Saturday, March 15, 2008

Never name a rug after a Dane


These names have a few things in common. First, they all happen to belong to several towns and regions of Denmark. Secondly, and no less important, they have been claimed as names for Ikea's various lines of door mats, rugs and carpets.


These names all belong to towns located in Sweden. They have been assigned to slightly more prestigious Ikea items such as leather couches and armchairs.

Very interesting. But sinister?

The other day Aidan and I heard an absurdly funny interview on the CBC radio program "As it Happens." After perusing the Ikea catalogue far too closely, Danish academic Klaus Kjoeller had his nose out of joint at the seemingly insulting nomenclature:

Mr Kjöller analysed the Ikea catalogue with a colleague at the University of Southern Denmark. He said it "symbolically portrays Denmark as the doormat of Sweden, a country with a larger economy and population . . . The stuff that goes on the floor is about as low as it gets," said Klaus Kjöller, of the University of Copenhagen, who described the phenomenon as "Swedish imperialism".

It's petty. And very very silly. But history has left the Danes a bit resentful. Resentful enough, apparently, to go looking for slights. Journalist Jakob Illeborg writes, with more than a hint of sarcasm:

You can imagine the hurt national pride and the rush of blood that I, as a Dane, felt when reading this. How dare they, those Swedes? Three hundred and fifty years after taking Scania away from the Danish empire, and after having beaten us at football for decades, now this: doormats named after Danish towns!

Aidan and I got such a kick out of the whole thing. So did all of the local papers and radio stations. As is often the case, however, some stories are "too good to be true." Since beginning to write this post, a retraction was sent out for the whole story.

Officials at Ikea's headquarters in the district of Scania - which once belonged to Denmark - rejected the criticism. "It's nonsense to say that we did this on purpose. It was a pure coincidence," said Charlotte Lindgren.

A pretty entertaining misunderstanding, I must say. And one that I actually find I am sympathetic too. See for yourself: IKEA's catalogue is packed with Danish-named doormats and Swedish-names couches. But who's to say there were sinister motives? As for hurt pride, when asked what Ikea could do to assuage negative feelings, Kjoeller replied that a Danish-named chandelier might be nice. Keep an eye on next year's catalogue. Perhaps a LEMVIG pendant lamp may appear.