Dutch Tulip Fever — It’s a Pandemic!

by Katy on August 20, 2014 · 36 comments

I’ve written before about Dutch Tulip Feverwhich is defined as:

The tendency to buy a certain theme of useless crap that seems exciting at the time of purchase, but is instantly regrettable once taken home. 

Although this is specific to useless Dutch items, it can be expanded to fit most any situation. Dutch examples? Wooden clogs, windmill knick-knacks, kissing children figurines and any and all tulip-related items. Expanded examples? Shoddy I ♥ NY T-shirts, city-specific plastic knick-knacks and anything painted on a coconut.

Picture yourself on vacation in The Netherlands, surrounded by gift shops and suddenly it becomes a good idea, no a great idea, no the best idea to buy wooden clogs for all of your family and friends. You make international phone calls to figure out everyone’s shoe sizes and fill your luggage with aforementioned clogs.

Then you get home.

You unzip your luggage and find yourself staring down at a jumble of wooden clogs. Useless, and let’s face it, big and ugly. And all those fussy blue and white breakables, how did they did in there?

Crap.

You’ve fallen prey to the ailment that is Dutch Tulip Fever!

Please don’t lull yourself into thinking that your non-international travels provide immunity to D.T.F. $30 concert T-shirts, any mass produced Made in China souvenir and pretty much any useless souvenir tchotchke fall into this category.

Need proof that Dutch Tulip Fever is a true and diagnosable malady? I present to you the Goodwill evidence!

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Do you fall prey to Dutch Tulip Fever when traveling, or are do you bring back memories and leave the gift shops untouched? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn A August 20, 2014 at 11:27 am

The vase is for forcing bulbs, so I guess it has some usefulness.

I visited Holland in May 1996 as a college student. I bought a small tile in Delft, depicting a Dutch scene from the month of May. It’s still hanging on the wall in my kitchen, a tiny reminder of my trip.

When I travel now, my souvenirs are typically consumables and/or jewelry.

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Jennifer N August 20, 2014 at 11:33 am

I admit, it is HARD to go on vacation anywhere and leave without a memento, especially when it’s a special trip. I am usually very good though about staying within the bounds of things I need and/or love and/or will actually use. For example, when I was in NYC for my best friend’s wedding, I picked up a red I <3 NY mug that I use all the time.

I've never been one to buy souvenirs for my family or friends while out of town – I wish people would end that practice. If I've never actually been to Canada, then I probably don't need a shot glass from Toronto!

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Katy August 20, 2014 at 11:38 am

Ahh . . . shot glasses! Great example.

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Terri W. August 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm

We took our grandsons on vacation recently and went to an aquarium. Of course the employees cheerily took our picture, which I was expecting, and charged $24 for 2 5×7 prints. I did buy them, even though that’s a huge price, because I was planning on it ahead of time. Then to exit the building you HAVE TO GO THRU THE GIFT SHOP!!
There is no other exit besides the emergency ones! We have wonderful grandsons, 13 and 10 yrs old, who were ready to move on to the next attraction on our trip. So I told them to just follow me and we barreled on thru without buying anything. But heaven help all those young parents with small children!

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Katy August 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Yes, the whole “must exit through the gift shop” seems to be part of all recently built museums. You need blinders.

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AnnDenee August 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm

There is a documentary on Netflix “Exit Through the Gift shop” which explores that phenomenon.

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Su Mama August 20, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Ah, you need to visit Graceland for the ultimate “exit through the gift shop” experiences. Also, they’ll take your picture standing next to a life-size cutout of The King — AND they’ll photo-shop it to make you nice and skinny. OF COURSE we did a couple of those. I mean, Jeez! Who wouldn’t?

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Sarah August 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm

We have *two* pairs of those tiny ceramic shoes, brought back from Holland by the in-laws on different trips approximately 10 years apart. Granted, FIL is Dutch so they have a little bit of special meaning, but they must have forgotten that they brought us the same souvenir last time.

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Carolyn August 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Over the years, I buy less and less on vacation.

I am proud to say that on our latest mini-vacation to northern Michigan, our only souvenirs were rocks the kids collected.

The only food we purchased was ice cream and everything else we brought from home. This offset the high cost of the condo we rented.

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Michelle August 20, 2014 at 2:46 pm

We went on vacation last week, Canada and Montana. The gifts I bought myself were from the thrift store in Montana. I love them!

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Betsey August 21, 2014 at 9:39 am

I, too, visit thrift shops on vacations. It’s fun!

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Kate August 21, 2014 at 1:06 pm

My 15-year-old daughter and I researched thrift and consignment shops on every stop of our vacation this year. I got some cute things!

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Emily N. August 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I actually had a set of those tiny ceramic shoes that I inherited from my grandparents. I think I recently got rid of them. I still have a little ceramic figurine of a Dutch boy and girl kissing, although I was just considering this morning whether or not I want to keep it. I’m really not into figurines, but my husband thinks I’m heartless when I declare that I want to get rid of things that were given to me by friends or relatives.

