'El Cheapo' Made-in-China Items Sold As Authentic European

I am curious as to what to avoid purchasing when traveling to countries like Italy, France, Greece, and the eastern European countries.

We recently went on a Christmas tour that included Rothenburg, Bamberg, Nurnberg, Munich, and Salzburg. The highlight, of course, was each town's Christmas market and all the goodies one can buy: ornaments, decor, toys, etc... I'm familiar with true German craftsmanship (such as items made in the Erzgebirge), but I saw countless tourists buying nutcrackers, smokers, pyramids, table linens, etc... that were cheap knock-offs made in China. And most of the time these items don't have stickers or stamps to reflect that fact. I'm not talking about typical souvenir-type items like snowdomes from Neuschwanstein and the like, but rather items that tourists REALLY think are a representation of that country's craftsmanship.

So, what about other countries? What are some popular items or souvenirs that I need to really make sure are made in the country I'm visiting?

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
5323 posts

Ya get what ya pay for. If you think someone has hand carved a wooden nutcracker, and is now selling it for 5 €, then you might be buying an import and not something from the Erzgebirge. Handmade wooden objects will say Erzgebirge and that nutcracker will most likely be well over 35 - 45 €. I don't know about other countries, but Germany has pretty strict laws about correct labeling of products. You cannot sell something with a label that says made in Germany when it isn't.

Posted by Connie
Everett, WA
909 posts

The one thing I do before I purchase anything is ask where it is made. Alexandra is correct-not everything states where it is made. However, when I checked on chess sets, I was told where they were made (not in the country I was in) and I have had other honest merchants tell me things are made elsewhere. They usually then point me in the direction of items made in that country. I also asked on Murano before purchasing some inexpensive glass candy. My sister's more major purchase had it right on it where it was made and the merchant even pointed out the factory for if she wanted to check. Can anyone ever be 100 per cent sure? Probably not. You can only take every precaution. I'm not even sure having it on the item (made in Italy, Germany, etc) is 100 per cent safe. I did buy some beautiful cashmere "made in Italy" paschimas. Hopefully all that is true. If not, I am happy with what I got for the price, and I guess I will never know the difference. It is discouraging for those of us who prefer to buy authentic items. My favorite place to shop was an open market in Santa Fe New Mexico where Native Americans sold their own items. I actually got to have my picture taken with the people who made my purchases.

Posted by Alexandra
West Coast, California, USA
354 posts

So, my guess is that if there's no label at all on a product, it's most likely NOT made locally...

Posted by Jenufa
London, UK
283 posts

Hard to say because a lot of countries are importing goods these days.

If you REALLY like it and want to buy it then just be content that it may not be from the area.

Unless the item boasts that it is handmade there or I meet the craftsperson, I consider the likelihood it is imported.

Istanbul is full of Indian materials, Israeli Jerusalem sells ceramics made by Palestinians... the list goes on.

Posted by Debra
Los Angeles, CA, USA
1001 posts

The biggest things I saw in Italy were leather goods (especially at the San Lorenzo Market and the Loggia market in Florence) and in Venice, sadly the masks, lace, and glass are all things to be careful about. There are only a few places left in Venice to get the real masks made the way they used to be. Do a search on here for the names of those shops, I bought a couple of gorgeous masks for not much more than 20 euros each, and they are a great - authentic - memory of my stay. For the Murano glass I saw a movement all across the better shops to stamp out the Chinese knock-offs but sadly you still see it everywhere, especially in the most touristy areas. You can kind of tell what's a knock-off because it all looks the same. Once you walk into a 'real' glass or mask shop, you can spot the difference almost immediately (before you even see the price difference ;)). Something I found helpful was actually getting the names of stores before I went. Like the mask shops in Venice, and I also got the name of a little pottery shop in Siena that I ended up just buying a couple magnets in but the stuff was gorgeous (and out of my price range!). Both here and in the TripAdvisor forums, there are tons of suggestions for all kinds of shops selling the authentic goods you're looking for. My personal rule of thumb was don't buy anything off the street..... and the only thing I really regret is that I didn't buy more!

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10358 posts

One of the biggest offenders you'll see throughout Europe are wooden chess sets. Years ago, I bought one in Kosovo for the equivalent of about $5. It's a pretty nice chess set for that price, but I've since seen countless identical sets sold all over the continent for as much as 100 euro! I think I may have even seen it in SkyMall. Given this particular sets' ubiquity and the low price I paid, I can only draw the obvious conclusion on where it was made. And honestly, I don't care where something was made, as long as the price reflects the true labor costs.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1511 posts

The LAGIOLE folding knives, made by highly skilled knife craftsmen in knife shops located at the town Thiers in France, are well - made knives, the blades are of high quality steel. (The stainless steel was made in Sweden, that is desirable). LAGIOLE knives have distinct design features which originated at knife shops in Thiers. Those knives have a variety of handle materials : hence the prices vary. Those knives are sought by knife collectors, and a genuine Lagiole knife can be a desireable souvenir from France, in my opinion. Now, some "LAGIOLE" folding knives are made in CHINA. The blade steel in those knives is of inferior quality, and the knives are not very well made. The prices for those knives made in CHINA are much lower than the prices for the LAGUIOLE knives made in France. All genuine LAGUIOLE folding knives made at Thiers, France, in recent years, have the words "MADE IN FRANCE" engraved on the knife's blade. Some kitchen knives that are not folding knives are advertised in mail - order catalogs in the U.S.A., as being "LAGUIOLE" knives. The prices for those knives are very low. Those knives were mass produced in a factory, the knives are made of cheap materials. I do not know what country those knives were made in.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1511 posts

In my previous reply here, my spelling of one word was not correct. The correct spelling of that word is LAGUIOLE. I can not EDIT my replies here, using my computer.

