Brace yourself, Paris
Sunday 20 December 1998
Souvenirs? What were all those people doing, trying to sell me alabaster sphinxes outside the pyramids (for example)? I was travelling to have a deep cultural experience, not to push supermarket trolleys around the Sahara.
It was the same the first time I travelled to India, where I found people constantly trying to sell me cheap watches and plastic birds with flapping wings that made tweeting noises. At the time I did not quite understand why.
My mates told me that the desire to shop in a exotic climate was indicative of being open-minded but the only times I ever bought anything I always felt, in some obscure way, that I had been conned.
There was my plastic flamenco dancer, my Arc de Triomphe in a snowstorm, my Leaning Tower of Pisa bookmark, my Acropolis made of pink sugar. And a lot of good money which could have been spent on bus tickets or breakfasts went down the drain.
Even when I moved slightly more upmarket things were little better. Buying a carpet in Istanbul I was so mesmerised by the technique of the salesman - who told me that bargaining was a vulgar habit - that I completely omitted to bargain. By the time it was delivered six months later I had gone off it. Then I got hit by a huge bill for duty and VAT.
In fact the passion with which people defend their right to duty-free shopping still strikes me as pretty odd. As far as I can see, that kind of shopping is largely about encouraging the abuse of cigarettes and alcohol. And what on earth of Spain (or France or Italy) can there be in a bottle of Red Label or a carton of Marlboro?
But putting those quibbles aside, I am now beginning to realise that my shopping problems were a matter of technique. Instead of trifling with souvenirs I should have been importing goods.
Instead of multi-coloured elephants and jingling ankle bracelets, I should have been seeking out Persian carpets made in the time of the Mughals or (and this is a hot tip from someone who claims to know about these things) the finest pashmina shawls woven from the under-belly hair of a mountain goat.
I've just started to jump on to this bandwagon and am beginning to enjoy it. Last week I grabbed a hi-fi in Singapore airport of the sort which British citizens will probably not be able to buy until some time in the next millennium. I also picked up a couple of oil canvases which could only have possibly been painted in the island of Bali. Even paying duty on these items has not dampened my enthusiasm.
Not only have I started shopping but I have gone the whole hog and become a serious shopping snob. Now I'm off to Paris where I plan to visit an 18th-century parfumerie to get a scent tailor-made according to my appearance, character, habits and taste.
I may also buy a Jean-Paul Gaultier suit assuming that I can find one expensive enough. And as a result of this, the lucky Parisians should expect to derive considerable economic advantage. Happy Christmas to them.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
The 50 Best spas
Map identifies the best and worst places for emergency healthcare in the world
The Atlas of Beauty: Photographer travels around the world to capture cultural diversity through stunning portraits of women
Friends 20th anniversary: Where to visit as a superfan in New York
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...
£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...
£18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...
£15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...