Saturday, 3 November 2018

How NOT to buy a souvenir: 8 tips on avoiding that piece of useless junk.

souvenir stand
It was the first day of our travels in Mexico. It was hot, we were jet-lagged and we were awed by the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula - one of the new seven wonders of the world. There was a long line of eager souvenir sellers, all with wide grins, and near-identical trinkets. I was on a quest for something to remember our trip by. David was on a quest to do anything to make me happy. I had recently been ill, very ill, and he was being even more caring and generous than usual. All this amounted to a  perfect recipe to get taken advantage of, mercilessly, - and the Mexican souvenir sellers were happy to oblige.

In thirty years of travelling together David and I have never quite perfected the art of souvenir buying. Our home has entire rooms groaning under the weight of truly awful trinkets, but in terms of paying much too much for what turned out to be a bit of painted plaster nothing has ever come close to the Aztec calendar we purchased at Chichen Itza. Therefore as much for our own edification as yours I have decided to record my rules of souvenir buying in the hope, faint though it might be, that we will do better next time.

It looks pretty - but trust me, it is complete junk. Can you see the missing bit in the Aztec god's nose?

Rule no. 1 - Don't pay the asking price - haggle! The sellers expect you to haggle and they set their initial price with that in mind. You don't even have to be good at it, a simple expression of bewilderment at the astronomical cost of that cheap piece of plastic along with a small step back as if you are turning away toward the next souvenir seller is usually enough to start a waterfall of price discounting.

David's mistake - made repeatedly over the years I might add -
"How much is this one" he asked, pointing to a blue Aztec calendar.
 "Six hundred pesos" (about US$30 or AU$41) replied the souvenir seller.
"Ok, we'll take it" David said.
My mistake
How can I not have intervened? I was standing right there. I can only put it down to the heat, or my recent illness or a sudden attack of complete stupidity. Now I think about it, it was probably the last one.

Rule no. 2 - Don't let the souvenir seller know how much you want his cheap, tacky trinket. Breaching this rule is fatal. There is no recovering from it. The only solution is to head toward the next souvenir seller and do better with him.

My mistake
Falling in love, at least temporarily, with that particular piece of blue, tacky plaster.

Rule no. 3 -  Shop around. If there is a long line of identical souvenir vendors, wander around and check out the prices at the other stalls. To be fair, we did try this but it didn't work. You have no doubt heard of the Mexican drug cartels, well, they must have Mexican souvenir cartels as well because every single vendor had identical prices.

Rule no. 4 - Don't return to the same vendor after shopping around. He is going to recognise you. They all have perfect facial recognition and when you come back he knows he has you hooked. For some inexplicable reason, in a long line of cheap tacky souvenirs you want his particular cheap tacky souvenir. Watch closely and you can see the glint in his eye as the dollar signs light up.

Rule no. 5 - Don't assume the souvenir you think is genuine (insert whatever precious stone or metal you can think of here) is not actually (insert plastic/plaster/paper or just plain junk).

My mistake -
Believing the souvenir seller when he told me the cheap bit of plaster he was about to sell us for hundreds of times its actual value was local granite. Again, I can only put this down to the heat, my recent illness or sudden onset stupidity (SOS for short) - probably the latter.
David's mistake - 
Not setting me straight until we arrived back at our hotel room.
Rule no. 6 - Inspect the souvenir carefully. It is just plain annoying to discover there is a chip off the nose of the Aztec god long after you have left the place where you made your purchase.


David's mistake - 
Noticing the missing bit before we bought the souvenir but assuming it was part of the design. This just goes to show I am not the only one who suffers from intermittent bouts of SOS (refer to my mistake in Rule no. 5).

Rule no. 7 - If you come from a country which takes bio-security seriously resist the urge to buy feathers, bones or bits of wood with borer holes in it. In fact resist the urge to buy anything made of material which was once part of a living thing. Airport quarantine officers are prone to confiscating such treasures. On the other hand, sometimes having that horrible piece of junk your partner bought on a whim in Azerbaijan confiscated is the kindest thing which can happen. I have been known to literally beg quarantine officers to save me from some of David's most awful purchases.

Rule no. 8 - Try to buy a souvenir at least vaguely related to wherever you are visiting. It may turn out to be a worthless piece of junk but at least it will conjure up memories of something other than being an idiot.

Our joint mistake -
 I still don't know what possessed us to buy an Aztec calendar when all the ruins we visited were Mayan. 

Other than don't! What advice would you give to someone about to buy a piece of junk for ten times its actual value?


Our other blog posts on Mexico


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28 comments:

  1. Lol this made me laugh Lyn.
    I’m happy to say we didn’t buy any of the crap, I mean stuff at Chitchen Itza nor anywhere else in Mexico actually. Sometimes doing carry on only has a lot of advantages ;)

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    1. Maybe David and I should switch to carry-on - or stop visiting countries where the souvenir sellers are smarter than us. Wait - that's the whole world!

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  2. I recognise a bit of me in many of those tips. I'd like to ad 'don't take your eyes off that rug you're buying in Morocco'. And, my daughter is an expert at haggling.

