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Ikea In Shanghai Tries To Kick Out Freeloading Senior Citizens

Joy Ho/NPR

The Ikea store in Shanghai doesn't mind if you curl up in one of the beds on display and take a nap.

But older people who spend the day in the cafeteria without buying anything are no longer welcome. Unless they're willing to spring for food and drinks.

That's the news from the Swedish retailer's Shanghai outpost. Ikea's decision this month to require a purchase of all cafeteria useres has sparked a spirited debate in China's social media about the plight of older citizens – nowhere to go, nothing to do.

Ikea's Xuhui district store is conveniently located in the city center. Its spacious cafe with floor-to-ceiling windows, comfy seating areas and air-conditioning has become a hangout spot for retirees. Local news site East Day reported that regulars usually bring their own snacks and drinks and sit there all day, talking and arguing loudly.

Now it's one thing to take a nap in the showrooms. That happens in lots of Ikeas in China. And the Swedish retailer is reportedly okay with that — no need to alienate sleepy customers.

But the old people are no longer being tolerated. In an open letter to customers on October 5, Ikea's Xuhui district branch set a new rule that customers must buy food from the cafeteria to be seated, according to a China News Service report.

The policy is also aimed at the informal date nights in the cafeteria. Older singles — roughly ages 45 to 65 — come a couple nights a week to mix, mingle and maybe meet a blind date. Ikea once tried to ban date night but backed down after some people said the ban was discriminatory. So the "no food, no seat" rule is a way to push out daters who are freeloaders.

Some customers told East Day that the cafeteria is supposed to be a free, open space. It's not fair, seniors complained to the press: Their lives are very lonely already, and now this!

And there are a lot of older folks in Shanghai. Nearly a third of the city's population is comprised of people over 60: some 4.36 million people, China Daily reported.

In changing its policy about the cafeteria, the Ikea Xuhui store explained that many customers complained that "certain groups and their uncivilized behaviors" made it unpleasant to dine in the store restaurant.

Naturally, China's social media users are weighing in, using Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

One person wrote: "Poor Ikea. Showrooms become people's bedrooms. Cafeteria becomes a senior center. It's hard to do business in China, as you may turn it into charity."

Said another: "There are all kinds of community recreational centers in other countries. This only shows how poorly our government performs."

Some people were definitely on the side of the old people: "I feel sorry for those who said bad things about these seniors. They're the same generation of our grandparents. They went through enough hardships and suffered a lot in the past. They're a product of their time."

Not everyone was sympathetic: "Scary seniors. They're everywhere."

"I support Ikea," said one netizen. "Grandpas and grandmas take over those seats for a whole day and don't even think about other people. That's really unfair."

Solutions were proposed: "Have them register with IDs when coming in. Put those with bad behaviors on the blacklist and never let them go in again."

"The government should be taking care of seniors, not Ikea," said another Weibo user. "They should come up with ways to enrich seniors' lives."

Meanwhile, the ban hasn't had a major impact. The store did not say how much money a customer has to spend to be seated. So some seniors are buying a croissant — it costs about 60 cents in U.S. currency.

And if they get bored with the cafeteria scene, the beds are always waiting for them.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.