For the Friday file is a story carried by The BBC. If you are a senior in Shanghai you may be part of a twice a week phenomenon-meeting other seniors in the famous Swedish Ikea cafeteria. China’s state broadcaster CCTV News reported that the elderly patrons would often buy a cup of coffee or some bread and “spend an entire day just chatting with others”. They are believed to be part of a dating community, making use of their Ikea membership cards. This week, Ikea put a stop to it by imposing a strict “no food, no seating” rule to discourage senior citizens from occupying canteen seats for “extended periods”.
Yes those seniors are spending time in Ikea’s cafeteria and not spending too many kroners. Ikea staff have identified the oldsters as having an illegal blind-dating group with uncivilized behaviour. “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 news has attracted attention from netizens on Chinese social media, with many in support of the elderly. Weibo user Lee Xin slammed the move as a “draconian measure” and said it was cruel to elderly patrons. “What wrong are they doing? They are lonely and are probably hoping to find some company again. If anything, the store should practise empathy and at least sympathise with these old people,” she said.
When the seniors are asked directly why they frequent Ikea’s cafeteria, they come out with a truthful reflection about public space in Shanghai. 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.”
Is public space for older seniors who meet and greet in person something cities are planning for? Is the lack of these senior friendly spaces only confined to Shanghai?