DEAR HARRIETTE: When going abroad, is there still an expectation to bring back souvenirs for friends and family? I feel like I have never appreciated a keychain or refrigerator magnet, but I do not want to offend anybody. -- Tchotchkes, Dallas
DEAR TCHOTCHKES: This is a great question. Remember when cheesy T-shirts were popular, the ones that said some version of "My friend went to --, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"? That was a cute gimmick.
You are right that many impulse tourist gifts end up being a waste of money. Why not think differently? Take a lot of pictures on your journey. Send specific images that would be of interest to certain people. If someone loves flowers and you visit a beautiful garden, send that photo. An art lover might appreciate an image of a famous museum or work of art -- if you are allowed to photograph it. You could also purchase postcards of the art that you see.
If you happen upon a gift item that seems perfect for one of your loved ones, by all means get it. The way you can protect yourself from hurt feelings of others who didn't receive something extra is to have a photo for everyone. You can also save it for their birthday.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother is a recovering alcoholic who does not drink. At a large gathering, he raised his glass of water to toast and was quickly berated by someone saying that is "bad luck" to toast with water and to order a drink. Is toasting with water actually bad luck? If so, how can he get around this superstition without alerting everybody to his struggles? -- Water Only, Cincinnati
DEAR WATER ONLY: I am not an expert on luck, nor do I buy into such claims, though I have heard them. The superstition goes back to Greek mythology, where it was presumed that the dead were to drink water from the River Lethe to forget their past lives. While many hold onto some lingering sense of dread regarding toasting with water, your brother does not have to buy into that convoluted thinking. He could simply choose to brush off anyone who challenges him on what's in his glass.
What some recovering alcoholics do to keep people off their back at social functions is to accept a glass of wine but never drink it. This works only for a person with clear resolve, so that the wine presents no temptation. If there is a glass of wine at the person's place setting, generally people leave you alone.
Less risky is simply to have a glass of something non-alcoholic. Juice or iced tea is colored and could be less of a standout for your brother, since he wants people to not notice his alcohol-free glass.
Most important is for your brother to do what helps him to stay sober. He is under no obligation to tell anyone about his recovery, though it might help him to have a buddy with him at these events who knows his situation and can be of support. Another thing for him to notice is that there surely are other people at any event who are not drinking -- for whatever their reasons. He is probably not alone.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)