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Tina S. August 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Actually, the blue pair and the yellow pair of clogs in the pictures are authentic and wearable and probably made in Holland (yes, some people still actually do wear them, mostly in the countryside – wooden clogs with woolen socks are great for cold damp weather). The other stuff is just touristy crap, mostly made in China. I spent a decade of my adult life in the Netherlands, and actually worked in a souvenir store for a few years (the only job I could find at the time). I do have a pair of authentic wooden clogs I got in a thrift store here in the US. I have them hanging up on my patio – they bring back wonderful memories.

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Alison August 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I got back last week from a month in Europe and the only souvenir I bought was a water colour of the fortress in Salzburg. We make it a point to buy a piece of art to commemorate our travels. It’s very freeing to be on vacation and not having to shop at all! The only gifts I bought for family were some bars of dutch chocolate from Amsterdam. Easy to store in luggage, very well received, and not expensive. Of course we took lots of pictures. I also travelled very light so didn’t have room to pack anything more. It was great!

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patti August 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm

We buy Christmas ornaments, if we buy anything at all, so when we decorate our tree, it brings back sweet memories. Otherwise I buy things I can use and remember that it came from “XXXX”.

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Sadye August 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I love that idea. A friend also likes to buy artwork (like actual paintings) when she and her spouse vacation.

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kris August 21, 2014 at 3:08 am

That’s what we do to! We always talk about ‘remember when we went to _____’ while decorating the tree.

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Laura Lou August 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I try to stick to christmas ornaments or refrigerator magnets. Both are relatively inexpensive and fun to use. The magnets can certainly get overwhelming if you get too many of them, but with two little kids and plenty of “masterpieces” I can put them to good use.

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Katelyn August 20, 2014 at 6:41 pm

I’m a decidedly budget traveller, and on my big “Epic Journey 2012,” where I travelled through eastern Canada, I only bought one souvenir at all, and though it was from a gift shop, the item is a hand-carved pencil made from local branches, with the town’s name hand written on it. Cheesy, yes, but cute. Everything else I grabbed was free, like part of a washed-up lobster trap, some red dirt, and every town map I could find! Oh, and yes, I also took about 3000 pictures. :D
The little plastic knick-knacks have no cultural value to me, and I have no want for them in my life.

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Eva August 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Yes I love maps as well. I collect them and love to lock at them. For years I had them in a cardboard box in the attic. About ten years ago I found an old map chest that we now use as a coffee table. put my maps, spread out in there at least weekly look at one of them.

I have maps of countries that are not even countries anymore! They are good for reminiscing and trying to remember how to pronounce the place names.

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Rebecca August 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm

We buy a keychain when we are on all of our adventures. We keep them in a jar on the mantel as the year goes on. We add them to the Christmas tree ornamenst each year. Sometimes even print a small picture of us on the back. We have fun squinting at the small pictures when we are decorating the tree. But without the clutter lying around all of the time from other souvenirs.

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JD August 21, 2014 at 4:50 am

We never had a lot of money to travel on so souvenirs were not an option when I was growing up, but I remember a trip to Arkansas made with my parents when I was a kid, when my parents took us to a potter’s shop to watch the potter work, and bought a set of soup/cereal bowls he had made. We used those bowls daily for years and years. I learned from that — these days I buy original art or signed prints, Christmas ornaments, hand crafted useful items we actually will use all the time, or local food specialties, such as syrup (to die for) from a working maple syrup farm in Vermont. Quite often I bring home nothing but memories and photos. I don’t want anyone bringing me a souvenir coin purse, plate or tiny wooden box from their travels, so I don’t bring such things to anyone else.

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Diane C August 21, 2014 at 6:36 am

Oh yes, I souvenir shop, but not in a conventional way. I don’t love clothes shopping at home, but don’t mind a tiny bit of it when I travel. Every time I snuggle into my warm fleece jacket from New Zealand or wrap into the skirt I got at the Aloha Swap in Hawaii, it brings back a flood of memories. My other category is consumables, primarily tea and chocolate. The beauty of these selections is that you buy them in real stores, not tourist traps. I love to check out grocery stores, particularly in foreign countries.

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Linda August 21, 2014 at 7:14 am

Our family has started a tradition of getting reusable bags from the places we visit. We can remember our trip while we bring in the groceries.

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Roberta August 21, 2014 at 7:29 am

We love buying local jams, jellies, and honey. Sometimes the empty jars join the collection of jars for storing leftovers, but mostly we just remember our trips as we finish off the jam (and who couldn’t use more jam in their lives?).

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Rowen Grove August 21, 2014 at 8:29 am

I tend toward hand-crafted local items, or small pieces of art, plus a pebble or two from specific locations. Sometimes a few books on specific local topics (or local cookbooks), of the sort that don’t usually show up on amazon. Some of my very best finds have been in thrift shops, or used-book stores.

