Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Furniture Follies

*Note: We still do not have Internet access at home officially, but my crafty husband has temporarily used his phone to give us a wireless connection. I will be catching up on my posts!

I am so glad to finally have all of our furniture. We have been sleeping in the guest room since we moved in because we were waiting to purchase a king-sized bed. We thought it would be easier to purchase our bed and some other pieces when we got here. In retrospect, we should have bought them in America and had them shipped.

First of all, a European king-sized bed is not the same as an American king-sized bed. This means that we will probably not ship this bed back home. We have two separate mattresses put together to form one large bed. All in all, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference unless you happen to roll into the crack while sleeping.

We also needed shelves, a television stand, and some butcher blocks for the kitchen to maximize space. For now, we decided to buy all of these items from IKEA in order to save some money and to be able to get everything all at once. The drive to the IKEA in Dusseldorf takes almost an hour one-way. We go to that one instead of the closer one in the Netherlands because we have the advantage of purchasing high-dollar items without paying the 19% tax that is standard in Europe. But since we are residents of Germany, we may only purchase tax-free in this country.

We went to IKEA twice before our serious purchase day (last Friday). We were confident that we knew the ropes: 1.) IKEA accepts only cash or the IKEA Family Card, 2.) You must bring all of the cash with you because the ATMs inside the store will not recognize our American debit cards, 3.) You must purchase all of the items and then wait in line at customer service in order to re-coop the 19% tax money. Armed with a wad of cash and our lengthy item list, we set out for Dusseldorf with high hopes and visions of Swedish meatballs.

We had a relaxing lunch at the cafeteria, blissfully unaware of the afternoon that loomed ahead. Since we’d already been to the store, we knew the layout and it only took us an hour-and-a-half to gather our furniture. We took our list to the nearest Information Desk and the employee gave us a sheet of paper with a barcode. Paying was straightforward. Our total was exactly as expected based on pre-calculations and we were excited to know that we would be receiving a couple hundred Euro back once we visited customer service.

Conveniently, the customer service area is the same as the warehouse (where we picked up our items) and it also houses the van rental area. We already knew we were going to need to rent one of the IKEA vans in order to transport our hefty load back home. You may rent a van at 9 Euro per hour and the only condition is that it must be returned to the store by closing time of 9pm.

I waited in the customer service line while my husband took care of the rental. I finished before him and when I approached, I knew something was wrong because of the distressed expression on his face.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“No. Apparently they need a passport. Do you have yours?”
“Well, I don’t have mine either.”
“Well. What are we going to do?”

Another employee heard our conversation and told the person helping us that it would be okay to rent to us as long as IKEA had copies of all of my husband’s identification. We do have German and also International driver’s licenses so we were relieved to find that these were sufficient for the rental.

After the paperwork was completed we went to the parking lot to do the walk-around of the van. The IKEA employee was a young man—we’ll call him Frederich. Frederich’s English was impeccable. He explained the rental procedure in detail and sent us on our way with a friendly, “Tschuse! See you in a few hours!”

Frederich went back inside and we spent 20 minutes loading the van with our wares. Satisfied that everything was packed tightly and ready for transport, we hopped into the cab. My husband turned the key in the ignition and the van immediately lurched forward, halfway onto the sidewalk. As soon as he reached to put the van back into the park position, he yelled, “This isn’t automatic!”

Normally this wouldn’t be a very big ordeal. Although I have never learned to drive a manual vehicle, my husband has had experience (years ago) and if we had been starting off on a journey through the streets of Atlanta or Chicago we would have just taken a deep breath and placed the van back in ‘drive.’

As you already know from previous posts, driving in Germany is no easy task. We were not prepared to possibly cause an accident on the Autobahn. Frederich had already told us that if we were to cause significant damage to the van, we would automatically be responsible for paying 650 Euro (including the 19% tax, I’m sure).

My husband decided to go back inside and ask Frederich if they offered any cars with an automatic transmission. I waited in the van, hopeful that we would just be able to switch to another and be on our way. He emerged from the store, shaking his head and then he got back into the van.

“So I guess they only have manual vans?” I quietly asked.
“Yeah. When I told them we weren’t comfortable driving it all the way back home, Frederich said, ‘Sorry, good luck!’ and then helped the next customer.”

We stared at each other for a few long moments and then we began to laugh hysterically. What luck! First, we almost had to walk away without renting the van since neither of us had our passports. Now we were so close to driving away and the only thing standing between us was a gear shift.

Beaten and broken but not yet defeated, we decided to see if anything would fit into my car. We retrieved Greta from the parking garage and pulled up behind the van to begin the transfer. We were elated to discover that everything would fit! We would have to come back the next day to pick up some of the boxes, but it was all going to fit!

We walked back inside to return the van keys and to store what we had to leave behind until Saturday. Frederich was surprised to see us.

“What happened? I saw you loading something in your car.”
Sheepishly we replied, “Yes. Unfortunately neither one of us wants to risk a 650 Euro bill if we get into an accident. It looks like everything will fit into our cars so we’ll take what we can tonight and come back tomorrow for the rest.”

Good ole’ Freddy gave us a refund and sent us on our way.

The drive home was uncomfortable. My seat was pushed almost up to the windshield so some of the boxes could fit. I was positioned like a question mark for the entire hour.

We made it safely and my husband was able to construct the butcher block that night.

We woke early Saturday morning to go back to Dusseldorf for the last trip. We both drove because we knew that the remaining boxes would not fit inside just one of our cars. I was following my husband and we had almost reached the highway when he pulled into a gas station. I thought he was just filling up so I stayed inside my car. He approached and asked me if I had the receipt so we could retrieve everything from storage. I did not. Incredibly, we both left the house without even thinking of taking the one piece of paper that stood between us and our remaining furniture.

We decided that it would be futile for both of us to spend 25 minutes driving back home. Based upon whose car gets better gas mileage (Greta wins easily), I was elected to go home, get the receipt, and meet him at IKEA. This task should have been simple and direct but of course I immediately became stuck behind a tractor I couldn’t pass. After the driver turned into a field, I was significantly slowed down by two more tractors. I had to wait behind a line of cars in the next village because a large semi-truck was attempting to parallel-park between two houses on a narrow cobblestone road.

After an hour’s delay (on top of an hour’s drive), I finally arrived at IKEA. Thankfully, the rest of the day was uneventful. We had lunch at the cafeteria again. I can safely say that I have had my fill of seeing signs of Swedish meatballs everywhere I turn.

Kudos to my husband for putting together all of the furniture in just two days! I don’t think we will be making a trip to IKEA again any time soon. This experience has caused me to have nightmares. Instead of dreaming in black and white, I’m seeing blue and yellow.

The moral of the story is that we are persistent in the face of setbacks. After several attempts, we have finally conquered IKEA. I think our hardiness will be one of our best qualities during our life in Europe.

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