Buying Gifts in the City of Lights
Sometimes, the urge to buy a souvenir for someone back home can overwhelm you, no matter how much of a stalwart you are. You forgot their birthday was coming up, perhaps, and need to get something to show you care. Maybe it’s Mother’s Day next week…This is now time to Buying Souvenirs in Paris
Rule number 1 – don’t panic!
Rule number 2 – don’t stop into the nearest side-shop you see! Chances are, you’ll get fleeced. There are three major areas for buying these kinds of gifts – the first is around the base of the major landmarks, such as the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, the second is up at Montmartre, and the third is along the banks of the Seine. Hopefully, this guide can help you choose which one you are looking for.
In my opinion, the Louvre/ Eiffel Tower/ many other major attractions have the worst kind of gift vendors: what my friend described as, “lookie, lookie!” men for their abrasive techniques. The fare I’ve seen on offer is usually not great – the typical golden Eiffel Tower, often for about €5. Unless your friend/ family member has specifically said, “find me the trashiest piece of Parisian propaganda possible,” I wouldn’t recommend buying one of these. Of course, there are variations on the theme – outside the Pompidou Centre, I’ve seen wire sculptures of items like saxophones on sale, which may float your boat.
The main problem I have with these kind of ‘sales people’ is their confrontational approach. I know their job doesn’t net a regular salary, but I imagine people would be less inclined if it weren’t for a burly man shaking a ring of Eiffel Towers ominously close to their faces.
When it comes to Montmartre, this problem is evident to a certain degree. Well, it’s probably easiest to split this into two categories: Sacre Coeur itself, and Montmartre. Sacre Coeur features the infamous ‘string men’, who approach tourists (typically female), tie a piece of string around their wrists and then demand payment. I’ve had days where they’ve attempted to block up all the stairways, and they can be fairly aggressive, shouting or intoning angrily when denied. If police appear, they do scatter, so if you’re lucky and the rozzers are around, you won’t have this problem to deal with! Aside from string men, at the top, close to Sacre Coeur itself, there are sometimes a few street-artists, though nothing major.
On the other hand, the winding streets of Montmartre feature a plethora of vendors, which give away some excellent gifts as well as gaudy trinkets. Amidst the scarves, inevitable ‘Au Chat Noir’ posters and itchy berets, there are some very good pieces of artwork which, if not necessarily original, still look as if thought was put into choosing them. There’s a high end chocolaterie there too (a little out of place opposite a shop selling Eiffel-Tower bottles of cognac and cheap clothing) if you are looking for something a bit more posh.Buying Souvenirs in Paris However, my favourite place to look for gifts is definitely along the banks of the Seine, from the great green ‘bins’ which unlock to reveal treasure troves of goodies. Of course there are the little Eiffel Towers for sale, and fridge magnets and little mirrors. But what’s also on offer are fabulous collections of books (mainly French though some English) from all time periods. If you have a friend who enjoys old books, forget Shakespeare and Company and bring them to the green bins!
There are also posters and pictures – not all of Paris, or indeed France, but many which give the impression of a well-thought out gift. The main point here is variety, and originality, which even at Montmartre is often lacking. Of course, you might have been looking for a mini Eiffel Tower, in which case I apologise for wasting your time.
Though If on the off chance they strike you as tourist tat and you’d like to try something a bit more inventive, then hopefully this will have been of some use to you.
This fine article was written in with great assistance from Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan who is a great writer of our time. You can find his other great works at www.sedanta.blogspot.fr, my twitter at www.twitter.com/SVR13 & at http://plus.google.com/110189987662898682585,