Friday, July 3, 2009

Lost in Sweden

If you’re anything like me, you love a bargain. And sometimes that means getting home, unpacking your bags to brag about how much money you saved, then asking yourself, “Now what was I thinking when I bought that?”

“Oh, yes, it was $64.99 marked down to $4.99! How exciting.” I answer myself.

Begs the question: Will I ever wear it? Chances are I won’t, but I did save myself 60 bucks right there, and to me, that’s better than having a wool jacket from Old Navy that will sit in my closet only to be brought out at opportune times to exclaim “Look what I got for $4.99!”

Periodically, some lucky family members are the recipients of my deals, impulsive decisions made based on the sheer savings. I happily wrap the presents while whistling a merry holiday tune, and I imagine my sister in Ohio opens the present Christmas morning and mumbles to herself, “Now why does Eileen think I need a combination mustache/ear hair trimmer?” Little does she know I saved her 75 percent from the asking price, for which she’ll thank me later, I’m sure.

And that’s what found me walking the aisles that are IKEA in Portland last weekend. Since we were already in Portland, we decided to head over and find these “incredible deals” that we’d heard so much about.

If you haven’t been to an IKEA before, it’s a little like entering Alice’s rabbit hole or C.S. Lewis’s Wardrobe. Put simply: Once you enter, it’s tough to return. And you leave something of yourself behind every time.

The maze-like layout is confusing, abruptly dropping you in a corner by yourself, not knowing when or how you got there. In situations like these, our family utilizes the ever-scientific Marco Polo technique: The lost person yells “Marco” while the person-who-was-smart-enough-to-not-wander-off replies “Polo.”

We started off together, one big happy family. But somewhere after looking at light fixtures together and examining the length of window treatments, I found myself looking at toilet scrubbers (two for 99 cents!) alone. Utterly and completely alone. I let out a weak “Marco?” but no one was around to answer “Polo.”

I know, I thought, I’ll use my cell phone to call Craig and see where he is. Now this is a technique I usually abhor, especially when I’m in Roseburg, at Ross, and someone calls their spouse/friend/child to shout “I’M IN THE SHOE SECTION. WHERE ARE YOU?” And I want to yell back, “Seriously? That’s worth making a cell phone call? You can’t walk around this store, which isn’t huge by the way, and see if you can locate this person?”

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was lost in a Swedish labyrinth of rock-bottom prices, surrounded by signs with unpronounceable Swedish words, and a sea of unfamiliar faces. So I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Craig. And immediately after pressing send the message came back: “Call failed.”

I was not getting reception in this wonderland of savings. I was vilse, vilse, vilse (that’s Swedish for “lost”) and I couldn’t find my way to the entrance if I tried, making me feel like a trapped Swedish prisoner-of-war (are there such things?) who would never again find her homeland, let alone her husband.

The only thing I was sure of was that the terry cloth bath towel I was gripping was a steal at $1.99, but everything else was a blur. I may have even signed up to become a Swedish citizen at one point, but I’m not certain.

So I did the only thing I knew that would eventually lead me to my family – I went to the in-store cafeteria. And there we met, and we reunited over a plate of Swedish meatballs, potatoes and ligonberries ($4.99 with drink!)

Crisis averted, we headed home, only $60 poorer. And IF I ever go back, WHEN I get lost again (this is a certainty) I will keep a few useful Swedish phrases in my pocket. First and foremost is “Var finns toalett?” There’s nothing worse than being lost in a maze and finding yourself in dire need of a toilet.

But one phrase that I hope I never have to use is “Jag har faktiskt blivit svensk medborgare.” This translates to “I've actually become a Swedish citizen.” I’m telling you, it’s times like these that make Craig shake his head and say, “I can’t take you anywhere.”

But as I wait, checking the mail to see if a letter from the Swedish Embassy arrives, I must find something to do with my four toilet brushes that were simply too cheap to pass up. Maybe I’ll hang them in the closet next to the coat from Old Navy, you know, the one I got for $4.99.