Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Evolution of Tourist Kitsch

Tourist souvenir shops know how to sell to the unwary. Selling is survival to them. In these stores, all manner of outlandish kitsch is carefully arranged so that they don’t seem the least bit incongruous.

A long while back, not realizing all that, we started to buy a lot of the junk. A face mask here, a laughing Buddha, a wooden sculpture, a miniature version of the leaning tower of Pisa -- we cluttered our walls and showcase with random assorted items. When we finally noticed how bad the collection looked in our living room, we swore off buying those forever.

As a next phase of tourist buying, we started picking up different kinds of sweat-shirts (hooded, with and without zips) and T-shirts. And these garments were priced to sell. (“Three for $10? Okay, I’ll take it.) I bought way more T-shirts than I’d ever need. Predictably soon, my wardrobe had lots of these cheap Tees that I couldn’t wear anywhere except inside the house. Eventually, I wizened up and stopping buying them.

Next, it was coffee mugs. We’d buy just one in each of our trips. They are all made in China, but there was a good variety and we could always find one we liked. These coffee mugs would remind me of some long-ago trip. But I am the only coffee drinker in the house, and any apartment needs only so many mugs, and we had long surpassed that number.

Looking for something smaller, we migrated to buying one refrigerator magnet per trip. These are inexpensive and very small, but pretty soon we had too many on our fridge. Also, they seemed a very crass way to initiate a conversation about our trips to our house guests. (“Oh, you’ve been to Greece?”)

So we then changed to buying picture postcards for ourselves. The theory being that they don’t take up volume, are very cheap and are professionally done. For several trips we’d just buy some postcards as reminders and buy nothing else.

One day, Rupal decided to make a collage of her postcards and bought a large black cardboard from an art store. When she started to arrange the postcards, less than 10% of our collection would fit. Soon after, we stopped buying even postcards.

And at long last, we migrated to taking digital photos and buying absolutely nothing. It finally put an end to buying anything touristy.

I have this idea for a poster titled “The Evolution of Tourist Kitsch” and you can easily visualize it, with pictures progressively decreasing in size: Wall hanging and paintings, T-Shirts, Coffee Mugs, Refrigerator magnets, postcards.

It took me a surprisingly long time to appreciate and adopt into practice the true traveler’s credo, because I was dismissing it as a cliché:
Shoot only pictures
Take only memories

Leave only footprints
First post in a series on possessions.

1 comment:

  1. Ram,

    I had a good laugh at this one. Dwayne and I have slowly but surely graduated to taking pictures only as well!