Does anyone else have a problem with the tradition of acquiring and distributing souvenirs? On the surface it is certainly a kind gesture, but…
Possibility #1: “You’re going to R—, how lovely! Pick me up a ——- while you’re there!”
In this common version, the traveler is transformed from a person with privilege and an escape from regular daily life to a shopping assistant. Being able to abandon your everyday duties is a privileged position. Certain cynical persons might argue that the subsequent gift-giving functions as a bribe.
By giving the gift, the traveler smooths their return to their previous life and circle of acquaintances. The ideal souvenir must relate to the recipient’s interests or connection to the traveler, or else it risks simply underscoring the idea that the traveler enjoyed something the recipient could not.
That degree of cynicism makes us very uncomfortable, which is why Sheldon’s analysis of gift exchanges in The Big Bang Theory is so funny.
Possibility #2: No gifts.
We may see the flaws in our gift traditions, but there is more than the force of peer pressure and habit to ensure their survival. I cannot scorn the core concepts of reciprocity and going to extra effort to maintain contact.
My compromise on a recent excursion was to focus on the idea of a souvenir as a memento or symbol of remembrance. I am finishing up a correspondence art project, after all.