A souvenir = a reminder/a memory. The French word for remember describes exactly what we crave from places we visit – a remembrance of a trip or a special place that conjures the spirit of that place or trip in one symbolic item. Souvenirs do not have to be much, a little something for your family and friends to let them know you were thinking of them in Paris.
When buying souvenirs, keep them small and lightweight! Remember, you have to tote them home! Here are some suggestions for souvenirs.
Perfection for nearly everyone. Paris has no shortage of delicious chocolate shops. Be careful on the return journey because chocolate can melt! You may want to keep all chocolate and candy souvenirs in your carry-on. The packaging is extraordinary and even the smallest amount of chocolate makes for a grand souvenir.
Paper, paper products, notebooks
Gibert Jeune – not just any paper products. Think paper products and notebooks done the French way – these are souvenirs with style and interest. Yes, it is a book store and text book store for all of the students, but it is much more and worthy of taking a turn through the aisles for yourself and for others. You will see the yellow signs near Place St. Michel. The sign includes, “Librarie,” which translates to bookstore, not a library in the American sense.
Tea towels/kitchen towels
A useful souvenir that can be for the whole family. Your family and friends can hang them from the oven door and think of you for as long as they last! Find tea towels at many museum gift shops, along the touristy walkways and even at Monoprix or Franprix.
La Cure Gourmand, newly installed in Paris, made in the South of France, and only from 1989. However, your head will spin when you walk in the stores and see the selection and the packaging, taste the flavors and decide you must bring some home. Try the chocolate olives!
Maybe a chic scarf is the way to go – Paris is the fashion capital of the world. Take a look at the museum shops, les Grands Magasins and even the tourist stalls on the rue de Rivoli. Also, when you duck into a Franprix or Monoprix, they may have something to suit you.
Children’s clothes – new baby in the family?? Stop by the Monoprix or Franprix and pick up children’s clothes at great prices.
Old books, interesting maps, vintage looking magnets and trays, what about a reproduction menu?
Find them all at the bouquinistes. These souvenirs can please even the most well-traveled relative or friend. The bouquinistes have the green flip top storage containers sitting atop the walls along the quais of the Seine. When the top is opened, the sellers are ready for business. Do not touch anything without asking first. Many times, the seller will pull out the item for you and present it to you for inspection. Shop for souvenirs, plus, enjoy the walk and admire outstanding views of Paris.
Did you visit a museum show with an incredible exhibition that you loved? See if the museum shop has a small exhibition catalog for a souvenir. Or, if you especially loved it, you can get a souvenir for yourself!
The boutique at Musée de l’Armée has super cool miniature Napoleonic canons for boys on your list. Anything more appropriate than that for warring Napoleon?
A postcard is my favorite souvenir from someone who goes on a trip, and one of my favorite souvenirs to send. Most people have everything they need and a postcard is always perfect. They are easily found nearly anywhere in Paris, they are save-able, inexpensive and thoughtful. They can be beautiful, funny, monumental or whatever you prefer or whatever matches the style of the recipient. Most hotels have stamps and will mail them for you – and you do not have to bring it home with you in your luggage!
For book lovers, you may select a book from Shakespeare and Company – be sure to have it stamped by the store on the way out – or, try the bouquinistes again.
Someone who likes gardens may like a box of note cards from the shop in the Tuileries.
Sometimes, you have a grandchild or niece or nephew who couldn’t be more pleased with plastic snow globe of the Paris landmarks – you can find these and other “unique” items around Notre Dame, the Louvre and Montmartre. Or, what about an Eiffel Tower key ring – inexpensive enough to buy multiple in case you forgot someone on your list. Mini monuments are kitsch, but…. you are a tourist.
For cooks on your list, try a kitchen supply store like La Vaissellerie (4 locations) or E. Dehillerin. Or, maybe an apron from Café de Flore.
What great products the French pharmacy has! Look for the green, kind of weird plus sign and that signifies a pharmacy. Besides being able to help you if you have a sore throat, they have all kinds of beauty potions and lotions that will satisfy even the most fickle person on your list.
Recap on Monoprix or Franprix
These are kind of a combination supermarket, variety store and department store. Incredible resources for necessities that you may have forgotten and for souvenirs. You may be amazed after entering a simple street-side door, marked with a sign overhead, that opens to an expansive multi-level affair. Interesting and fun places to shop for souvenirs and to learn about French culture (look at all of those yogurts in glass jars! What is that wooden contraption over there?). You can find your own souvenirs, but consider:
Jaunty make up bags
Rows of Dijon mustard, not Parisian, but hey, it is French and pick a brand that you have never seen before
Milled bar soap
Sea salt – Fleur de Sel from the Camargue – not Parisian either, but, still French
Toothbrushes – a friend brought these back for a whole group of us and the toothbrush came with a little brush head cover that I still use today (on newer toothbrushes)
Cooking utensils (go to that section and see if you can figure out what they are all used for)
A caution for food souvenirs: Food other than candy and chocolate – buy at your own risk. Customs has taken jars of jelly from me before, so I avoid food products other than chocolate and candy.
However, for the honey lover – the Opera Garnier’s gift shop sells honey from the hives on its roof.
Forgot a Gift?
Did you forget to get a souvenir, but have yet to take the flight home? Use your left over euros at the airport in one of the shops to find a last-minute souvenir.
Back at home and forgot a gift? Maybe you saw an exhibition and now you want the catalog? Check out the official French museum shop online.
Questioning Whether You Can Bring It Back?
For a definitive list of what you can and cannot bring back into the U.S. and what the costs may be, check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection online and watch, “Know Before You Go.”