Tourist trappings: why we all love a tacky souvenir fridge magnet

Miniature clogs, pretzel paperweights, tiny cathedrals… What do our kitsch holiday mementoes tell us about modern tourism – and ourselves?

There is a magnet shaped like Finland, a bottle opener adorned with Austrian edelweiss and an “I Dubai” mug that all come from the very same place. In Charles Zhao’s factory in Wenzhou, China, sentimental markers of places visited and sights seen are made, sold and shipped around the world. There’s a comedy apron that looks like lederhosen; an embroidered badge of Santorini; a keyring shaped like a London bus.

Fifteen years ago, Zhao gave up an “enviable civil service job” to start his company, Talmud. He began by printing promotional gifts – fridge magnets and coasters adorned with the logos of different businesses. But the promotional gifts industry is turbulent, Zhao says, “because the real big brands change their promotion plans almost every year”. He looked for something more stable. He turned to souvenirs.

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