Thursday, July 06, 2006

...and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

My parents travel a lot. In the past 12 months they have visited Ada/Portland 7 times, went to see my sister at least once, and been to Austria, the Czech Republic, South Africa and China. (Just imagine what it will be like when they retire in another year or so.) They are wonderful, energetic travelers who feel compelled to see and do everything possible on their trips, not to mention eat as much local food as they can get. They are generally respectful of local traditions and mores, and despite a lack of skill in this area, they work at the local languages and learn key phrases before heading on their trips. Their one travel sin is that they are stinky trinket buyers.

I am not referring to my parents' tendency to buy momentos for themselves. (My father's desire for a full-sized replica of a Terracotta Warrior aside.) No, the problem is that they like to buy gifts for my sister, me and our men, but are the worst gift-pickers ever. For many years my parents traveled the globe and plunked down euros (and before that francs, pence or lira), dollars or whatever the local currency required to buy us t-shirts everywhere they went. Paris? yup. Stockholm? Mmmhmm. Machu Pichu? Si. The Galapagos? Holy Darwin, yes. (But who wouldn't want a blue footed booby shirt?)

Finally my sister and I took a stand. "No more t-shirts" we implored. "We don't wear them, we don't want them. We'd rather get no gift than these farkatke shirts. We love you, but please stop." My father was insulted, he bitched and moaned. We held our ground. Eventually he got over the slight.

My mother was the person really impacted by this edict. She is the kind of nice person who feels compelled to get her children and their partners gifts at every port of call, despite her lack of skill as a gift-buyer. For someone who is very tuned in to other people, she never gets the right thing. To avoid this I arranged for her to buy me a year's subscription to The New Yorker as an annual Chanukah gift. This has not completely stemmed the flow of bad gifts (the soft but impossibly huge Andean sweater, the fossilized trinket or CD of David McCullough's John Adams biography), but it helps.

With the moratorium on shirt buying, my mother has had to get creative. She bought me a cool-looking but impractical toaster-cozy handmade by a women's collective in South Africa. From China I got a silk scarf of a style I will never wear but that will make a good addition to Ada's future dress-up box. It's too bad, because how hard would it have been to buy a single color silk scarf? Instead I get one with a brown and black pattern that includes Chinese characters spelling out I know not what. I should not complain, I also got pearls. Chris got a Burberry knock-off scarf that he actually seems to like. My sister's fiance got an itchy scarf that he re-gifted a week later.

In Ada my mother now has a new victim recipient of t-shirts loved one for whom she can buy gifts. Behold, the latest purchases from the parent travel t-shirt torture:


  1. If only my inlaws would not do that too - OR better - nothing - NO GIFTS. Just give me the cash, or a gift card, or nothing...

    Tomorrow is Q's birthday - hooray for 12,000 loud squawking toys and polyester pooh outfits.

  2. We might be long-lot relatives. My parents do the same exact thing. The wife and I have received the world's ugliest t-shirts from every country in the world (the funny thing is that allt he t-shirts are made in China.) Finally, we forced them to stop. But now that they have a granddaughter, they're back to their old ways. I usually put the t-shirt on my daughter, snap a few photos, and then donate the t-shirts to Goodwill.

  3. I can totally relate to this. Once my mother bought me feather earrings and that was it. I was done with her presents. Now if it's my birthday or whatever we have lunch. Done. Finito.

  4. I hate to get all crotchety on you but, y'know what? try to enjoy the gift-giving for what it is -- an expression of love. Someday the givers will be gone, the gifts will stop and even if you can never wear/use the things, you'll be glad to have them.

    Besides, I think those t-shirts are both pretty cute.

  5. Ha ha! My folks bought Madeline no less than three t-shirts on their last vacations. She can sleep in them, if nothing else :)

  6. I like place shirts. i don't wear them, but I like them. Especially on kids. I'm glad your mom found a new outlet for her place tee shirt love.

  7. I want one of those Badger shirts! My Dad travelled tons on business.. still sort of does. My parents love to travel and generally buy weird things.

    Funnily though whenever my Dad goes to Poland I tell him to buy me a purse. He is really good at buying purses, who knew?

  8. I must be one of the few that like those shirts. Maybe it's because I don't get many. Nobody ever travels in my family. I think the kids each have a shirt from Hawaii and that's it. Oh one from the Phillipines as well.

  9. I like that badger shirt too.

    My parents are exactly the same. Brian keeps trying to get me to tell my mom when I don't like her gifts, but I can't bring myself to do it. So the parade of terribles continues. The worst part? She likes to get things personalized with our names, so there is no re-gifting possible.