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November 25, 2012 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Best oh-my-god-I-love-it gifts for people you don't know very well?

Every year I struggle to purchase a gift for a family member with whom I'm not very close. They have cats and dogs, are non-denominationally Christian and hold conservative social and political beliefs. They read sci-fi and fantasy novels.

That's about all I know. I'm looking to spend in the ballpark of 50 dollars or so. Any ideas that seem to be enjoyed by all?
posted by gilsonal to Shopping (32 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Gift baskets filled with chocolate and wine always go over well in my family.
posted by xingcat at 6:36 PM on November 25, 2012

You mention books. Would an Amazon gift card feel too tacky? If so, perhaps they have Amazon wishlists, or maybe you could try to figure out who their favorite authors are?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:49 PM on November 25, 2012

I've been keeping Loyal Luxe on my "to buy for someone eventually" list for a while now. They've got quirky-ish pet products. Probably not what you are going for, but, I figured I'd mention it just on the off chance that it would work!
posted by firei at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Buying an animal for charity, perhaps? Oxfam is higher-rated than Heifer on Charity Navigator, but ideas are also discussed previously here.
posted by mykescipark at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consumables, gift cards and winter accessories (gloves, hats, scarves) are pretty standard answers to this sort of question. Consumables go away eventually, gift cards let you get what you actually want or are easily re-gifted, and it's always good to have some spare winter clothes for when yours are too wet, or got left in your friend's car or whatever.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:58 PM on November 25, 2012

I have had good luck with the Worst Case Scenario books...conservative relatives often have a survivalist streak.
posted by emjaybee at 7:00 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gift card for someplace like Outback or Olive Garden always seems to get a good response. When I've done gift exchanges at work, that's the gift that people always get excited about.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:03 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

A gift certificate to their local, independent bookstore. It's great for their local economy and great for their love of reading!
posted by bluedaisy at 7:09 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A gift card is a great logical choice but one I'm trying to avoid, if possible.
posted by gilsonal at 7:10 PM on November 25, 2012

My go to gift under those kind circumstances is generally some fruit/nut/candy combo from Harry and David.
posted by gudrun at 7:10 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Smartwool socks. For real.
posted by barnone at 7:28 PM on November 25, 2012 [21 favorites]

Ice cream from jenis.
Really nice gloves.
Christmas ornaments.
Flip through etsy - wooden snowflakes, desk calendars, and decorative boxes have been big hits in out family.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:28 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

A basket with microwave popcorn, movie candy, and a gift subscription to Netflix.

Any kind of subscription to a something-of-the-month club is also good. My parents get fruit every month because of a thoughtful Christmas gift and they get a huge kick out of it every time.
posted by corey flood at 7:41 PM on November 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

For women: a nice bathrobe. (I've given silk bathrobes to two different semi-strangers with great success.) Its's a choice that doesn't really depend on fashion or personal style, doesn't require you to really know their size, isn't overly intimate, and still comes off as a personalized choice.

For men: tickets to a major league sporting event.
posted by Kololo at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2012

I think scarves are a great option.

If they like books, maybe you can see if an author they like is coming to their town and get them a ticket. Or maybe some sci-fi themed bookends.

For the faith side, perhaps a box of those quote cards where you put up one card at a time to read. I got a great box of these with Mother Teresa quotes.

For the pets, could you get them a gift certificate to a grooming service or pet photo shoot?
posted by ramenopres at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2012

Really good slippers. Like the wool ones.
posted by oflinkey at 8:58 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Those gloves with conductive fingertips that let you use a smart phone or other touch device.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:56 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jigsaw puzzles
Board games
Cookbook + tool necessary for cooking that kind of food (ex. Bundt cake cookbook w/ Bundt pan)
journal + nice pen
A set of reusable bags
Personalized Ornament
A cutting board in the shape of their state.
posted by shesbookish at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2012

If he/she doesn't seem like a person who would have one already, I'd try getting a cashmere sweater or scarf in neutral color. (Uniqlo has sales that put this in your price range.) However if they do seem like the type to already have one, then I would not try this as they probably have specific/more expensive taste. If they're not a health-nut, then I'd go with consumables -- harry david pears are popular in my family.

You've probably already thought of this, but...can you ask somebody who is closer to them? Anyways, you're already putting enough effort into this to deserve a grateful recipient!
posted by tinymegalo at 10:23 PM on November 25, 2012

The Oblique Strategies card set is an unusual present that works for a broad range of people: really, anyone even a little bit introspective. £30.
posted by Susan PG at 10:38 PM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Everyone likes something soft! A soft, pretty throw is always a nice gift. Or a scarf.

Pet owners do like things for their pets (or at least, um, I do). Themed (like a sports team) or personalized collars and leashes are nice. When I lived in New Orleans I would usually bring a Saints dog leash as a White Elephant gift and it was quite popular.

Also if you know a particular sci-fi/fantasy novel/world that they are in to, bookends as mentioned above are a nice idea. My Harry Potter books are supported by a lovely pair of Harry Potter bookends.

Or combine dogs and books and you get dog bookends.
posted by radioamy at 10:40 PM on November 25, 2012

A really high-quality umbrella.
posted by ostro at 11:30 PM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Smartwool socks (as mentioned above), two LED headlamps, and a couple of nice dog leashes, along with a card wishing them safe (and warm!) evening walkies with the dogs this winter.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:07 AM on November 26, 2012

My family is pretty blue collar, so this may not apply in your case, but I've had quality pocketknives (Kershaw is a good brand) go over quite well as a quick-and-easy gift for people.
posted by bfranklin at 5:25 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Movie theater gift certificate (for 2 if folks are coupled). Movies are expensive these days.
posted by anya32 at 7:36 AM on November 26, 2012

When we did random gift exchanges at work (known by some un-PC names) I'd always buy a Crock Pot. And people would KILL each other to get it!

Crock Pots are neat. You can cook in them economically and easily.

You can buy a very nice Crock Pot and dried beans, peas, etc as extras.

Another thing would be an assortment of Penzy's Spices.

Mmmm. Tasty.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:49 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've given cloth napkins & dish towels (use fewer paper towels and napkins), magazine subscriptions, and disaster-preparedness supplies - solar/crank radio, solar flashlight w/ USB charger. Flashlights are always useful, esp. in areas where the power ever fails, which is pretty much everywhere.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2012

Amaryllis bulbs! They flower in winter and are really pretty -- nice to have a fresh, blooming flower when it's cold and grey outside.
posted by amanda at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thirding smartwool socks. Unless you live someplace where it never gets cold, they are the best gift ever. People usually don't buy them for themselves, because they are expensive for socks, but they're very reasonably priced for a gift. Nobody I've ever bought them for has ever not loved them.
posted by KathrynT at 12:34 PM on November 26, 2012

Seconding anya32's suggestion. Get some candy and make a small basket with Movie passes included.
posted by getmetoSF at 7:31 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have pets and would welcome anything for my pets as gifts or a donation in my name to an organization like Best Friends Animal Society. At the pet store they should already have an entire section of holiday themed toys, stockings, etc.

If they like Dr. Who, you could always get them a Tardis cookie jar.
posted by dottiechang at 12:46 AM on November 27, 2012

It seems a little weird, I know, but I'd recommend an indoor/outdoor weather station. I have given a handful of these over the years and they are always a huge hit, provided the person doesn't already have something comparable. The older the recipient (read: the more likely they are to use the TV, not their smartphone, to find out the weather), the better the gift goes over.

link to Amazon's selection
posted by kostia at 7:58 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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