‘Crap Souvenirs’: New Book Explores Souvenirs So Bad They’re Good

Admit it. We’ve all bought terrible souvenirs while traveling. Even worse, occasionally even though we know it’s tacky, inauthentic, cheap, or just plain useless, we end up buying them anyway.


Because the human mind is a really weird thing. Oftentimes, however, we are so wrapped up in the “magic of the moment” that for some beguiling reason it makes total sense to spend $19.95 on a knockoff vuvuzela, which will probably end up at a garage sale a year later.

Acting upon this strange human tendency to trade hard-earned cash for complete and utter trash, author Doug Lansky has compiled a book appropriately titled “Crap Souvenirs.” The ensuing photo gallery features a snippet of some of the items you’re bound to find in the book (miniature toilet ashtray anyone?), but we also caught up with Doug for a brief Q&A on just how the inspiration for this book originally panned out.

%Gallery-168051%So, Doug. What made you want to write this book?

It was the confluence of a few things: having my collection of funny signs (Signspotting) turned into a website and book series and getting a laugh from the kitsch stuff found in the SkyMall catalog. The SkyMall catalog showed me that photos of this stuff could be just as hilarious as the real thing and the success of the Signspotting series gave my publisher confidence to roll the dice with this project.

Do you buy souvenirs when you travel?

Not usually. I used to buy stuff, but now that I’ve “settled” here in Stockholm (wife, 3 kids, 3 cats and a tiny house), I found nearly all of the souvenirs have ended up in storage. Only one that gets regular use is the Japanese high-tech toilet seat I picked up. But while waiting for the plane, my wife and I would have a playful competition to see who could spot the most comically kitsch souvenir in the gift shop. Then I started taking photos of them and eventually became a compulsive collector. I picked up a few small items, but there’s very limited shelf and wall space at home with three kids putting up their recent art projects.

I can imagine. Is there one word for the research on this project that jumps out above the rest?

One word would have to be “entertaining,” but the feeling is somewhere between a laugh and a cringe.

From your research on this project does the concept of what makes a “good souvenir” seem to vary across nationalities/regions?

I still don’t know what a “good souvenir” is. Even just defining “souvenir” was a challenge – one I spent a page or two in the book explaining. The souvenirs in this book are, you might say, so bad they’re good. Nearly all souvenirs have an element of kitsch. That’s part of their charm. But sometimes it goes delightfully overboard. There are some places (Amsterdam, London, Las Vegas, Egypt, Florida, Australia) that seem to have mastered kitsch more than others. But it may be that these places just have such a vibrant souvenir industry that they have gotten a bit experimental looking for new niches.

Well, any final thoughts on what goes in to a “crap souvenir”?

There’s no exact formula for extreme kitsch, but there are a few basic ingredients. One is the use of animal parts, like a kangaroo back scratcher. Another is the combination of things, like a ceramic Florida alligator with a thermometer built into it. A third is when you take something sacred and make it into mundane, like putting the Pope’s face on a bottle opener or putting King Tut’s face on a toenail clipper. Then you’ve got some classic irony, like when they have a souvenir shot glass. Here you’ve got an item whose basic purpose is to help you drink so much you can’t remember a thing, so you need to own it so you can remember that which you couldn’t remember.