Guest gifting

metscan, whose comments I always enjoy, responded to my "Giftwhacked" post with the story of a friend who has visited for years, and arrives, year in, year out, without a gift. "Tut, tut", my mother would say.

I'll repeat the etiquette she drilled into me from the age of six: "Don't go to someone's house with one arm as long as the other."

The only exception is a financial situation that makes this impossible, and we'll get to that. The season to visit distant friends' homes is approaching, so here are several ways to acknowledge their hospitality:

1. Bring so
mething

If you are an overnight guest, you probaby know the tastes and lifestyle of your hosts. You might bring home-made or bakery cookies, a cheese, a local or regional specialty, an array of the season's fruits vegetables or flowers.

A friend once arrived with a rose bush that he planted in our garden.

If the family has young children, toys or a new game are welcome, but it's not necessary to bring separate gifts to every family member.

The usual gifts of wine or spirits, soap, or confections are fine, but if it's a return visit, a look around duri
ng the first stay will tell you what would truly be enjoyed next time. And if that's still a box of chocolates, go ahead!

2. Do something

This is a great 'gift' if the budget is tight, but certainly not only for that purpose.
James pulled his sharpening stones out of his backpack, and returned all my pitted, dull kitchen knives to sharp splendour. Allan weatherstripped every drafty door. Holly's dad matted and hung a collection of photos while we were at work.

Cooking for your hosts, if they are comfortable with sharing the kitchen, is my favourite way to reciprocate hospitality during a longer stay. My Swedish friend Towe prepared Janssons's Delight for the family. Le Duc makes his signature chocolate cake every time he visits Paris. Our son's sweetheart Nafesha made curries that drew not only the family, but every young friend who heard she was in the kitchen.

I carry my shortbread recipe in my passport case; vegans aside, everyone I visit loves fresh strawberry shortcake.

If you are making something exotic, bring the key ingredients. Missi wanted to treat us to her macadamia cream pie, so arrived with a bag of nuts.

My preference is to either be in their kitchen cooking, or out of my hosts' hair. An offer to "help" prepare their meals usually puts a host in the position of interrupting their routine to help you rummage for things. If you're making a dessert, for example, ask them to give you what you need, and do your thing in mid-afternoon, not while they are trying to make a sauce.

3. Take your hosts out

When you're staying for days, the hosts would probably enjoy a break from nonstop cooking. Take them to lunch or dinner, or to the theatre, a concert, a ball game. Visit a café for ice cream. Take their kids to the zoo; the hosts might enjoy a half-day with no one around.


4. Optional: Send a gift after your visit


A gift sent after you return home has the charm of a surprise, and is a warm and generous way to say, "I have delightful memories of our visit." It may be sent in
addition to, not as a substitute for, a gift given when you arrive.

The gift might be a simple addition to your thank-you note: a print of a photo taken on your visit, a copy of the song lyrics everyone tried to remember late one evening.


Our French friends' teenaged daughters gave us their bedroom for a week's stay. We discovered they loved American rock; we sent them a subscription to Rolling Stone.

You might discover a friend's husband is passionate about Russian history, and send a new book on the topic. Nudged awake every morning by a friendly, hungry cat, Vickie sent a feeding bowl with Petunia's name painted on it.


Gifting is an ancient and deep ritual for our species; we should not treat it casually or ignore our part. We were a gift culture before we had money; the rituals around gifting supported values concerning clan, culture and caring.

Humans have been observing gift-giving traditions for thousands of years, and the earliest principles still apply: thank your host for sharing his home with you, and show that you are willing to one day reciprocate.

15 comments

Northmoon said...

Love the reminder that gift giving is an old, old part of our human culture.

My mother always appreciated guests who brought their own sheets to the cottage. Who wants to spend the summer doing laundry! This would be in addition to a meal or a bottle of wine of course.

Imogen Lamport said...

I love giving gifts. I love finding things that I know my friends will love.

I'm also more than happy to receive!

Gifts to me, should be a luxury that you wouldn't justify for yourself to buy. That to me is the best.

Mardel said...

I love giving gifts and of course the thoughtful appreciation of those who show that they do appreciate your efforts.

And although the gift itself is not the important thing, I understand fully the feeling of being put upon by guests who come repeatedly with no gifts, or make no efforts to reciprocate or share. Worst of all are family members who think they are immune from common courtesy because they are family.

metscan said...

Thank you Duchesse ! I´m so happy that you chose my comment for your topic today. I´m extra happy, if you enjoy reading my comments too. Since English is not my native language, I can´t always express my thoughts the way I´d like to. I too enjoy giving gifts. I often buy something handmade, unique ( glass, ceramics..) from the local artisan´s shop or something Finnish. Yes, a gift is a way to show your appreciation to your host. I sometimes give gifts for my guests too, that is, if I have happened to come across with something nice.

Judith. ..de Santa Fe said...

Each of your ideas is spot on... .
I especially love a guest who will look around and just take care of something.
We were recently houseguests of friends who are book collectors. I photographed their library and created a series of personal cards for them , then sent a thank you note which included a set of these additional cards .
It felt to do something so simple, yet so meaningful for them -
JJj

Anonymous said...

