large stores make me nauseous. Ikea is specifically designed to trap you in its windowless maze-like structure. I dreaded the outing but we were desperate for a bed.
Every French person we asked extolled the virtues of Ikea. Our landlord was delightedly planning an expedition in a few weeks and offered us seats in his car. Unfortunately, the futon mattress we had borrowed was causing us to wake up with more aches and pains than I’d had snow camping in Nepal. I had to get a mattress NOW.
First was the problem of getting there. After the RER, a bus ride and a shlep through the pouring rain, we arrived at the gigantic parking lot that surrounds Ikea. A momentary lapse of sanity led us to make this trip on a Sunday. A particularly bad choice, since a trip to Ikea seems to be as much of a typical Sunday family outing as a walk in the jardin.
I grabbed my husband’s hand and let him drag me through the crowds of joyous weekenders, shoving their way into the store as if it were a Britney Spears concert. Having learned from our past Ikea experiences, we had a game plan. Head directly to mattresses. Do not pass go. Do not divert from the route. Do not, under any circumstances, become distracted by shiny kitchen utensils (my husband) or bathroom accessories (me). Unfortunately, as anyone who has been to Ikea knows, you are doomed to follow the winding maze, specifically designed to force you to pass by every piece of merchandise on sale.
Somewhere between armchairs and entertainment centers, I had let go of my husband’s hand and now found that the hand I was about to grasp belonged to a short Asian man. I’ve lost my husband in Ikea. I debated asking for an announcement over the loudspeaker, but since that would require 1) finding someone to assist me and 2) communicating how I could have possibly lost a husband in French, I decided to sit down instead.
I sank into a flower chintz armchair nearby. After about 20 minutes of near panic, I saw a familiar head bobbing up and down in Housewares. I should have guessed. My husband was checking out cutlery. We finally made our way over to the bed section. By this time, I felt lightheaded, overwhelmed and ready to seal a deal and get out toute de suite. We found ourselves among a sea of mattresses. OK, this shouldn’t be too hard. We want the firmest and least expensive. After all, we might only be here for a year. I flopped onto a nearby bed advertised as “firm” and landed with a klunk. I looked across the aisle to see my husband sprawled over a mattress that appeared to be in the midst of folding itself in half. I still haven’t figured out why anyone would want to sleep at a right angle.
After flopping, sprawling and sinking into a dozen different beds, I felt like Goldilocks in the Three Bears House. Next to me there was a very complicated looking diagram explaining the various spring, foam and coil systems composing each mattress. Now if I can just figure out which one equals Firm, we might be onto something. I dragged my husband out of the hammock and we stood there, dutifully studying the Ikea map to mattress composition. We jogged back and forth between the map and the various mattresses, testing and comparing, hoping to make sense out of the diagram.
When we finally chose one that seemed sufficient (we didn’t feel like we were sleeping on granite or in a hammock), we began the exhausting process of capturing a salesperson to help us. We finally succeeded in corralling a young saleswoman. We explained that we wanted the mattress. She asked about a sommiers. Sommelier? I thought. Why would we want a wine expert? I was exhausted and near mental meltdown by this point. She gave us that look one gives to a very slow child and pointed to the base under the mattress.
“Et pieds?” she asked. I whispered “Why is she asking us about feet?” My husband looked back blankly. “Quel type preferez-vous?” she persisted impatiently. I wracked my brain. What kind of feet do I like? All I could think of was pedicures and nail polish. She couldn’t possibly be asking me about pedicures. Maybe she is asking how many stairs we have? “24” I replied. She looked at me like I was nuts.
With a sound of disgust that only a French person can pull off without resembling a bull-dog, she shoved a catalog at me, opening to a page displaying wood cylinders of all sizes and shades. “Les pieds pour le lit!” she practically shouted.
Unless we wanted our bed (which now costs the equivalent of a month’s rent or a small chic chien – I’ve been fantasizing about one) to sit on the floor, you must also buy “les pieds”, which cost a pretty penny, and are sold, surprisingly, in individual units. I can’t quite figure why anyone would buy less than 4 at a time.
We finally filled out the form for delivery, relieved to have a bed in our near future. The cashier looked over our form, turned to us and explained, “Is not available. We have no more.” With a Parisian shrug he handed us a catalog and suggested “Perhaps you would like to order online?”
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