I risk sounding like an ungrateful brat, but over the years, friends have bought me souvenirs that I have relegated to the dustbin once their backs were turned – pardon my brutal honesty. I’ve also been guilty of buying souvenirs that look splendid at a night bazaar in India, but appeared rather strange and weird under strong Singaporean sunlight. These souvenir’s include a winter’s cap that was too tight to fit my friends’ heads and a long skirt which I thought looked nice, but left my Friend J gaping in disbelief at my “unique fashion sense”.
Therefore, I have come up with a quick, handy and fun guide, of the five things you should never get for friends as souvenirs. The best alternative is always, a non-gift – ie. to give nothing.
1. Something of no cost to you eg. Samples
You may find this an incredulous gift idea, but I have been a recipient of such a gift before, and it’s Not Funny. I considered this to be rather cheapskate and seriously, if you’re strapped for money, it’s better not to give anything. There is no point in telling me, “Phebe, try this wonderful skin product out and if you like it, I can get it for you the next time I go to Korea.(Provided you pay me first)”. Rolls eyes.
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2. Something very unfashionable eg. A leopard print scarf
My friends were on a budget trip to UK and they didn’t have that many pounds with them. When they spotted a leopard print scarf at a flea market, they decided that it was suitable for me (and their budget). No prizes for guessing the fate of the scarf. And so was the leopard print cuff which a friend got from a Mango store in Barcelona. Just note that no matter how ‘branded’ the item is, your friend is not going to wear it out if she doesn’t like the design.
On a separate occasion, I once thought I was buying a black and white necklace from a night bazaar in India. Little did I know, the it was olive green and white the next day, under the gleaming rays of sunlight.
As a rule of thumb, avoid buying any fashion accessories for someone, unless you know the person well. Everyone’s fashion sense differs – what you think could be the prettiest necklace may be perceived as being too girly or flowery by someone else.
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3. Something you wouldn’t use in your lifetime.
A friend was in Indonesia, an area where bead products were very common. He came back with a bunch of beaded pen wraps (beads that you slip over your pen, just like how you would slip on a shirt). In honesty, this was not something I would use in my lifetime. I appreciated the thought but I had absolutely no use for a pen holder, because I am able to write well without one. So there you go. Assess the functions of the souvenir before purchasing it.
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4. Something too localised
After 6 months in India, I came back to Singapore thinking that Amla oil was the best remedy for dry hair. Until today, I’m not sure about its effectiveness. But when I brought it home for The Mother, she told me to use it for myself. Later, I couldn’t help noticing The Brother and her wincing every time I applied it on my hair. Eventually, I stopped for the sake of The Family’s smelling preferences.
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5. The same old thing(s)
I am very appreciative of my friends, and the souvenirs they bring back. But after receiving the 8th “I’ve been to Malacca” key chain in a row, or the fifth traditional cotton scarf, I’m not sure if I can find enough space to store all of them. The storage space in my room is limited, so if you’re getting the ‘same old thing’, please save the money and get for yourself something better.
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Buy something only if it makes you think of me
I am personally not an advocate of souvenir buying. It places pressure on the traveller, and travelling should not be about souvenir buying. It should be about buying things for your friends if you see something that suits them. For instance, the home-made coffee liqueur my friend W got back for me when she returned from Spain. When I was in Prague, I came across the Prague Castle Pandora charm and I immediately thought how it would suit my Friend H, since she loves Pandora and how it would add to her collection to fight off competitors. 😉
If you’re on a budget, just save the money
Unless you are walking the markets of South East Asia, the quality of souvenirs you can get is usually correlated to its price. So if you’re on a budget, I rather you regal me with tales of your travels than stuffing a strange looking box of teabags into my hands.
To a traveller, the best kind of souvenir you could offer is your travel stories. And that’s enough.