SHOPPING IS AN INGRAINED habit, and when you’re away on holiday, it tends to focus on the souvenir. Hours of shopping time can be dedicated to bringing something back that will forever remind you of the happy, carefree times you spent in a foreign supermarket.
The marvellous thing about souvenirs is that they’re different all over the world – you can get camels from the Middle East, sombreros from Mexico and elephants from Thailand. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re made in China.
When you take a holiday in the developed world, the souvenirs tend to be things that we have at home but cheaper. For example, toys from America, cigarettes from France and chocolate from Belgium. In fact, with this kind of holiday, you ignore everything else and just focus on the shopping.
In the less developed world, the one thing that is very developed is their craft markets. You can’t take a bus trip to any tourist site without finding yourself magnetically drawn into a craft hypermarket, where there are compact ranks of hand-carved elephants as far as the eye can see and enough papyrus to wallpaper the Houses of Parliament.
Ideally, souvenirs need to be small and unbreakable. Airport baggage handlers object to tourists taking out their precious cultural artefacts, and tend to give the bags a good pounding. However, there is always one person who decides that they simply must have the seven-foot hand-carved wooden giraffe. They then provide hours of pleasure to other tourists as they manhandle it through the airport and then have to pay for an extra seat on the aircraft to get it back home.
As a general rule, the cheaper the souvenir, the longer they survive. For example, a 50c pen with ‘Souvenir of Tintagel Castle’ will write continuously for 50 years. Similarly, a miniature model of the Statue of Liberty will live in the back of a desk drawer for one entire adult life.
The tricky thing with souvenirs these days is that everyone has seen them all; every house in the country now has at least one straw donkey, a doll in traditional French dress, a plastic camel, a brightly painted plate, a tribal letter opener, and a bottle of unidentified foreign alcohol.
Instead of buying your friends something, why not just film your entire holiday and then invite them round one evening to watch you enjoying yourself. There’s a good chance that they’ll enjoy themselves as much as you did, and you can also serve up some of the unidentified alcohol they bought you from their last holiday. And you can always slip a plastic camel in their pocket on the way out.
© GUY BROWNING IS THE AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.