As a society we don't aim very high with our souvenirs. Instead we've reached the following unspoken agreement: as travelers we'll consider the loved ones who haven't joined us on the trip for roughly the period of time between our arrival at the airport and our boarding; as loved ones we'll accept these gifts and tuck them behind other souvenirs on a shelf in the guest room in the basement until such time as our next residential move. The old saying is a bit off here: it's really the afterthought that counts.
With that in mind it's hard to criticize souvenir makers for not exactly giving it their all. Still, sometimes a souvenir falls so far short of even this admittedly low qualitative goal that it merits acknowledgement. When that happens in real life we reassess our friendships; when it happens on the Internet we count our blessings for the Internet. Below we offer a few of the most embarrassing city-related souvenirs you can bring home for someone you purportedly care about. (Special thanks to the Crap Souvenirs site and its creator, Doug Lansky, for some inspiration.)
The Lady Liberty Comb
We can't possibly know what most late 19th and early 20th century immigrants were thinking as their cramped ships passed the Statue of Liberty on its way into Ellis Island after many grueling weeks at sea, but most likely they were thinking about how their hair looked. (At least the ones destined for Jersey.) There's even a tiny message on the bottom of the comb that reads: Give me your blondes, your cowlicks, your tousled mullets yearning to be groomed. OK, no there isn't, but you wouldn't really be surprising if it did. Nor if it were made in China.
Image: Katie Knox via Crap Souvenirs
The Eiffel Cower (and Family)
The only thing to say here is sacre moo. This may be the worst depiction of the Eiffel Tower we've ever seen. But let's give it the benefit of the doubt and instead say it's a commemorative stuffed animal of "Paris," the lonely milk cow who hung herself by the tail after applying mascara and branding her own name into her chest. The late Paris was owned by the equally awful stuffed Eiffel family, who won't be smiling so hard when they realize how long it will be before they can make more Brie.
Image: LunaMoth116 via Flickr
I [Heart] London Nail Clipper
In some ways it's admirable to see a commercial product so breathtakingly lazy. The "I [Heart] London" nail clipper is the type of thing you'd expect to receive if you asked the employees of a souvenir stand to make their own item for work. Just about the only circumstance in which slapping the word "London" onto a basic household item and calling it a souvenir from one of the world's greatest cities is acceptable is if that's the nail clipper Kate Middleton uses. In which case we'll take ten.
Honorable Mention for London: This pair of skimpy underwear with a Tube map design.
Image: Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu via Crap Souvenirs
San Francisco Canned Fog
Unlike some other items on this list, at least this Canned Fog from San Francisco has something to do with the city it's representing. But they could sell Canned Higgs Boson in Geneva — that doesn't mean you should buy it. What's great about this particular canned souvenir are the two messages on the bottom. The first reads: "Accept no substitutes." (Because you'd be a real sucker to buy just any brand of canned fog.) The second reads: "Do not open! Contents will dissipate." (Because we'd be in real legal trouble if you found out there was nothing inside.)
Image: Linda N. via Crap Souvenirs
Some of us are partial to word play — see above: sacre moo — but unless it's playfully ironic, or so bad it's better than if it were not bad, it must be used with caution on souvenirs. The above shirt from Prague falls into this purgatory of puns. May we suggest instead a simple: "Czech Out Prague." It's not a perfect souvenir slogan, but compared with these shirts it would be Prague-ress.
Image: ainudil via Flickr
In case you can't tell from the picture, what we have here is a box of pasta that's shaped like the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Great for the family member back home who loves his noodles neoclassical. (Ich bin ein hungry.) That unsettled feeling in your stomach afterwards isn't the uncomfortable memory of a divided Germany — no, it's just dozens of overcooked Doric columns making their way through your digestive tract.
Image: Doug Lansky via Crap Souvenirs
Las Vegas Flower Mug
Forget the nightclubs and the gambling and the legal prostitution and the illegal prostitution. The spirit of Las Vegas is best found in a warm cup of Chamomile sipped in a sun-soaked tea room at a table covered by lavender doilies. Apparently what happens at the back of grandma's cupboard stays at the back of grandma's cupboard.
Image: Elsie Jones via Crap Souvenirs
Tokyo Skytree Sunglasses
So you want a stylish memento from the land of the rising sun? Well how about a pair of rising sunglasses. (Just like the yakuza wear!) At least the Zoff company was able to restrain itself from placing a lurching Godzilla over your other eye. If there's one thing that's essential to a great souvenir, it's moderation.
Image: youkaine via Flickr