Talk to me like I’m stupid: Souvenirs and essentialism

TTMLIS time: As I was jotting down some notes, it occurred to me that some quite smart people have probably done some, or even a lot, of thinking about the questions below. So I’m going to take a page from TNC’s book, and ask you to ‘Talk to me like I’m stupid‘ (in a polite way). Let me know if there are ideas I should know about, or words I should read. 

I’m in Seoul at the moment, visiting a friend. In a little bit of free time, I’ve wandered down to Insadong-gil, and bought souvenirs for co-workers back in Mongolia. As I wandered through the shops (looking at variations on the same items), it occurred to me what a strange thing souvenirs are. 

I think sometimes when we’re buying souvenirs, there’s a kind of essentialism at work (or perhaps this is just how I think about it). We want souvenirs that reflect the essence of the country – that are ‘really Korean’, or ‘genuinely Mongolian’. That’s why people don’t like it when the Australian souvenir pens with koalas on them say Made in Taiwan – it violates that sense of essence, of originality. 

But it’s a very strange kind of essence we’re looking for. Because we’re not after something that reflects our own experience, necessarily. If that was the case I’d be taking back mini/model trendy restaurants full of delicious food, and some kind of representation of a city that is incredibly organised, tidy and consumer based. 

Perhaps it’s a little self-perpetuating, too; we see ‘traditional’ Korean souvenirs, and so we want some of that, and so we look for something similar. But the strange thing is we’re getting these signals from places that are very – to my mind – ‘inauthentic’. I know I’m lazy when it comes to souvenirs, and so I want to go to a shop and buy them; which means that I’m going to something that’s … easily accessible, user friendly, and probably designed specifically for tourists. So probably not that ‘authentic’. 

So I find the whole thing slightly strange; we’re trying to buy an essence of something we may not have experienced, to give to people who haven’t been there, through an object that often isn’t a good representation and in a shop that is almost certainly not ‘authentic’. 

Weird, right?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s