Oct 202009

(asked by Rachel from Buffalo, NY)

Dear Sir,
I’m going to France this fall to study French and live with a French family. I was thinking about getting the family something to say, ‘thanks for letting me live with you’, but I have no idea of what kind of gift would be appropriate. I want to let them know that I’m grateful, but don’t want to get something weird or out of place. Any thoughts?
Wow, I haven’t been “dearsired” in a while. Thanks.
First of all sorry for the late answer, you must already be in France by now (remember it takes time between the moment you send your question and the moment I get to answer it), but this will still be useful for other people in the future.
So what would be a nice gift to give when you’re going to stay with a French family (either because they’re a host family, or your friend’s family or your future in-laws, etc.) ?
In a previous post, I suggested decent wine, flowers, nice chocolates. Those are the typical safe gifts you can give when you’re invited to a French family.
If you’re going to stay longer than a few days and/or if you come from a country that has a rich culture and history, you can bring something that’s typical from your country and is not too tacky as a gift (bad news for Americans, I could never find such a gift to bring back to France).
Really, the trick is to not be tacky, or cheap (I don’t suggest to buy something really expensive, but you don’t want to buy a €3 bottle of wine either, that’s almost insulting), apart from that it’s the act that counts not what you actually give.
And in any case, the best gift you can give them is to be nice and polite, take part in everyday chores and those sorts of things.

More Questions Answered:

  20 Responses to “What Kind of Gift Would Be Appropriate?”

  1. I've had two host families in France and each time I brought them coffee table books of pictures of where I'm from. They were a pretty big hit and tasteful enough to make up for America's supposed lack of "rich culture and history." If they chose to host you in the first place they are probably interested in where you're from, and everyone likes pretty pictures.

  2. Yes! What was I thinking (apparently I was not)? I didn't mention books (while they're my favorite gifts).

    And don't get me wrong, I never implied that American doesn't have a rich culture and history (well, concerning the history, it's debatable). I meant that every time I wanted to bring an object back from America as a gift for my family or friends, I had the hardest time to find something that:
    -doesn't exist in France.
    -is not ridiculously tacky.

    (except from native Americans stuff, the one time I found some genuine ones)

  3. I second the book idea. It helps if you know what your French friends are interested in in the first place. There is a French couple that visits me every year on their way to Palm SPrings. When I visited them this summer I brought along a beautiful coffee table book about Palm Springs architecture and landscape, which they loved.

    Also, America has a very rich musical culture, and lots of French people love jazz/blues/gospel. You might want to also think around those lines.

  4. Good California wine, esp. Zinfandel, have been a safe choice, good Bourbon, Sharffenberger's chocolate, are a few things I often take back. Lately, I've also given Poma, a pomegranate liqueur, that can be found anywhere. When I was 16, my American penpal brought peanut butter, which was a hit, as it was not something we had before. (it might be more available now, but it's still not widespread… bring recipes along so that you can make peanut butter cookies…) If you stay for a while and intend to cook American dishes, bring your measuring cups. The French will always appreciate a good home-made meal.

    Think also of crafts particular to your region (baskets in S. Carolina for instance…)

  5. I have recently been to France to visit my boyfriend and this was the first time I met his mother and sister. To both of them I brought lace tablecloths (made by my grandmother) some special marzipan and very nice wines. All hungarian as I am hungarian

  6. Half of French people seem to decorate their living rooms with posters of New York or the American West, so a book or artwork on one of those themes should go over well.

  7. Fabienne: Is there such a thing as (decently priced) good American wine?
    Same thing goes for chocolate (although I don't know the brand you mention, I gave up on American chocolate altogether after a few horrible attempts).
    I second bourbon (although I'm a single malt scotch person, but that's just me).
    Peanut butter can be a good secondary present indeed. It's still not widespread in France (and strangely easier to find in my small hometown than in Paris).

    -Zsuzsi: Yeah, Hungary is not a country French people know much about, so anything from there will do the trick (especially if it's homemade by your grandmother).

    -Kendra: I must know the other half then. Seriously, do you actually know people over 20 years old that have such posters?
    Apart from that, as Amanda said, coffee table books about such themes, will work well, yes.

  8. Well, I was counting framed pictures of the inevitable Vegas/Grand Canyon/Yosemite road trip. But home decoration stores seem to mainly carry art featuring Times Square and Marilyn Monroe, though you also see Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Jim Morrison, and London.

