Giving Gifts to your American Hosts
One of the most often singular questions we get from our international friends, once they come to know us as 'trusted friends' is, "What is the best gift to give American hosts who (1) invite us for a meal, or to stay overnight, or (2) who offer to take us somewhere?" The answer might surprise you, but we assure you it's pretty universal.
First, it's good to understand we're talking about two different occasions:
#1, being invited into a home (or perhaps dinner out); and #2, an offer to take you somewhere.
In either case, Americans in general will not invite you and expect something given back to them in return. Saying that, if driving a long distance is involved, offering to share gas with them is a nice gesture. They may say "No thanks" (they don't want to feel their getting paid), but they may also say, "Yes thanks".
Sometimes bringing a gift and offering it as you greet each other might catch them off-guard (by surprise). They will be polite about it (they might say, "Oh you didn't need to do that!"). They will receive it, though they may feel a bit awkward about doing so.
Here is a way to think through this is: In America we don't give gifts in this way, as an expected "thank you." But, we often offer to contribute to whatever is happening in the shared time together.
The big thing to remember is that if they invite you, or offer a simple service of helps, they are doing it from their heart, expecting nothing in return. They are giving something to you; it's a gift! For them to receive another gift back can become awkward. It feels as if we're being paid back, as if something is given to us in exchange for a gift we freely gave -- a blessing to you from the heart. I hope this can make sense. We do appreciate your intent, yet we also don't wish to be paid back with a physical gift as a result of our giving an open, free gift to you.
OK, so how can you give a gift in a way that's well received and perhaps long-lasting?
To answer #2 (above) first, a heart-felt verbal "Thank you" from you to the person helping you is the best thing... Actually, it's maybe the second-best!
The best way to respond is to let them know how much it meant to you, and also indicate that you hope to see them again.
For #1 (above), if you're invited for a meal in their home, you have a few options:
* If you already know them well, these guidelines may vary. You might simply ask if you can bring... whatever (wine, French bread, fruit, something you cook!).It's recommended to not show up with wine unless you know them and you've asked. Even if they do drink wine, they may not care to serve it with the meal. However, if you ask, they may say, "Yes, sure, that would be great!" A popular alternative to wine or Champaign is Martinelli's Apple Cider (They also have mixed cider beverages.)
* A small bunch of flowers for the table are almost always a welcome treat, especially if it's with a family!
* You may be surprised, many Americans like tea. You might ask if they like tea... then clarify raw tea (leaves) or tea bags. If they like tea bags, there are some great variety boxes that can fit everyone's taste. If they say raw tea is good, take them your favorite
* Here's the best gift you can give for most any special occasion: Send them an email afterwards -- from your heart to their heart -- telling how much you appreciated being with them.
* This could also be good toward someone who has gone out of their way to help you find something or to take you somewhere (#2 above).
If you are invited to spend a night in someone's home, there are fewer options, but the greatest of these, again, comes as your heart reflects on the time with them. Sometimes people simply don't know what to do when they receive physical gift items. If you've been there before and you know what fits in their home, that's one thing. If you don't know if it fits, maybe skip the gift item.
Here's the best gift you can give for an overnight invitation:
In anticipation, find a nice card. It could be a simple 'Thank You' card. It could also be a blank card with a picture on the front of some place beautiful, either from your native country or from the area in which you now live. While you're there visiting, soak up all the love and caring they are pouring out on you. Then, maybe the next morning when you wake up, reflect on all of that and write something personal to them that shows your gratitude. They will cherish this far more than anything you could have given when they first opened the door to invite you in.
Sometimes we take students on weekend trips to the mountains and they stay with people they have never met. But, by the end of the weekend friendships have been established, which often last for years, even drawing the student back for future visits on their own.
Bottom line: Love, expressed from the heart in friendship, is the greatest gift to receive. Love, expressing gratefulness, is the greatest way to say thanks! Appreciation is huge!