Can’t Afford to Go to Paris? Send Your Teddy Instead

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Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Some of history’s great thinkers, from Winnie the Pooh to Buzz Lightyear, have proved empirically that people can get very attached to their toys. But a former investment banker in France has taken this affection to a new level: for $137 (100 euros) he’s offering to give your cherished playthings a tour of Paris.

Here’s how it works: you send Lamby, Kissy, Teddy or your stuffed animal of choice to Denis Gerber and he’ll escort it around the City of Light, snap photos of it at the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre and other landmarks and return it to you with a digital photo album chronicling its adventures. For an extra $70 or so, Teddy can take one of four extension tours, exploring chic Paris or the parts of the city featured in The Da Vinci Code. “We’ve decided to offer the opportunity to visit this beautiful city to furry toys across the globe, and make sure their owners enjoy it (almost) as much as the furry darlings will,” says the Furry Toys Tours website. (More on Is Katy Perry a Sesame Streetwalker, or Do Viewers Just Want Her to Be?)

In a sign that either the recession is over and people are splurging again, or that the economy is still so bad that people are now reduced to living vicariously through their inanimate playthings, signed up two customers on its first day, a Flat Stanley and a toy whose name Gerber didn’t catch.

The Parisian native says he got the idea initially from the movie Amelie, in which Audrey Tatou’s character steals her father’s garden gnome and sends it around the world with a flight attendant friend who sends back snapshots. (For a small French movie, Amelie has inspired a surprising number of other commercial enterprises, including the travel website Travelocity, the videogame Half Life 2: Episode 2 and the George Clooney film Up in The Air.) (More on Why Adults Cry So Easily in Animated Kids Movies)

Since seeing the movie, Gerber and his wife have made something of a hobby taking photos of toys for himself and friends during his travels. And he’s noticed he’s not alone. “You see a lot of people taking pictures or furry toys around Paris,” he says. “And a lot of them are not kids.” In fact, a recent survey of 6,000 travelers by British Hotel Chain Travelodge found that 25% of men take a teddy bear with them when they go on business trips.

Gerber now makes his living mostly from Das Bot, a financial algorithm he developed, so he has time to try to turn his hobby and his love for his hometown into a business. “I’m an ex-investment banker who enjoys taking pictures of furry toys in Paris, that’s correct,” he says. “But I don’t pretend it’s a vacation for the toys. What we’re selling is an emotion. We hope people will do this with the toys of friends or partners or children as a surprise for them.” Tellingly, his tours are aimed mostly at deep-pocketed American and Japanese customers.

Should you be thinking of sending off a beloved plaything, be aware that travel insurance is not included, although postal insurance is. Also Teddy had better arrive camera-ready because Gerber doesn’t do hair and makeup: “I wouldn’t dream of doing too much to the toys of other people,” he says.

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