The Right Souvenir Never Loses Its Lustre

14 December 2015

Every summer when I was a child, my family would decamp to Tuscany; the climax of the school holidays, all gelato, generous portions and gesticulating wildly in broken but hopeful Italian.

The highlight of every trip, though, was the chance to pick out that year's souvenir, something exotic and unexpected to bring home.

I'd save my pocket money for weeks and plot what to buy. I still remember strutting my seven-year-old stuff at school in a Topolino T-shirt, Italy's strange, localised version of Mickey Mouse, and cherishing the mug I'd watched a market stallholder engrave with my name (cutting-edge in the 1980s).

 Changing times: Many of us now prefer memories to mementos (Image: Alamy)

I've spent much of my adult life living out of a suitcase and spent weeks of every month away from home, yet I rarely pick up a souvenir now. There are accidental take-homes – my desk drawer is full of pens from hotels and aeroplanes – but setting aside time to go shopping for a special something is rare.

I prefer memory to memento. Now that's partly practical: living in a small apartment with barely room for bookshelves, the word souvenir conjures up a space-hogging tchotchke that will gather dust until I finally shove it under my bed.

It's also a throwbackish idea: souvenir sounds passe, as outmoded a concept as Walkmans, Tipp-Ex or phone books.

There's another problem, too. Globalised brands and outsourced production make it harder than ever to unearth a truly local quirky treat.

 Are souvenirs just clutter (Image: Getty)

Take my unexpected pitstop in Frankfurt last year, after striking security staff had marooned me without luggage en route home from Russia – even Germany doesn't always run as scheduled. It was comforting to find endless branches of H&M as a source of emergency underpants, but that was also disappointing.

My rare take-home these days is usually from the supermarket, picked up alongside a bottle of water (pickles from Kerala, or Lizano, the HP-besting sauce from Costa Rica, which I now crave so much that friends are bribed to smuggle bottles of the stuff back for me).

Then, just recently, I realised I still collect souvenirs, albeit by proxy. I vowed when my oldest godchild was born to send a postcard from any place I stay, from Maputo to Margate, a pledge that's expanded with each new birth.

 Postcards let you share your memories and experiences with the ones you love (Image: Getty)

After all, kids love mail; it's never a bill, and they yearn to be treated as standalone people. That oldest child is now 10, living in a small village in Yorkshire, thousands of kilometres from me.

The last time I visited, he took down a shoebox from the shelf in his bedroom before talking me through every single postcard I'd ever sent him, carefully stashed inside. It was a treasure chest of places he planned to visit and a nostalgic journey through my last decade of travel.

As an adult, I might have assumed that souvenirs have lost their lustre, but I still reckon that Topolino T-shirt would get any seven-year-old strutting.


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This article was written by Mark Ellwood from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The Independent

The Independent is a British national morning newspaper published in London by Independent Print Limited, owned by Alexander Lebedev since 2010. Nicknamed the Indy, it was launched in 1986 and is one of the youngest UK national daily newspapers.