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Question asked in an expat Facebook group recently:
"Would appreciate suggestions of gifts we can take to (insert city) that are indicative of the UK for family members of varying ages. Thanks"
The flow of suggestions was instant and ranged from anything with LONDON or LOVE LONDON on it; t-shirts, bags, tea towels, coffee mugs, key rings, pillows, hot water bottles with woollen covers, and more.
Anything from Harrods or Selfridges or Hambleys or Fortum and Mason - just a lovely carry/shopping bag, or small umbrella. Jam from F&M.
I watched the comments and the suggestions and started to laugh, recalling the STRESS friends and I have gone thru over the years in the weeks leading up to the annual migration of expats-who-go-home-for-summer all in the name of gift giving.
The thing is, where you live is important to you.
Any reminder of where you are living for family back home, is just that. A cultural reminder you are not home.
Cultural ornaments, crockery, art work, key rings, pillows and bags mean something to you cos you, live there but mean nothing to someone who's never been. And if they have visited you, they've bought their own memories.
We've all seen the t-shirts with 'My (insert relation) went to (insert place) and all I got was this lousy t-shirt', right.
After much deliberation and angst, hours of conversation with friends struggling to conquer similar gift giving lists, a group of us decided a few years ago, the best gift of all when going home for a visit was in fact, the going home for the visit, and not opting to spend valuable annual leave and money going on a proper holiday like other people do cos they think we are on one big holiday.
Of course we take gifts with us, but only for close family, and not the adults any more. The gifts we bring for the kids are not cultural anymore (was told most of them have ended up in the rubbish bin or were donated to a school fundraiser) but aligned with their interests and tastes especially as they are getting older.
For what it's worth, here are my suggestions for Gift Giving When Visiting Home. They are a culmination of what we do, and what friends have shared.
- One friend said 'hey we're going there for 3 weeks and cutting our family holiday time short, isn't that enough'
- Have long, leisurely lunches (or dinners) and take oodles of photos, then prepare a photo album as the gift (easily done online) or have a few pics printed and put into photo frames for them to display at home.
- Buy a few bottles of champagne as you go thru duty free and share them around when visiting family and friends.
- Offer to pay for a meal or do the shopping (also great things to do when staying with someone)
- Surprise dinner guests with champagne all round, or a huge cake for dessert.
- Book theatre tickets for when you are there, or another special event that they wouldn't normally do and share the memory.
- Swap the kids for a day so you've all got one-on-one time with nieces and nephews and don't sit in the cinema!
- Hubby spend a few days with his family and you spend a few days with yours so that they have 'special time' just with you.
- Have a weekend away with the gang so you're all on holidays and stress is reduced all round.
- Take a few pieces of the kids art work or craft from school as a gift for grandparents and aunts/uncles. Buy a frame when you arrive and pop art work in before giving it to them.
- Food can be fun.
The thing is, when you live in another country and you visit once a year, or once every two years for a few weeks, all they really want is YOU.
To touch you.
Hear your voice.
Don't get me wrong, we do gifts big time for birthdays and Christmas, we swap 'saw this and thought of you' bits'n'bobs during the year but gift giving just because we are visiting, not to the same extent we did when we first started going home for holidays.
Then of course, there's the reverse. All the gifts you receive while you are there that need to be packed into already over the limit suitcases. Let's be honest, you feel the same way about these as your family do about what you bring them.
Buy things when you are together that the other person has said they liked, or once you've reconnected in the real world (as opposed to Skype and Facebook) then make a decision on a gift.
But to stress out before you even leave for the trip, to troll shop after shop looking for the one gift forget it.
And you know what, no one minds.
They just want to see you.