In my teens, I reached a stage where I was fairly independent for travel. I was at a point where I wanted to buy presents for friends for Christmas. Where did I go? I got on a train, and went to Oxford.
I lived in a smallish town, with a larger town about half an hour away. I could have gone there. But going to the big city had a certain attraction. Some of it was more independent shops. More choice. (And a chance to look at the dreaming spires, back in the days when I still had thoughts to study there.)
What did I buy? Probably somewhere I’ll have a notebook that tells me. (I know. Back to those lists.) I do remember buying things that I couldn’t as easily get in the larger town: some of them imports from China, and from South America.
They made good presents. They were beautiful, and also practical. Wooden Chinese steamer baskets, a spoon my dad still uses. The items from South America, I remember less, but they might have been an early version of craft items to support local crafters, and local traditions.
Buying local wasn’t really something that was thought of, at that time. Of course you bought local – because, in most cases, you had to go to the shop to buy it anyway. If you live most of your life in smallish towns, with less selection, you are inevitably buying local.
Beyond this, I knew there were some ‘One World‘ shops out there – Edinburgh, anyway – where you could buy present items hand made, to support local communities in various parts of the world. (I certainly supported the makers of wooden elephants.)
My teenage self might have expected it to get easier to buy things from different countries. But I wouldn’t have predicted all the internet shopping, the free shipping worldwide, and all those things that mean we can pretty much buy from wherever we please.
I wrote yesterday about the issue of flights abroad. When I did go abroad, I did also buy local presents to bring back. The Polish craft shops, Cepelia, had good trade from me, as did Russian markets, and places selling the lovely blue and white Boleslawiec pottery.
It didn’t really matter where I went – whether in the UK or abroad – it was an easy way to buy interesting presents on the hoof (harder to manage when you’re working fulltime). And for certain destinations, like Jura, we would buy local products to support the islanders producing them.
My teenage self would not have anticipated the possibility of China producing huge numbers of products, in vast quantities. And certainly, over time, it did get harder to buy items actually made in the country I was visiting. Nor would I have forseen the emergence of Amazon (or eBay) as places to buy anything and everything, seemingly.
And yet. We still know that certain products are made in certain places. They retain a cachet, a stamp of respectability – and authenticity. For all of it becoming easier to (seemingly) buy anything from anywhere, we will still be interested in these special items. That can be a good thing, certainly, for the producers, and the traditions of that area.
And we balance this with listening to the growing appeals to ‘buy local’ – because if we don’t use what is near at hand, on our doorstep, we will likely find it gone pretty soon.