Duchesse I love the 'long arm' reminder one that my parents also use. Here in Ireland its de rigeur to have a (small) token to thank your hosts..the importance lies in the thought more than the item. I read recently that it is a Swedish tradition ?? to bring a tea cloth for the hostess- small, tangible and useful. Maureen

Frugal Scholar said...

My parents have a summer house and people would "stop by" almost every weekend. To sleep over. With nothing. Expecting to be fed. Eventually, my mother instituted a "bring your own linen" rule. Many were angry.

Duchesse said...

Northmoon: I have heard of this; though my mother would never have allowed it, I would!
mardel: Don't even get me started about family members.
Imogen: I like that guideline, "A luxury you wouldn't justify for yourself to buy".
metscan: A gft given to guests is also an ancient ritual, I am learning a great deal about all this from Margaret Visser's book, "Gratitude".
Judith de Santa Fe: Wonderful example, thank you!
Maureen: I certainly enjoy a fresh tea cloth, and it's useful when a tradition exists. They are also easy to travel with.
Frugal: That's one reason why I never wanted a cottage.

Linda Hanselman said...

Unless you're a really good gift giver (and most people are not) I say the best gift one can give is 1. Make sure you are really invited. If you have to invite yourself I think that is a good hint your prospective host doesn't really want you! 2. Be a good guest. Be ready for lively, interesting conversation. Have an idea what you would like to do. Pay for dinners and drinks. Go out and buy preparations for cocktails and nibbles. I don't want my guests bringing me gifts I don't want or need. I invite them because I like them and their company if gift enough.

Imogen Lamport said...

I came up with that after having a lifetime with my parents of them only giving me 'useful' gifts that they would have had to get me anyway - such as a pair of scissors, a bike light, a bike helmet etc. I want more enjoyment from a gift - whether it be a yummy shortcake or beautiful flowers, or a little treat of some other kind.

Duchesse said...

Linda: Being a "good guest" involves, as you point out much more than bringing a gift. Anyone can learn to be a conscious, thoughtful gift giver- it takes paying attention, the same attention that helps one hear a genuine invitation from a pseudo one.
If I know someone well enough to be a guest in their home, I can observe what they like, or ask someone who knows them better than I.

Anonymous said...

I do this 'thing' (only if the host loves it) I organize the cupboards in the kitchen. I organize pantries and now as it is well-known people ask me if I wouldn't mind doing it. Sometimes it is a lot of fun. Other times the person who has me do it has such an organized kitchen that it is really boring(think all the soups are alphabitized)
I tend to bring different foods and wines depending on the decor. I work a lot with pastas of varying shades and sauces- so the cupboards look like splashes of color. Or different shades of one color.I cover cans with these can covers I designed (one man wanted all whites in his can cupboard going from creams to whitest of white and label the tops so one doesn't have to open mystery cans!! Crazy but true!!
Once I was invited to stay at this guy's home for a week. I got bored while he was at work and thought I should do something nice like cooking dinner orrrrrrrrrrr rearranging his kitchen and redid his cupboards. I broke the golden rule of surprising a person. I am not sure if he liked it. He thought it too intrusive (he was right) but I had been so accustomed to people asking for it! Oh well.

Anjela's Day said...

Duchesse, I thought I had posted but can't seem to see it.
My cousin a 'big wig' with Goldman Sachs- drove up to the little cottage in the woods in Connecticut and came to dinner. His Aunt was staying with me for a few days so he came out twice to visit with her and me.
I grew up in Ireland and my mum always made sure she knew what flowers someone liked or what wine to take to dinners and I saw her hand writing letters after such dinners. This was second nature. Coming with hands hanging was not acceptable. There are and were circumstances where it was not thought of as ill mannered. When a person had little money was one.
However Goldman Sachs cousin came with nothing, not once that week but twice. I felt for sure after the first dinner he was going to wait until his next visit to surprise us all.... Nothing came. Why did it irk me so much.I will tell you.
On the nights he came to dinner he and his wife both told us of their jobs of their marvellous trips around the world of their homes,of their futures and of their salaries and most of all their bonus that year said to be over one million.
They seemed to have everything but no manners.

bonnie-ann black said...

i was also going to bring up the "family" issue... when i visit my parents, i make sure to take them out to dinner at least once, buy some nice desserts (my dad has an insatiable sweet tooth) and be courteous, friendly and clean when using the bathroom and the bed linens. i am surprised by how few of my friends and acquaintances will do the same for their families. if you're considerate to strangers, you should be more so to your family.

Duchesse said...

anjela: One of the hardest persons for me to tolerate is the person of means who is cheap. The cheapness materially usually signals meanness of spirit.

bonnie-ann: Family! People play out a lot of old family dramas (or comedies) when visiting family. My kind, sweet brother used to go into his walk-in closet and cry when my mother visited, because she would criticize everything. It's wonderful advice to be as considerate as you would with friends.