Grace Lower | Aug 26, 2020
When I arrived at my host family’s apartment in Granada, Spain, I did what every good study abroad guest should: I introduced myself, thanked my hosts earnestly, and gave them gifts to express my gratitude for their hospitality. The Ohio Red Maple cutting board was an instant hit with my host-mom. She loved the wood’s unique pattern, and she listened patiently as I tried to explain—in broken Spanish—that I had bought it at a cute local art fair back home. But when my host parents opened up my second package, they exchanged skeptical glances. I had gotten them a wine stopper made with polished Ohio flint. I’d thought that the stopper would perfect in a wine-loving country like Spain, but now I wasn’t so sure. My host-dad was the first to break the silence.
“You know, in this house, we finish every bottle of wine we open...we’ve never needed a stopper before,” he explained in Spanish. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if he was joking, but I can confirm that my wine stopper went unused the entire time I was in Spain.
Of course, you’ll never know for sure whether a host family gift will be a hit or a miss until you give it. What’s more, it’s objectively difficult to pick the perfect gift for people you barely know. So if you’re at a loss for what to bring, here are a few gift ideas that your host family will be likely to love—and a couple of items to avoid.
One of the best gifts you can give is one that will be used often. In most cases, you can never go wrong with stylish and functional kitchenware. Whether it’s a spoon holder, a bottle opener, a cutting board, or tea towels, try to find unique items that would work well in kitchens of any style. The general advice is to avoid loud colors or bold prints unless you’re certain that’s your host parents’ taste (what might work well for an urban couple’s kitchen might not be as well-received by a pair of retirees). If possible, try to learn what you can about your host family, and even do a little bit of social media sleuth work. Ultimately, you’ll need to use your best judgment and go with your gut on a kitchen item you think they’ll love.
My hometown is just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, and one of our favorite local treats is Skyline: a sweet and savory chili that’s served over noodles. Since you can only get Skyline in areas in and around Ohio, the seasoning packets are a hit among
my international friends. If you have a local cuisine that’s luggage-friendly, consider bringing it with you as part of your host gift. Introducing your host family to a bit of regional food is a great way to share your culture while you’re
Whether you’re staying with a family of four or an older couple, board games and playing cards are the perfect way to break the ice with your hosts. With games as a gift, you can establish a family game night tradition, or just make your first evening with your host family a little less awkward. If you’re not comfortable speaking your host family’s language, try to avoid purchasing games that involve in-depth explanations. Card games like Uno and Skip-Bo or puzzle games like Jenga don’t require much too much discussion, only a healthy spirit of competition.
Your host parents might not be familiar with American cuisine beyond hotdogs and apple pie. Why not bring a recipe book with your favorite American-style meals? If your host family is willing to share their kitchen with you, you could show them how to make your mom’s famous mac-and-cheese, throw together a rockin’ jambalaya, or make the best (and maybe only) pulled pork sandwiches they’ve ever had. The only catch? Finding American-style ingredients in the grocery store might be difficult. Maybe save your peanut butter cookies for when you’re back home in the U.S.
When in doubt, home decor can be a safe and thoughtful gift. Trinkets like candles, coasters and bookends are unique finds at a variety of stores; just make sure to choose something simple and tasteful. If possible, shop at local gift stores in your area. Otherwise, retailers like Anthropologie, Home Goods, and Pier 1 Imports are great places to start.
Above all, try not to stress about your host family’s gift. No matter what you pick out, your hosts will be thrilled to have you. The custom of gift-giving is meant to show your gratitude—it doesn’t have to be perfect, just heartfelt. Ultimately, the simple act of giving is the perfect way to establish relationships that will last.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.