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IKEA to Elderly Chinese Singles: Get a Room

IKEA in Shanghai is tired of having elderly Chinese come to the store for blind dates.

An elderly Chinese (bottom) women rests on a sofa as people shop at an Ikea frurniture store in Beijing on August 15, 2011. Asia, including China and India, will be vulnerable if the US and Europe slip into another recession, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his annual policy speech, Lee warned it was possible the world would sink into another recession because of the debt crisis in Europe and the United States' economic woes that led to a landmark downgrade by Standard & Poor's of the country's top-notch credit ratings.  AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly Chinese (bottom) women rests on a sofa as people shop at an Ikea frurniture store in Beijing on August 15, 2011. Asia, including China and India, will be vulnerable if the US and Europe slip into another recession, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his annual policy speech, Lee warned it was possible the world would sink into another recession because of the debt crisis in Europe and the United States' economic woes that led to a landmark downgrade by Standard & Poor's of the country's top-notch credit ratings. AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Ah yes, IKEA: the Swedish furniture giant known for its warehouses full of inexpensive furniture, Swedish meatballs, and…serial-dating Chinese seniors?

In recent years, IKEA cafeterias in China have mysteriously transformed into a popular destination for elderly Chinese to gather and spend time with one another, often for hours at a time.

Managers at the IKEA location in Shanghai complain that many visitors do not even make purchases before settling themselves down in the canteen to socialize with strangers who are there for the same reason.

Now, IKEA has had enough. The Shanghai cafeteria has announced that anyone who isn’t eating iss not allowed to sit in the cafeteria, and accused the senior citizens of belonging to “illegal blind-dating groups” and participating in “uncivilized behavior.” Other customers have complained that the large groups of elderly daters have at times spit in the store, and are prone to arguing with one another.

“The situation has adversely affected the dining experience and security of most of our customers,” read a sign put up at the Shanghai location. “It is having a negative implication for our canteen’s operation. From today, the restaurant will only be for people who purchase their food first.”

The new rule isn’t sitting so well with the elderly who relied on the space in IKEA as a meeting place.

We’ve been to fast food outlets like McDonald’s, but there are barely any peers there,” one man identified as Qiu, 86, told Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times. “We feel like aliens 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 further.”

But maybe IKEA only has itself to blame. Most of the elderly who visit the store looking for love are family membership cardholders, a credential that earns them a free cup of coffee in the cafeteria where they’re no longer welcome to sit.

Photo credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Imagesd

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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