On visiting Ikea in London/Melbourne

When I first started travelling, I loved nothing more than discovering a new store, buying a unique piece of clothing, taking it back to Melbourne and waiting casually for the inevitable ‘I love that! Where did you get it?’ question, to which I’d haughtily reply ‘Oh this? I picked it up when I was in Barcelona/Paris/London’. Oh the smugness!

As gentrification crossed oceans, the ability to impress people with my international purchases went the way of Borders. (Oooo, too soon – sorry!) No longer were friends impressed with my tops from Zara, or my shoes from Topshop. Everyone in Melbourne sported a piece of clothing from Uniqlo which meant I could no longer crow about how good their jeans were, if only you happened to be in NYC to pick up a pair.

And it’s not just fashion that has become homogenised. We’re all pretty much Topshop-wearing, Wagamama-eating, Game-of-Thrones-watching, people.
Sometimes everywhere's the same

You know what else we all do? Visit Ikea.

On a beautiful, sunny autumnal day with a soft breeze rustling the fast food wrappers that littered the roads, I found myself on an excursion to Ikea in Tottenham. My bag was loaded down with a cardigan, umbrella and scarf because, as a Melburnian, I’ve been trained to leave the house prepared for all weather conditions, and I was excited to see just how different Ikea in London was versus Ikea in Melbourne. Yes, I knew that Ikea was basically the same the world over, but surely the needs of Australians were completely different to the needs of Britons. I just knew this Ikea experience as going to blow.my.mind.

Now, if I had been in my beloved Melbourne and heading to Ikea, I’d have been in a car, but today, it was the bus (and you just know how much I love the bus!). Already things were different. This was going to be brilliant!

And then we arrived.

Over the road we clambered, through Ikea’s automatic doors we strolled, and then… it was as if I’d just arrived at Ikea Richmond. I mean, the place was EXACTLY. THE. SAME. At first, I was delighted. Moments of homesickness can creep up on you and so when you get a glimpse of something familiar, it can be like draping a lovely soft blanket around your shoulders. But after that initial delight, I have to admit I was disappointed.

Up the escalators we went and I eagerly looked at every display setting, every hidden nook, in the hopes of seeing something new. Something I could smugly write home about, broadcasting how different life in London was. How I was experiencing things I couldn’t possibly experience in Melbourne, even when visiting Ikea.

After all, I had travelled halfway around the world for a new life, a different life, and what was the point if I’d landed in a city that looked and felt exactly like the place I’d come from? All those teary farewells, all the upheaval I’d inflicted on myself, on my family, on my furniture, would have been for naught.

Granted, this is a lot of pressure and expectation to lay at the feet of a Scandinavian chain selling ready-to-assemble furniture, fake flowers and cinnamon scrolls.
At least the lunch was good
I took a breath and calmed myself. Same was fine. Same was comforting. Same was familiar.

And then I saw it.

A storage solution for under the stairs. Actually, a lot of different storage solutions for under the stairs. The Dursley’s would have had a field day here if only they had bothered to visit Ikea (then maybe Harry would have gotten his own bedroom sooner since his Uncle and Aunt would have been chuffed at all their under-the-stairs storage… but that’s… that’s a whole other story).

I looked again and yes! Stair solutions! It was different! It was enough of a difference! And I smiled.

London isn’t Melbourne. Everyone knows that. But sometimes, when you’re starting a new life far away from all you know, it’s easy to try and look for the similarities between your two cities, to try and melt them together so you don’t feel so far from all that’s familiar. Visiting restaurants, shops and watching television shows you know are being experienced back home, can offer comfort and help you adjust to your new life. The danger is in letting those familiar things become your only experiences.

London is a city filled with the unique. I have to remind myself to keep looking for these things, to push myself to go that extra mile so I don’t eat at another Nando’s but at that local indie restaurant that I’ve never heard of before. I have to make the effort of not falling back into familiar habits and experiences because it’s easy and comfortable, otherwise I might as well have stayed in Australia. So, thank you, Ikea, for making me want to spend my next weekend doing something completely different. Something I could never do in Melbourne. I just wonder what it will be…


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