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The Souvenir Dilemma

Fridge Magnets         The other day I found myself browsing through a tourist shop in London. I was amazed at the sheer quantity of gawdy figurines and tacky t-shirts that are hoovered up by tourists. I mean, who buys these things? The quality is invariably poor and they most likely come from a Chinese factory. Some souvenirs simply make me cringe!

n souvenir [suːvəˈniə, (American ) ˈsu:vəniər] something (bought, kept or given) which reminds one of a place, person or occasion

There are two reasons why people buy souvenirs:

  1. To remind themselves of a trip they made to a certain place, London, for example. However, said tourists are likely to have taken 1000s of photos of themselves standing in front of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, etc. and therefore they already have evidence that they’ve visited the aforementioned tourist sites. Even if they don’t frame these photos  and give them pride of place on the mantelpiece, these photos will doubtlessly also be all over Facebook, so that all their friends and family can see how well-travelled they are by visiting London. So why buy a hoody from Oxford University when you certainly aren’t a student there. Why buy a bag with London written all over it in that horrible font? Why buy a plate with the Queen’s face on for heaven’s sake? Why, why, why?
  2. To give as presents to friends and family back home. Choosing presents to take back to your home country can be tricky. If they’ve already been to London then they’ll already have all the souvenirs they want. If they haven’t, then why would they appreciate a block of glass with the London Eye engraved in the centre? They’ve never seen it in real life, and it’ll simply look out of place in their house. My pet hate is those ridiculous t-shirts “My girlfriend went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”. My stomach literally turns over when I see these. The recipient of said t-shirt will never wear it. Ever. It’s not funny, it’s just plain embarrassing. Statues and figurines are completely out of the question, as are paperweights, snow globes and decorated teaspoons.

So that must leave you wondering what you can conceivably buy as a souvenir of your trip?

        There are some souvenirs that I do find acceptable: postcards (that’s an obvious one, as long as they are tasteful or interesting), paintings (but not of monuments or famous sights – why would I want a painting of a Cathedral in my bedroom?), keyrings (this is dangerous territory as there are some simply atrocious keyrings out there – they have to be well made and quite discreet), mugs (every household has a random collection of mugs gathered from all over, so there’s no harm in adding a cutely decorated mug), jewellery (not the cotton friendship bracelets you see all over the world, but most countries have a specific style or technique of producing jewellery).

Collection of mugs

A safe bet is to buy something made locally which the locals themselves buy. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean by this:

London – shortbread biscuits, tea from Fortnum & Mason.

Florence – a leather bag or wallet. Florence’s San Lorenzo market is well-known for its leather goods.

Madrid – Jamón Ibérico

Havana – Aged Havana Club Rum, genuine cubano cigars.

        When planning your trip, search online for local specialities and produce and this should help you come up with some ideas. Most guidebooks will also have a section on local produce. Unique souvenirs & gifts that truly represent the place you’ve visited are far more effective and from an interior decoration perspective, much more aesthetically pleasing!

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