So I’m going to do that thing I tell students not to do: I’ll start with a definition. And not only will I start with a definition, but it will be from dictionary.com, not even a dictionary with a spine and distracting thumbnail pictures.
A “souvenir,” according to this source, is a “usually small and relatively inexpensive article given, kept, or purchased as a reminder of a place visited, an occasion, etc; memento.”
I think of “souvenir” with negative connotations, a term for dollar-store crap with an exotic place name slapped on it. I wasn’t even going to use the word “souvenir” except that I like the assonance, the smooth “oo” that opens up in “groovy” and carries through in “souvenir,” your mouth left in a shape that’s ready to whistle.
“Souvenir” derives from a French word for remembering, which comes from Latin for “to come to mind.” This is an etymology I can really get behind.
I like the idea that a souvenir conjures a memory of a place you’ve visited as well as signifying to the recipient that, in the middle of a bustling art market or uppity mall, you remembered them.
“Souvenir” synonyms include: reminder, keepsake, token.
“Token” is my preferred term for these little gifts. “Token” says: this going to be something small and approximate, but you should still act as though you really like it. It’s not going to capture the spirit of a place, nor the feeling you have for the recipient. It’s just a hint.
Also tokens make me think of Showbiz Pizza, or, in my hometown, Billy Bob’s Wonderland, with the same Rock-afire animatronic robot band. By the way, I recently watched Rock-afire Explosion on Netflix. Those “heartwarming documentaries” get me every time. I wanted to like this movie more than I actually did, but it’s still worth your 80 minutes.
Which souvenirs did I abscond with in Costa Rica? Ah, clever reader, let the photos above of some rad textiles serve as foreshadowing for my next post.
How do you feel about souvenirs? What have been some of the best gifts you’ve brought back (or that have been brought back to you)?