Ikea is great for cheap, minimalist furniture that you can throw away without feeling bad when you save up enough money for real furniture (one day). About once a month, I come across an abandoned Lack table on the side of the road and I smile to myself knowing that the practical Scandinavian design has served someone well. Even Kanye West is an ardent fan.
The Telegraph reports that the elderly in China are fans of the store, too, but it's not because they can't get enough those Swedish meatballs or the affordable yet tasteful furniture that can soothe any recent college graduate into believing life is full of possibilities. At the Ikea in the Xuhui district, old Chinese widows, divorcées, and matchmakers are looking for love, camping out in the retailer's cafeteria.
As cute as this sounds, the Ikea management insists that it's not. The lonely hoards of seniors, they say, aren't buying as much as a simple bakeles pinsess. They're just taking up seats, and, for some reason, spitting and getting into heated fights. Caught between love and money—and spitting!—the store had to institute a "no food, no seat" rule last week.
This is exactly as sad as it sounds! Ikea, it seems, was the preferred place for the elderly to meet up and socialize. With the new policy in place, they are now left wondering where they can go. "We've been to McDonald's and KFC. But there are barely any peers there," one 86-year-old man told the publication. "We feel like aliens there—surrounded by youngsters. If there is another place in Shanghai where elderly people can gather, we are more than ready to pay twice as much and travel farther."
It's true that there's just not really any place for an old, horny person to go and hang out when most venues are oriented toward the young and horny. And there certainly aren't a lot of spaces that are just free to occupy; most seniors are out of the workforce. According to data from 2012, China has about 185 million people over the age of 60, and a 2007 study reported that there are 16 retired people in China to every 100 workers.
In the US, too, it's increasingly clear that the elderly are feeling left out of society and are forced to seek out social spaces of their own by setting up camp chain stores. In 2014, a McDonald's in New York caused controversy when staff called the police on a group of idle, elderly Koreans.
"As long as there have been cities, these are the kind of places people have met in," Don Mitchell, a professor of urban geography at Syracuse University, told the New York Times. "Whether they have been private property, public property, or something in between, taking up space is a way to claim a right to be, a right to be visible, to say, 'We're part of the city too.'"