We Had a Great Gift, but We Ate It
February 1, 2010 5:59 AM   Subscribe

What are some possibilities for host gifts while we backpack around Europe? Must be: small, light, and nonedible!

My roommate and I plan to spend 3 months bumming around Europe, and inevitably we will be crashing at either friends' places or couchsurfing. We've hosted couchsurfers before and were touched by the small gifts they've brought from their home countries. We'd love to continue this tradition. However...

We're taking one backpack each, so space is definitely at a premium. I imagine that both of us should take about a dozen gifts. Secondly, we'll have to lug these things around, so they can't be too heavy. Also, we don't have a ton of money but would like them to be nice. Finally, it cannot be food! We both agree that we'd be snacking on anything edible by the time we got to the first airport.

Any other suggestions? We live in NYC, so either something related to the United States or the city would be appropriate. I was thinking postcards, but they seem kind of cheap and cheesy. Does such a gift exist? Help us, Metafilter!
posted by amicamentis to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Couple ideas, depending on what you know of the people you're crashing with ...

Handmade jewelry made in NYC, or made in a region of the US they're interested in;

If they're into gardening, maybe seedpackets of American garden plants like heirloom tomatoes (I have no idea if you can bring this to Europe, btw);

You could do food, just food you hate. For example, if I wanted to give a gift from the Jersey Shore, I'd do saltwater taffy, because people usually like that, but there would be no chance in hell of me eating it no matter how hungry I was.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:23 AM on February 1, 2010

Also, although this may be too dorky and/or provoke a wtf? reaction, it's the sort of thing I'd like- if you can find some of those old $2 dollar bills or Susan B. Anthony coins.

You can also bring little day planners or calendars with I heart NY covers, or pictures from NYC or the US.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:34 AM on February 1, 2010

Not so sure seeds is a good idea; some of them may indeed get confiscated at customs, and even if they don't, you never know what species could set off a whole "invasive species" trigger (the way kudzu, the nutria, etc. did here).

How about pens? Not like cheap-ass ballpoint pens, but a nice fountain pen or something of that nature. Everyone needs pens, and sometimes you can get commemorative pens.

Or burn a bunch of mix CDs of your favorite music/American folk songs/an American-themed mix/etc.

Or, instead of food, write up some of your favorite "all-American recipes" on a bunch of index cards and make a set for everyone. I was completely broke one year on Christmas and I made an "all-American cuisine cookbook" for my friend in Ireland that way (I even got all cute and decorated each index card with a picture of George Washington in a chef's hat; she loved it).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on February 1, 2010

Something relatively cheap and slightly better than postcards might be key chains. They're small and light, and pretty much anybody can use one. Something with the Statue of Liberty could be kind of cool since it represents both the USA and NYC.

Also, after you've stayed with somebody it could be nice to send them a postcard from your next stop.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:40 AM on February 1, 2010

What's your price range? There's a pretty big difference between a $2-3 gift and a $10 one.

You could go to a souvenir shop and look around - maybe get a little figurine of the statue of liberty, a key chain, or a shot glass with a picture of something NYC-related on it. The key chain or shot glass could actually be used, too. The problem with that kind of souvenir is that no one in the US really uses that kind of thing, of course, but it's small, inexplensive, and NYC/US-related.

I wouldn't rule out food altogether - what about something that requires cooking? You couldn't eat that as a snack. I'm not familiar w/ NYC area regional foods, though. Maybe you could just bring a regional ingredient & a copy of a recipe using that ingredient.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:43 AM on February 1, 2010

Fridge magnets... useful and they come in a range from cheesy to classy, depending on what you get. Try the museums in NYC for some good ones.
posted by AnnaRat at 6:56 AM on February 1, 2010

How about locally-made hand soaps? They are small, tend to have nice packaging, and are relatively inexpensive.
posted by mlo at 7:04 AM on February 1, 2010

We did postcards when we stayed with some relatives in France. Not the coolest gift, I know, but we are from Kansas so we brought Wizard of Oz postcards and ones with tornadoes.

The relations laughed quite a bit, so I'd say they were at least a little successful.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:11 AM on February 1, 2010

I like the fridge magnets idea. Easy to pack, and tons of choices.
posted by toastedbeagle at 7:30 AM on February 1, 2010

If you must bring gifts, why not just give something from your previous stop-over? I just had a friend from another country bring me food from a local (to me) farmer's market and found that very acceptable.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:42 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My German relatives were especially interested in anything related to American Indians when they visited. Perhaps there would be something at the Museum of the American Indian's gift shop?

Otherwise, high quality herbs and spices specific to America could be nice.
posted by susanvance at 7:50 AM on February 1, 2010

I would recommend maple syrup because it's often tough to get (or very, very expensive) in non-U.S.-Canada areas, but that'd be heavy, so perhaps maple sugar candy of some sort?
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:39 AM on February 1, 2010

Usually there are photos of NYC landmarks/skyline amongst the art being sold in Union Square - "framed" in cardboard - kind of similar to a postcard, but maybe a little classier/artsier?
posted by yarrow at 9:21 AM on February 1, 2010

A souvenir from the area where you were previously: give thing A from NYC to your friends in Rome, give thing B from Rome to your friends in Paris, etc.
posted by sallybrown at 9:53 AM on February 1, 2010

Collectible spoons from NYC?

These, if you're unfamiliar.
posted by chazlarson at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2010

Scarves? I'm thinking silk or bohemian style, long or square, colourful or neutral tones. The possibilities are endless. The square inches to pack them, hardly any. The extra weight, negligible.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2010

I'm gonna second Ashley801 and say 2 dollar bills would be pretty cool. Plus it would be really light as well.
I get reactions all the time when I use the bills on my fellow americans, so I'm sure it would be interesting in other countries as well.
Plus you can get crisp new 2$ bill directly from your bank even.
posted by Redmond Cooper at 11:25 AM on February 1, 2010

There's a 2 dollar eurocoin, so the novelty of 2 dollars as a denomination might be lost on them to some extent.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2010

Also I just saw the nonedible part that I missed before. Sorry! My answer is useless.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2010

I am vaguely interested in foreign currency, but a US$2 would hold little interest to me. What am I going to do with it? I was at a Met Museum shop today and reiterate that they have great fridge magnets. I liked these ones and if they are too expensive at $15 a set, you could split a few sets across a few hosts. Or go to a cheapie souvenir store and get some there (probably $1 each)
posted by AnnaRat at 7:19 PM on February 1, 2010

Wow, thanks for the great responses! Coincidentally, we will be spending much of our time on farms, so the seed idea from Ashley801 would be really appropriate. We'll be careful in the selection to make sure we don't start some sort of international botanical incident. We will also consider the 2 dollar bills (have to ask at the bank) as well as picking up things as we go. Alas, my desire to bring the joys of maple sugar candy is only outweighed by my knowledge that such candy would be eaten immediately.

Our hosts will be happy!
posted by amicamentis at 10:40 AM on February 3, 2010

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