Everybody Has a Story: ‘Stupid’ ashtrays appeal to San Franciscans



Lou Brancaccio’s accounting of the “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” coffee mug reminded me of an amusing incident that occurred many years ago while I was living in San Francisco, a city with a unique collective sense of humor and ability to laugh at itself. I was among the many devotees of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, who wrote a daily report of ridiculous and sublime happenings around town.

The City of Paris department store had ordered from Japan tens of thousands of souvenir ashtrays depicting iconic San Francisco landmarks, e.g., the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, a cable car, and so on. Since these famous city sights were intended for purchase by vacationers, it was explicit on the order not to print “Made in Japan” on the bottom of the ashtrays.

Upon arrival of the order, the store was dismayed to find the wording (you guessed it) “Made in Japan” on each of the souvenirs. Of course, the store sent back the order, requesting correction and replacement.

The new shipment arrived in due time and on the bottom of each and every ashtray were the words (yup): “Not Made in Japan.” The City of Paris, naturally, was frantic, wondering what to do next with this seemingly unfixable “fix.”

Herb Caen thought this was worthy of some laughs and wrote an article about the mix-up. His readers, being typically San Franciscan, loved the irony of the dilemma and bombarded the store with orders as soon as the story broke. The thousands of ashtrays were all gone before the next morning’s edition of The Chronicle.

I wanted one of those treasures as a conversation piece, but alas, I was too late. I even tried to talk Herb out of his own prize, but he hung up on me after my interminable blubbering got tiresome.

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