Gift for a woman I barely know?
August 24, 2009 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I need help coming up with a gift idea for a 40-50 year old woman that I don't know very well at all.

My dad and I will be visiting Chicago for a few days in the near future, and we'll be staying with a friend of his. They were pretty close about ten years ago when both our families lived in the same city, but now we live about a thousand miles apart and they very rarely see each other.

Last time he stayed with this family a few years ago he brought a gift that was more oriented towards the dad, whom he knows better. This time he'd like to bring a gift that the hostess can really appreciate. I've been tasked with finding such a gift.

The only things I know about her is that she's not religious, that she has a daughter who is around 21-year-old, and that she works as a technician at a Big Pharma company. What can we bring in the price range of $60-80 CAD that would be appropriate as a thank-you gift? We're in Ottawa, but bringing the usual maple syrup and whatnot would feel kind of tacky.
posted by Phire to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about a gift certificate to a bookstore in the area?
posted by firemonkey at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2009

Amazon gift certificate if she's web savvy. They have everything.
posted by toastedbeagle at 8:12 AM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: What I usually do is bring a smaller, generic gift (eg, bottle of wine) with me when I come, then keep an eye out during my visit for something that my host/ess would like. For example, a friend had no good knives, so I bought him a nice paring knife (we were poor students at the time, so it was about all I could afford). We bought my grandma a new cordless phone after we noticed hers was giving her problems. My mom bought my grandma (her mother-in-law) a 4-slot toaster when she discovered Grandma was trying to make breakfast for 8-10 people with a lame, old, two-slot toaster. I'll either give the gift during my stay or have it sent after I leave, with a thank you note telling them what a good time I had.
posted by katemonster at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: I would bring her a scarf of the highest quality in that price range. Since you don't really know her tastes, I'd select a striking solid color or a muted pattern.

Any woman in a Chicago winter can and will use a scarf. If you happen to select one she really likes, she'll just use it more often.

Two other pluses in the scarf category: you don't have to guess a size and it has an actual use rather than some doo-dad that takes up space.

My reasoning is that books are dicey and consumables like wine aren't really directed to one person.

My (the?) typical fallback for women I don't know well-- bath products-- seems kind of age-inappropriate as well as not very thoughtful.

Go scarf!
posted by vincele at 8:19 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

On preview: gift certificates are lovely but also impersonal. For visitors arriving at a house, it is always nice to have an actual thing to present the hosts with. Add to my scarf a bottle of wine for the both of them. go scarf!
posted by vincele at 8:21 AM on August 24, 2009

My (the?) typical fallback for women I don't know well-- bath products-- seems kind of age-inappropriate

I'm 44 and I love getting bath products as gifts.

Also, the price of maple syrup is out of control in the US right now, so a really elegant gift bottle of super-fancy organic maple syrup would be a gift I would welcome from Canadian houseguests.

The scarf sounds nice, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:30 AM on August 24, 2009

French wine- when I was last in Canada, I was struck by how much cheaper it was there (lower tariffs). For the price you're considering, you should be able to get a bottle that most Americans would never consider buying.
posted by mkultra at 8:47 AM on August 24, 2009

note: I really don't like getting bath products as gifts. The scent is always, always too strong for me. Beware.

Is there any way you could contact the daughter? She might know if theater tickets or tulip bulbs, or expensive chocolate, or even bath products would be appreciated, for example.
posted by amtho at 9:08 AM on August 24, 2009

Apologies for a third comment in this thread. Sidhedevil is right about maple syrup. It is expensive and would make a really fine present.
posted by vincele at 9:10 AM on August 24, 2009

I would suggest staying away from bath products - people do like getting them, but you never know what they might be allergic to, or what their friends might be allergic to. If you go that route, get something nice, but maybe scentless.

Scarves can be great - but better if you know their colour preferences (I love scarves, and most colours - but I hate pinks and olives - a pink and/or olive scarf would be politely accepted, and then out to Goodwill the next day). Scarves are great gifts for people once you've seen them a few times - anyone seeing me 2-3 times would realise that black, blue or red are all safe colours (as that is 90% of my wardrobe).

If you really do want something for her, how about get your dad to discretely inquire with his friend - just send an email or a quick telephone call to say, "We'd like to bring your wife something in gratitude for having us - what would she like?"

