In 1992, an adorable Hungarian IKEA ad asked The Ultimate Question:
What makes life more beautiful? Das Kapital from Marx or the IKEA catalog?
“The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad and Karl Marx had the same dream, namely: “to make the everyday of people more pleasant.” “
In 1992, IKEA’s concern was that the Hungarian market was too poor. The ad acknowledged that it was a MAJOR investment for Hungarians to furnish their homes. And Hungarians (at least in my family) listened to stories about rich Swedes who throw out perfectly good furniture in disbelief. My uncle swore it was true and that they also buy new ones every few years. It was a Swedish national pastime!
At the time people in my village still had so called “clean rooms” – rooms where they collected their best furniture and best linens in neat piles. And then they never entered those rooms, never used the linens, they didn’t even heat the clean room in the winter. Family members all holed up in the kitchen and didn’t utilize the biggest room of their homes.
As a child I didn’t get it and asked why? They always said it was for guests, but there weren’t any guests, ever, that were important enough to open the clean room for. Maybe if the Pope visited town, I thought to myself, but then he did, and then he left, without ever visiting anyone’s clean room. So much about collecting dusty-smelling, unused sheets while sleeping in stained ones.
I can’t even imagine bearing the responsibility of buying a new sofa in the old days. Back then choosing a piece of furniture was a once-in-a-lifetime event and you had to live with your choice forever. They would take you to the grave from that sofa. But then of course, under communism, you wouldn’t have had a selection to choose from. If there was a sofa available to buy, and you miraculously had the money for it, that would be it.
But then communism disappeared and IKEA happened. And that was the best thing that ever happened to the country. And people quickly got used to the new world of affordable furniture, bed linen, and kitchenware.
IKEA made furniture affordable, and mine was the first Hungarian generation, for whom furniture wasn’t a lifetime aspiration. It became mere objects that we use every day, like it should be. Giving a coffee table to a young couple was no longer a life-defining gift and the sofa the newlyweds chose didn’t have to shape the rest of their existence – wear and tear and holes and everything. And a set of tablecloth with matching napkins definitely didn’t count as dowry anymore and no one had to spend years sewing and embroidering them.
Life has, indeed, improved when the market economy finally arrived in Hungary.
So, if you ask me, IKEA definitely beats Marx. And those who remember differently are just plain wrong. The makers of this ad might have meant it differently but they have inadvertently created the best argument for the market economy.
Also, from the ad:
“In our stores, there are rooms, kitchens and offices, furnished according to different tastes – as well as specialized departments where we sell textiles, carpets, porcelain, etc. We have a self-serving restaurant, and parking is free in our garage. We provide a play house and a stroller for children. The elderly and disabled can use wheelchairs.”
What’s more, this thick catalog full of photos is all free! Really!
And no more Marx, please.