What is The Perfect Souvenir?


Living in New York, I dread having to enter Times Square.  One of the most iconic places in New York serves as my own personal hell full of grown men in Elmo costumes, middle school tour groups with matching lanyards, and worst of all pushy barkers for all kinds of clubs, bus rides, and their own failing rap careers.  But the worst part of Times Square isn't the McDonalds with the line out of the door.  It's not the Hard Rock Cafe or $1 Pizza Place mistakenly boasting "The Best Slice In New York!"  The worst part of Times Square is the souvenir shop full of midwestern men in their baseballs caps with bellies too big to fit into a single seat at a Broadway theater (and yet they try).

I'm not judging people for loving their "I heart NY" shirts, miniature taxi cabs, or awfully bedazzled trucker hats.  I am the queen of vacation nostalgia.  However, I maintain that the art of the souvenir has been lost.  Yes, I'm referring to souvenirs as an art.  Buying a shot glass in Times Square absolutely cannot  exemplify even the most stereotypical of New York tourist vacations.

If it hasn't already become clear, this article isn't justifying any and every souvenir, but the original purpose of a souvenir.

There is a trend towards minimalism in my/our generation.  Trinkets and knick knacks belong on Grandma's mantle, not our coffee table.  Our apartments are decorated with Etsy buys and vintage statement pieces.  There's not a snowglobe from Minnesota or a magnet from Florida to be seen.  And that makes sense:  the vacation of the millenial is not the same as the baby boomers.  We don't drive around the country, picking up mementos from rest stops along the way.  The era of the RV is over and there is a distinct preference of "glamping" over camping.

But just because our vacations involved couch surfing, brunching, and searching for the best independent bookstore to browse does not mean that the era of souvenirs is over.  They've just changed shape.

When I visit a new city, I don't want to buy a keychain, t-shirt, or pocket knife.  I'm living in either a dorm room or a small apartment.  There isn't much shelf space, and there certainly isn't a mantle to decorate.  I'm not about to buy another piece of junk to move from apartment to apartment with me– I don't have my parent's attic storage for nostalgia to sit around.

But I am as nostalgic as they come.  I'll pick up a rock from a hiking trip to keep around as a paperweight.  I save the playbill and ticket stub from every event I go to.  A new city most definitely requires some sort of something.

Until starting college, I was one to go into the tourist-trap-souvenir-shops.  I went to the store in Times Square and bought the shot glass.  But now the only space I have yet to fill in my postage-stamp Manhattan apartment is wall space.  So that's exactly what I've been doing.  Instead of browsing bookstores in Paris for another pound to add to my suitcase, you'll find me walking through street markets to find a new piece of art.  While the cool screen-printed tee seems like a great idea to remember Portland by, you can't (physically) out-grow a piece of art.

Art is the perfect souvenir.  Especially when bought from the artist directly.  Not only are you taking home something beautiful to hang on your wall, but you're taking home a piece of the culture, and the story of the artist you've (hopefully) met.

A souvenir shouldn't be bought in the last few hours before heading to the airport, just because you want a trinket to remember the vacation by.  A souvenir should represent the city you visited, beyond the tourism website.  It should reflect your own experiences, your own trip, and your own narrative of the memories you gained.

And if it can keep you out of Times Square, all the better.

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Meet The Author

I'm Madysen, born and raised in Nebraska but now living out my dreams in New York City. I moved here to go to Columbia, but living in New York has become so much more to me. This blog is a space where I can share my experiences of reconciling my midwestern upbringing with the life I live in the city. But even bigger than that, this blog serves as a space where I can try to understand where I fit into the larger social world, where I want to go in life, and how I want to go about pursuing all of these endeavors.

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