Dining alone gives you a license to eavesdrop. Especially when traveling in a non-English speaking country. Even more so when the table across from you is a loud American couple. Tonight’s dinner topic: souvenirs.
The man in his early thirties was excitedly telling his future ex-girlfriend about his alternative to souvenirs.
“Instead of bringing back a souvenir, I’m trying to get my entire family to contribute to a travel fund,” the cheap and thoughtless tourist explained. “That way my sister will be able to travel like me and do something useful with the money.”
“Don’t you think that’d be a great idea for a souvenir?” he asked.
She loved the idea, but…
“I think it’s a really great idea. You definitely could do that in place of a birthday or Christmas present. But, it’s not a souvenir,” she calmly explained.
“The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” he rebutted like a high school debater that’d just defeated his opponent’s counter-plan. “You can do both- contribute to the fund for presents and as a replacement for souvenirs.”
He then moved on to the procedural arguments. “You really should get the parents to set up this fund early in a kid’s life, so that compounding interest can do it’s thing.”
“I just don’t think it works in place of a souvenir,” she shot back as things got more tense. ”It doesn’t fit the definition of a souvenir.”
“So, change the definition of a souvenir!” he yelled in Korcula’s finest dining establishment, Konoba Mareta.
“OK, you start this fund for all these things,” she conceded. “You still have to get something that is tangible.”
“Fine. You can bring back your stupid shot glass or snow globe,” he said.
“OK, fine whatever. Can we talk about something else? We’re never gonna get anywhere with this.”
“I’ve told you 50,000 times why. I’ve been telling you for the past 30 minutes why.”
Then, she left for the bathroom.
My disdain for souvenirs started long before my around the world trek. I can tell you the exact moment it occurred, moving out of my place in Belmont Shore in July 2009. I came to the moment where I had a box of useless stuff. Not worn out stuff. Not old stuff. Not stuff for charity. Stuff that had never been used because there was nothing useful about it. What’s the use of a replica Eiffel Tower?
It was a box of stuff that other people had given me from their travels. A shot glass from Orlando. A painting with my name in Chinese. A snow globe from someplace cold.
I couldn’t just throw it all away. Somebody had given me these mementos. They thought of me and it’d be heartless to just junk it all. Bingo: the souvenir industrial complex. An endless cycle of buying useless crap because someone else bought you useless crap. Think about it: most souvenirs aren’t even made in the place it is advertising. Those t-shirts, shot glasses, spoons and plates, all made in China or India or Bangladesh.
I knew that if I didn’t ditch it all then, I’d be moving it for years. From apartment to storage unit to house.
I paid the bill for my beer and delicious plate of mussels and headed back to Mr. Simoni’s guesthouse. Halfway down the alley, I stopped and turned back.
“Here,” I said as I handed him my crinkled receipt. “I like your idea.”
“This is a souvenir,” I’d scribbled on the slip of paper, which come to think of it, included all of my credit card information.
“Thank you!” he screamed as I walked away.
One wrecked relationship later, we’ve made the first crack in the souvenir industrial complex.