When I was a child, my father would travel abroad, to far corners of the world. On his return, we children would welcome him with elation, because we knew that he always brought home presents galore - and, with the innocent greediness of the very young, we looked forward to rummaging through his baggage, looking for treasure.

Those days are long gone (alas!), and I am now a father myself - to me now falls the pleasurable burden of satisfying my own children's innocent greed.

And there's the rub.

When I was a child, my father had it easy. The world of my childhood had hundreds of nations, each with a separate culture - each producing a unique set of consumer goods, eminently suitable for presents.

The world of today is different. Today, the global Europo-American superculture has taken over everything. No matter where one travels, the goods for sale are the same.

So....there I was, far from home, in a foreign city. In the spirit of properly pampering my children, I went shopping - only to find that every item on sale was equally available at home. Not only that, it was as if it was all made of cheap plastic, all....tawdry somehow. Worthless, in fact.

The same rubbish, all around the world - I don't know about you, but I find that a profoundly depressing thought.

Bruce Springsteen put it: "Fifty-seven channels and nothing on". It seems as if the world has produced a mass culture that supplies the same superficial consumer goods - everywhere. Granted, there is no shortage, but neither is there any diversity.

What is one to do? On the one hand, capitulation is certainly an option - and I freely admit that I wound up buying something that I could just as well have bought at home - but what is one to do when the local/unique goods are either revoltingly touristish or expensive to the point of absurdity?

Is there another option - or are we forever condemned to dwell in the Purgatory of the lowest common international denominator?

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