it's not what you buy, but what you bring it home in
a globe-trotting shopper shares his collection of souvenir bags
By Donn Cost
europe knows when I've arrived. You can hear me rolling my suitcase down the cobblestones. Often, it's filled with souvenirs -- like that tacky plaster replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or, further afield, the silk vest from Hong Kong. And I've saved just about every bag such mementos came in. Some people consider shopping an art -- I've made an art of collecting shopping bags.
I have all kinds: paper, plastic, with handles and without. Most wind up at home stored in a trunk. Periodically, I pull them out -- each a "postcard" of a trip, helping me remember the town, the store or the food I ate there.
For example, the ones from Japan remind me of the attentive sales clerks, who meticulously wrapped each item before they put it in the bag. There's the purple bag from Liberty of London, where the clerk asked me where I was from, what time it was back home and how I was enjoying my stay.
There are several Christmas bags, most from Germany. Some have nutcrackers on them. One, from the Christkindles Market in Nuremberg, has a bright yellow and orange angel on it.
Many bags depict the place where I got them. They're the best. I have ones with the blue and white diamonds of the Bavarian flag. Others have illustrations of towns or stores -- the one with the sketch of Muckross House in Killarney, Ireland; the one with boats from the Maritime Museum in Macau; the one with Shakespeare's portrait from his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England; the one from a watch store in Switzerland with a map of that country; even a white plastic bag with green chickens from a Wienerwald restaurant in Germany.
Others are relatively plain: one with a sketch of the canals of Amsterdam or another that reads simply "Salzburg -- Mozarts Geburtshaus" (Mozart's birthplace).
Clerks wrote on some bags -- they added the price of the items, or wrote the total price when I couldn't speak the language.
The bags come in a range of colors. There are bright green ones from the British shopping staple Marks and Spencer in London. And I have forest green bags and white bags from Marks and Spencer in Hong Kong -- written in both English and Chinese. Then, there's that red and white Kmart bag -- from Prague.
Sometimes, I save wrapping paper, too: blue and white paper featuring images of Greek pottery, a green paper map of the Isle of Capri in Italy, the deep red paper with Mephistopheles from Goethe's "Faust" from the Auerbachs Keller restaurant in Leipzig, Germany.
I acquired most of the big bags at toy stores. Monopoly games came in those. But that's another collection....
Donn Cost is a producer for CNN Headline News and an avid world traveler. His recent trips have taken him to Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland, China and Hong Kong.