Maple syrup though - that's always awesome. I'm in Toronto, and I would invite you to my house for a weekend just to get a small bottle of good maple syrup, let alone a nice big one. Maple syrup is great for everyone. Except diabetics (you might want to check that).
posted by jb at 9:17 AM on August 24, 2009

I would suggest a picture frame of some kind, or maybe a pretty box of notecards. For that age range, I would look through the Met Museum catalog or the Field Museum catalog for inspiration. One thing you do know about her: she's hospitable. It's reasonable to assume she does some entertaining. Go from there.
posted by Jane Austen at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2009

I am not big on the scarf idea. Too many unknowns. A decorative one would be too hard to pick for a relative stranger, and there's not much practical scarf selection in the stores in August.

I -- also in Ottawa -- would find a $40something bottle of Ontario ice wine at the big LCBO on Rideau, then hit the Market for a bottle of maple syrup -- really not tacky, I don't think -- and then on to Laura Secord for a box of Canadian chocolates. Chicago has a better selection than Ottawa of scarves, bath products, and books; think local. You could throw in a few other things and make it gift-basket-y; maybe some of those silly Obama cookies.

(Though on preview note cards are not a bad idea. There is a nice stationery store at Fifth and Bank. And the nearby Glebe Emporium is my "Help, I need a present for my mom/aunt/sister" shop. Do they have a yard? Lee Valley is full of overpriced, Canadian gardening junk...)
posted by kmennie at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2009

I'm 48 and female, and like some other commenters I'd prefer not to receive bath products or anything scented. I'd vote for consumables, because I already have all the stuff I need, but I love to eat. I also love real maple syrup.
posted by PatoPata at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2009

I'm 43 and I wouldn't care for a scarf; I don't wear the ones I already have. I would like the bath products, but I can definitely understand that people are particular about scents. I think the wine is always a good idea; if she doesn't drink, she can always serve it to others. Other ideas: a box of truffles or gourmet cookies, some fancy seasonings from a nice cooking store, a simple crystal or handpainted ceramic vase (always handy and can't have too many), a set of very good wine glasses and/or a decanter. Whatever it is, you'll make a great impression by being so thoughtful as to bring a gift at all.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 10:04 AM on August 24, 2009

As a guest, I tend to do the same thing as katemonster: Show up with something smallish and generic, then scout for something thoughtful to leave behind with a note.

As a recipient in the age range, I always like getting something characteristic of a specific place -- and the ice wine sounds yummy! I wouldn't be wild about either a scarf (don't wear 'em) or bath products (I'm really picky about scents and skin stuff), though I would appreciate the gesture.
posted by dogrose at 10:52 AM on August 24, 2009

One of my favorite tipples is a drink I fist had at the Minolta Tower in Niagara Falls. They called it "Canadian coffee." It was a mug of coffee with a shot (or a bit more) of real maple syrup and a shot of Canada Club whisky. Mix it together, top it off with whipped cream and it's heavenly on a cold winter day/night. Maybe you could make up a small gift basket with maple syrup, Canadian whisky, two souvenir coffee mugs from your area and the printed instructions for Canadian coffee?
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:01 AM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: There's a reason wine, flowers and chocolates are popular gifts; they're widely appreciated and don't require much personalization, esp. flowers. Maple syrup is a good gift idea, too.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 48, female, also would not like bath products or scarves. You couldn't possibly guess what I like. If someone gave me a gift certificate I would be mildly insulted and think you were worried about my income.

I would love maple syrup because if I don't want it odds are that someone in my family or someone who visits me absolutely loves it so it is great to have on hand to please my guests. And I always go with consumables in these situations. Usually I buy a really beautiful tea cup and a variety of fine tea.
posted by cda at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in the florist business: more than once I have taken orders from folks sending flowers to thank a host or hostess for their hospitality. I think the idea to bring something small with you (wine perhaps, or the maple syrup?) and then follow up with flowers later sounds nice.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2009

I'm in your target demographic, too. No bath products or scarves, please. Something local to you - like the maple syrup, or chocolates from a local shop - would be much appreciated.
posted by tizzie at 12:28 PM on August 24, 2009

I have never really gone wrong with a gift certificate to a local spa (to be given at the end of the visit with your thabk you's). For a hostess gift, I would probably also pair it with wine or flowers or chocolate, though.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 4:58 PM on August 24, 2009

I'm also in your target age range. A nice notebook or journal with a fancy cover would make me very happy.

That, or local candy/snacks. Is there a fancy Canadian chocolatier you can buy a selection box from?
posted by vickyverky at 8:50 PM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, everybody. I thought the scarf-idea was fantastic, but my dad didn't agree. We ended up bringing a very nice set of teacups for the couple, and they went over really well. Other ideas that got tossed around as a possibility: a nice fruit platter / decorative plate of some sort.

Anyway, I've marked the answers I would've gone with had it been my decision. Thanks again!
posted by Phire at 9:54 PM on September 8, 2009

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