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Beth August 21, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I confess I buy postcards. Professional photographers take better photos than I do and I find it freeing to not see my travels through a camera all the time :)

My parents buy me pyjamas when they travel. I wear them until they’re threadbare!

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Amy August 21, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I used to be a big offender in this regard, but not anymore. I still like to shop on vacation, but I aim for more practical stuff than I did before, stuff I know I will use. If I’m traveling alone for work, I like to bring home something edible for the family. If my family is with me, we might browse local and chain stores that are not available around us, like IKEA. I haven’t traveled much since I started reading this blog and I love the idea of visiting local thrift shops when I travel from now on.

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Joanne August 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I rarely buy the tchochkes with the name of the city painted on them, except for refrigerator magnets. More likely I’ll buy something I will use, often from a thrift shop. For example, from my latest trip to the Grand Canyon, I bought my son a t-shirt that says “Arizona” on it from a thrift shop, and some non-branded clothes for me at that same thrift shop. A tank top I had gave up the ghost while I was out there, so I bought a replacement at the thrift shop and it will forever (or as long as it lasts) be my souvenir of the trip.

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Reese August 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I’d love to see a pin-spiration board with new uses for old clogs. Mini planters? mini fences? hrm?

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Carla August 21, 2014 at 6:52 pm

This post is an oddly useful reminder, as my husband and I are travelling to the Netherlands next month. Our habit has been to buy our birthday/Christmas gifts as our souvenirs from vacation. On our last trip to Germany, we bought a cuckoo clock as our combined birthday presents. I’m hoping the next trip takes care of Christmas!

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peppergrass August 22, 2014 at 3:57 am

I used to be pretty bad about loading up on useless souvenir crap when I traveled. (Still regretting some purchases on my trip to the UK 16 years ago.) Happy to report that on my last big trip (a long weekend in NYC), I only bought one souvenir – a small statue of the Empire State Building that my son specifically asked for. We still have it, and we still like it. It’s still a silly little tchotchke, but it was just ONE. ;)

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Nesha August 22, 2014 at 3:59 am

My husband does buy souvenir t shirts, but at least he does wear them!

I’ve narrowed my selection down over the years to Christmas ornaments, dish towels, and bottles of local wine.

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Heather August 23, 2014 at 1:33 pm

On our vacation to the Washington, DC / East Coast area I bought a few post cards (of views I couldn’t take a photo of) and stickers for our scrapbook. Besides that it was Hershey chocolates (which we ate on the trip) and Hershey T-shirts (which everyone in the family has already worn more than once).

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Eva August 27, 2014 at 9:21 am

I’ve travelled a lot over the years so I’ve been constantly tempted by souvenirs.

What I buy are postcards, but I don’t send them, I keep them as souvenirs. I try to buy the nicest, best photographed ones, or even better sketches or paintings of places on postcards. The best ones are usually at museums or gift shops at historic sites. I also buy vintage postcards of places I’ve been. I love vintage postcards but I try not to go berserk with them. Mostly I find them at estate sales and garage sales. I buy only ones of places I’ve actually been (my internal discipline) though I could easily succumb to buying many more that are lovely.

I display my postcards on tiny easels (which are easy to make from chopsticks or other small bits of wood you can paint) or small plate stands. I put a stack of 20 or so postcards on a stand then switch out the scenes as often as I want. I found a tiny bamboo easel for 29 cents at a thrift store. I display my Asian postcards on that in my Asian themed guest room.

I confess to a weakness for touristy tea towels and tea towels in general. Don’t ask me why, I just love them! Some of the touristy ones are so kitschy it’s insane … then I have to have it! They make me smile. I only buy the linen ones (discipline). And they are functional, they don’t sit around, I use them every day. Linen practically never wears out and gets nicer and nicer the more times it is washed. I probably have about 30 touristy tea towels and a lot more non-tourist vintage linen tea towels, some with nice embroidery or cutwork. I love all things linen and could easily run amok with tablecloths, napkins etc. but I limit myself to tea towels (again, more discipline).

My advice if you’ve got the collecting bug is to chose something small and easy to store for collecting. (For example I have a friend who collects thimbles, mostly silver). All my tea towels fit in one deep drawer in a built in linen cupboard. All my postcards fit in matching photo boxes (about the size of shoeboxes) neatly stored on bookshelves. I have 10 of those so far. So, altogether not much space is being consumed.

I recently went to an estate sale and found a box of postcards and with them boxed playing cards. They looked like they were from post WWII Japan. Probably some GI stationed there in the early 50’s had collected them. Most of the playing cards were still wrapped. Most had scenes of places in Japan though one was of Egypt. Some of them were racy w/ nude women on the back of each card in quaint poses (quite chaste by today’s standards). I got the entire box for$3.75. My husband looked up some of the playing cards on auction sites and most were going for around $50 a pack … used. More for the unused wrapped ones! I was stunned. I didn’t buy them to sell, I just found them interesting (like smaller versions of postcards). But now I might sell them to fund my estate sale habit.

~ Eva

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