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    1. Haha - I can feel there is a story (blog post) behind that rug. Can I borrow your daughter for our trip to Egypt next month?

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  3. It is definitely a case of "buyer beware" when you are visiting a foreign country and feel caught up in the moment of bringing home a souvenir. Local vendors have to eat too; it is just a shame that so much of the merchandise they peddle is in fact junk and not of better quality. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. I agree with you about the vendors having to eat - and on a serious note, one of the reasons David doesn't haggle is that he is acutely aware we lead privileged lives compared to many people in some of the countries we visit. He just went a tad too far on this occasion.

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  4. Haha,haven't we all been there! We don't buy much these days although we seem to have a growing collection of fridge magnets 🤔. My favourite collectible has been ceramics - mostly small bowls but there is a limit to how many of those one needs. Loved this post!

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    1. We did the fridge magnet thing years ago, then we realised the only difference between a fridge magnet and any other piece of plastic junk is the magnet. I know what you mean about there being a limit to how many ceramic bowls you can use. I definitely need to buy a lot more side tables to house our collection.

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  5. I used to be a big souvenir purchaser - the old "I have to get something to remember here by", then I went the fridge magnet route and had so many they covered the fridge. Now I try to buy a small piece of artwork or maybe a Christmas ornament since I've given my kids their ornaments from growing up. But I only do it if something really moves me. Fun post, Lyn!

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    1. I like the idea of buying a Christmas ornament. Maybe I should try that - might have to get a heavy duty tree though to hold them all - lol!

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  6. This is a humorous post, but probably most of us have suffered from sudden onset stupid in our travels -- ha ha! I know that most trinkets don't mean anything to me, but my husband gets a magnet (and often a cap, keychain AND other things) from everywhere we go. My one weakness is cultural rubber duckies. I do have a collection (Napoleon rubber ducky is too funny!)

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    1. David (hubby) has bought so many souvenir keychains for our boys over the years they have literally begged him to stop.

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  7. This is a fun post, Lyn! We've all been there with you, with a large "S" (for sucker) embedded to our forehead. The Mexicans are very skilled negotiators. Like you say, walking away is the best thing we can and should do. But we're all human and get caught up in the moment. I've not yet been to Turkey, but I hear they're even better at haggling than the Mexicans!"

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    1. Funny you should mention Turkey. David and I are tossing around the idea of Turkey in 2019 or 2020. I don't think I can NOT buy a souvenir but maybe I need to accept I will pay too much for another piece of junk and try to keep it to just one - lol!

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  8. Yes, we travel very light, especially now that airlines offer cheaoer airfare without checked in baggage. And we decided long ago that we would just buy the smallest, cutest, and most representative if the country we visited, not cuty, not park, etc.

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    1. With such long distances to fly from our home in Sydney Australia to get to almost anywhere in the world (except New Zealand) we don't do the 'hand luggage only' thing but maybe we should try it, if only to save us from yet more tacky souvenirs.

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  9. Oh man, I should probably feel bad for laughing through most of this but I promise it's only because everything you said resonates so strongly! I have made these mistakes over and over and never seem to learn. Here's to better luck next time!

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    1. I am glad to hear that we are not the only ones.

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  10. I agree, most of the souvenirs I buy end up in a box or storage without every taking it out...now I just love to window shop and take pictures instead for inspiration.

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    1. The pictures thing can be a trap too. I have literally thousands of them - lol!

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  11. Haha! Love these tips for not buying junk. My tip: shop when hungover: you are way better at haggling cause you are willing to walk away!

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  12. Too funny! I focus on buying only food souvenirs to bring home ...someone will always eat it. Although the beef jerky I bought on the Cowboy Trail in Alberta is still waiting for takers. :)

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    1. Food souvenirs are not an option for us. Food is the first thing which gets confiscated by the quarantine officers at the airport. Even an apple can get you into strife entering Australia - the perils of living somewhere which was cut of from the rest of the world more or less at the beginning of time.

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  13. Like others, we see ourselves in this post! But we are trying to reform. (Admittedly, I bought a fridge magnet on our last trip. No idea why.) IF we do consider buying something, we try to make it something we might have purchased anyhow. Our knit gloves and hats are from a Christmas Market. Our coffee cups are from Barcelona. Our Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments from around the world. Our fridge...is back behind those old magnets. I think. ;)

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    1. I confess that we do have the occasional souvenir which we are glad we bought but they are completely outweighed by the ones which I look at now and say - 'What were we thinking?'. Good luck finding your fridge. I read today the internet fridge is back on the market - there has to be a souvenir angle in there somewhere if only by playing all our holiday photos on a continuous loop.

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  14. Great tips! Here's one more--attempt to do a trade! I once did that in an impromptu situation with a young boy in Copala, Mexico. He got my compass, and I got one of his hand-carved village houses. I most love the story and photo that goes with it.

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    1. Trading sounds like a great idea. The trouble is I usually have nothing to trade with exept other junky souvenirs - lol!

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