Alexandra, if you want to purchase only authentic items that pertain to the country in Europe that you are at, and if you require the items to be made in that country : -- When you will be at ATHENS in GREECE, I think visiting the MONASTIRAKI FLEA MARKET located at a side of Monastiraki square, should be a low priority for you. Many brass items are for sale there, those items were made in Indonesia. Most of the other items for sale there are cheap junk made in factories in China.

Posted by Bea
1157 posts

I personally always can tell the difference. Same with the clothes .
The cheapos look bad, unfinished, with cracks in it etc. The good stuff looks very smooth.
Not always the price doesn't reflect quality.
If you buy your souvenirs from a store, you might be paying big bucks. In Rome there are many Pakistanies selling fake purses, belts, luggage. You can get a Prada bag for 20-30 EUR on the street or pay thousands of euros for an original one. I buy quality products, but I would never spend a lot of money on ridicoulosy priced designer items. You can actually get the same quality from a less known designer for much less.
My .02 euros

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1458 posts

When I was in Bangkok last year, I was really amazed at the great prices on watches you could buy on the street.

I got a brand new Rollexx for just 30 bucks! I had never realized there are two Xs in "Rollexx" before I bought that one.

I learn stuff on every trip! :)

Posted by Patricia
Kingston, MA, USA
54 posts

We always check out local crafts people studios ,collectives etc and visit them to buy our souvenirs that i make sure to ask also where something is made

Posted by Bea
1157 posts


Rolex spelled with double "X" shows you actually that it's a FAKE. The manfuacturer in Thailand didn't even bother to learn how to spell it correctly.
It's not spelled with double "L" either.

Posted by Alice
Stoughton, WI
5 posts

David, I got that you were making a joke on yourself. My humor,too, sometimes gets too dry to be detected.


Posted by Bea
1157 posts

Very smart Alice.
After posting only 3 messages you got a "dry joke".

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

Digital photographs are always authentic, made in the country in which they were taken, were taken by YOU, are essentially FREE, will never wear out, weigh nothing, and take up no space.

They are the perfect souvenir.

Things are just things.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4060 posts

Yes, things are just things, and I adore my photographs, but I also love wearing the jewelry that I have purchased in Scotland. Whenever I put it on I'm reminded of my trip. Then too, when I get asked about it, I get to tell people about my trip and share the memories. I buy pieces that are designed by Scots and I have purchased them in tourist shops, in jewelry stores, in department stores and in the designer's studio. But I always do look for specific designers--Sheila Fleet, Ortak, Hazel Passmore etc.

But smaller sillier things can be fun, and I'm not sure that it matters where they were made. I once spotted a toothbrush that was in the shape of a piper. The brush part was the big bear hat. I gave that toothbrush to my Dad as a joke and it still sits in their guest bathroom where it gets a laugh and a query--where the heck did you find that!--from their visitors. And they get to talk about their daughter's trip and their own trips to Scotland and maybe a bit about my grandfather who grew up in Orkney.

So, while I don't buy lots of things, I think you can local products, you can buy things that will spark memories, and you can take pictures. All are good.


Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
883 posts

I bought a cheap "Italy" T-shirt in Rome that was probably made in China, but I've had a few people ask where I bought it and I still get to say in Rome! It reminds me of my trip every time I wear it, no matter where it was made. But, I'm ok with that, since I'm not really a shopper.

Posted by JER
Seattle, USA
982 posts

Craft fairs are both fun and a way to guarantee that you're getting local products, right from the person who made it. I have some lovely small wooden bowls that I bought in Bath at a church-sponsored crafts fair and I think of the elderly maker with the wicked British sense of humor whenever we use it.

It's hard to avoid "made in China" tourist items, though. I was looking for something in Dubrovnik to send to a dear Chinese friend in Hong Kong and I couldn't find anything that wasn't made in China!!

And you have to be careful, even in China. Those 'art students' who will approach you to sell you art from their 'art school' are selling cheap reproductions; the only 'art' they know is the art of the scam! At least in China, the vendors are upfront about their Gucci and Rolox knockoffs. Touts sidle up to you and murmur, "Copy bag? Copy watch?" Not like in Rome where they try to pretend their counterfeit stuff is the real thing...

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12562 posts

It is a dice roll. I am not even sure you can bank for a local craft show. A couple years we were at a craft fair around a church, a guy was working on painting pottery at a work bench and selling a variety of finish pieces. Very reasonable. Looked very authentic. A couple weeks later, 500 miles away, saw the identical set-up. This time manned by a young lady with identical products. Must have been a franchise operation.

......if there's no label at all on a product, it's most likely NOT made locally...

Unfortunately that is not much of a guideline since very few countries have a requirement that the country of origin must be identified on the product as is required in the US. In many ways Europe is much more "Buyer Beware" than the US is.

We have bought a lot of "art work" off the street at very cheap prices knowing full well that it is mostly junk. We frame it, goes on the travel wall, and we like much better than framed photos.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
5323 posts

oooh, love Polish Pottery. I do believe most of it is actually made in Poland. Go to the good dealers or decent stores. It used to be quite cheap, but it did get more expensive.

I love baking in it, brownies, cakes and lasagna. The big platters are good too, for parties and so on. Look for teapots and big coffee mugs, or the lovely big bowls. Perfect for potato salad and it looks so nice with those blue or green colors.

Have fun and send us a photo of what you bought!