  9. I guess I don't know anybody that did a road trip in the West then…

    But yeah, the Arizona/Colorado/Nevada area still has this strange appeal to a bunch of French people.
    But it's as much of a cliché as Americans having posters of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, "Le Chat Noir" in their living room and thinking that it's not lame.

    As far as the TimesSquare/MarilynMonroe/JimMorrison/etc. posters, it's really a teenager, college kid thing.
    No adult in their right mind has such posters in their house (that's embarrassing if they do).

  10. David -

    Whenever I travel into the eastern Sierra (highway 395 in California), I always meet lots of French tourists, so it's kind of a common thing.

    Another idea: Your French friends might have some specialized interests that are cheaper in the US than in France. The French couple I know are, for some reason I cannot fathom, obsessed with Dickies work clothes. They buy tons of it when they are here, because they say in France Dickies is kind of a fashion statement (to whom?) and very expensive. So I always bring some Dickies with me when I go to visit them in France.

    Lastly, no matter what they may *say*, all French people are obsessed with Hollywood. Something Hollywood related will always work.

  11. When I returned to France, I would bring things from Texas (no, they weren't thrown back in my face), such as chili mix and other regional products, like homemade salsa. Pancake mix and Oreos were also a hit. Every once in a while you'll see these things in France, but they are super expensive and not always the best brands.

  12. OMG!! I'm FROM Hollywood!!! I often have a difficult time just "buying" things in general for anyone, unless I know that they like a particular thing- like for me- "sunflowers."
    If it's something like a nice gift for the family- I would try to get something for the kitchen…or for the house… for kids — something trendy is fine…
    For parents- those coffee table books would be my first choice! Great idea…
    Great post…

  13. What can you buy that's from Hollywood and not a stupid tacky touristy souvenir anyway?

    A DVD?

  14. Hey hey, take it easy on the US, we're a rather new country! Luckily, the US will likely never develop any long-lasting cultures. Anytime a cultural trend starts, everyone makes fun of it! Then, everyone changes. I'd side with the advice about simply being courteous and helping out. A gift that can be easily purchased can't be worth that much.

  15. Just adding to the 'behave courteously' advice - please get a grip on the insanely picky eater stuff. Obviously, if you have genuine allergies or dietary requirements, make these known in advance. But one of the most difficult things that happened repeatedly in friends' and relatives' families hosting foreign students (and sorry, US people, you tended to be the most frequent offenders in the cases I knew of!) were students who showed up and would eat nothing of the meals prepared for them by their host families. In a couple of cases I remember, the families were quite upset when every night, the student would eat nothing and then disappear to get a MacDonalds, or defrost a frozen pizza in the kitchen after everyone else had gone to bed. Another student would eat nothing but bread and a US breakfast cereal, and complained about the butter and milk 'tasting different'.

    It's fairly insulting when your hosts are often going to an effort to introduce you to food from their region, and can create a lot of friction. If you live on fast food, or only eat dry pasta and Lucky Charms or something, arrange to be self-catering, and cut down on the potential for misunderstanding and unplesantness.

    On the US/France gift issue, I've often brought Oregon Pinot Noir, though it's not particularly cheap. It was very well received, though.

  16. Indeed…

    You want to insult a French person?
    You think that you want to tell them that they need deodorant or that they lost the war?
    Pff… If you do so, the French person won't feel insulted, they'll feel you're an idiot.
    Don't eat the food they cooked for you, there you'll insult them big time…

    And yeah, if you go abroad expecting to eat what you eat at home and not wanting to try things you've never heard about, I have only one advice for you: stay at home.

    But I'm sure I'll get to have a full entry on that topic sooner or later.

  17. @ Nathalie. You're right, self-imposed dietary restrictions should be left at home when traveling anywhere.(seems like a no-brainer!) If someone prepares a meal for you, it's a big honor. That's unfortunate to hear about your friends' and relatives' foreign student experiences.

  18. American music CDs — particularly genre compilations. When it comes to the "parent figures" in France, ask your parents what they like. Then get a compilation or two — be it jazz, R&B, Country/western, etc. If you can, get an accompanying book on the genre of choice.

    I like the coffee table book idea!

  19. I know this question is as old as the hills and no one will likely ever see my comment, but since I’ve spent hours reading all of your questions I felt I had to leave a comment on the one I had experience with.

    When I stayed with a lovely French family for two months last summer, I brought them pralines and a book about the architecture of the antebellum South (I’m from La Nouvelle-Orléans). It went over very well indeed.

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