Etiquette Filter: What is an appropriate thank you gift?
December 2, 2018 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm a middle-aged lady who made a new friend, she's been awesome, and I'd like to do something nice for her and her family, but I'm worried that I'm being maybe weird or culturally insensitive.

I have recently made friends with the mother of one of my teenaged son's friends. We had brunch together, have been coordinating transporting kids around, etc. Both her kid and my kid have had a lot of trouble with friends and school and life, and it has been great to have the kids find friends from families that share our values. I feel like we really hit it off and have a lot in common.

Last week she invited me to join her, one of her younger kids, and kid's friend for a touring production of Hamilton when her husband couldn't go at the last minute(!!!!!!). She drove us an hour to the venue, and wouldn't let me pay for the ticket.

I'd like to do something nice to say thank you (both for Hamilton, and also for her friendship to me and niceness to my kid), and the idea I had was got get some babkas shipped to her family from Breads Bakery in NYC (we're in North Carolina). I feel like babkas are festive and kinda hip, and Breads is one of the go-to places for them. Their family is Jewish, but she jokes that they are "Jew-ish," i.e. atheist but culturally Jewish. We are not Jewish; we're atheists with a protestant Christian ancestry.

Is this plan (a) weird or (b) culturally insensitive? My boyfriend thinks it is both, but no one's dropping Hamilton tickets into his lap, so maybe he's not the best judge. Would it be better if I picked something less traditionally Jewish? Is it just too friend-thirsty?
posted by jeoc to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Babkas are amazing and much more culturally Jewish than religiously Jewish, it not only should be fine, were it me, I'd think of you as a good friend.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:50 PM on December 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

I might give it some context? Like “these are my favorite babkas, and I wanted to say thank you for taking me to Hamilton.” Maybe reverse the clauses. But as long as you don’t mention THE ANCESTRAL PASTRY OF YOUR PEOPLE you’ll be fine. Also I have to try those babkas now, which are an ancestral pastry of etc.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:56 PM on December 2, 2018 [25 favorites]

Cultural jew here and I'm going to say that this would strike me as weird, weird, weird. Honestly, it'd be as weird to me as someone sending me a box of knishes. I'd recommend a bottle of wine.
posted by Toddles at 8:00 PM on December 2, 2018 [16 favorites]

I wouldn't find it weird but I totally see how it could be perceived that way. Since there's no way you're going to return the favor of the tickets with an equivalently expensive gift I wonder if you should just save yourself the angst and put your effort into a nice sincere note expressing your gratitude for her friendship in the challenging adventure of parenting and a non-culturally fraught gift like wine or a pie or something.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:04 PM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are you originally from NYC? Then this makes sense. Otherwise, do something else centered on your shared culture of North Carolina. Just because it’s less extravagant, less pointed.
posted by jbenben at 8:12 PM on December 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

No one one has answered your second question yet, so I will: no, not too friend thirsty at all! In my circles, given the situation you’ve described, up to a $70-80 gift would go over as normal and fine.

As for the cultural question... I’m not clear—are the babkas something you’d send to anyone and your hesitation is that the intended recipient happens to be Jewish? Or did you pick out the babkas because (or inspired by the fact) the recipient is Jewish?

If it’s the former, I think it’s fine but stick something in the note to indicate that it’s your stand-by holiday gift, hope you love them! If it’s the latter, yeah, that’s a bit weird and othering. But good on you for catching that!
posted by whitewall at 8:15 PM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

If it helps, I actually didn't think about the Jewish connection until my boyfriend pointed it out. I'm not from NYC, but I like babka and I like the idea of giving them to people (they're extravagant but comforting; unusual enough that people aren't tired of it). It's not The Gift I Always Give People.
posted by jeoc at 8:27 PM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since you're not sure and there's no way to be certain how it will be perceived, maybe go with something else this time. There's a whole thread on Harry and David pears somewhere around here, for one idea.
posted by bunderful at 8:31 PM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am culturally Jewish and I'd enjoy this gift with zero qualms. I would find it quite weird if it was followed up by another Jewish-related gift at any point in like a five gift period, though, if the gifter wasn't also Jewish.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:34 PM on December 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm Jewish. Agreed with chesty_a_arthur that I'd give it some context, but otherwise I don't think it's culturally insensitive. Also I think it matters that ultimately babka isn't really a particularly exotic food - it's yeast dough and chocolate or cinnamon, and it happens to be the Jewish spin on that, but it's not, I dunno, schmaltz? Chopped liver? Taiglach? Those things would be weird to send, but with something as universally palatable as babka, it's not likely to come off as "you'll like this because you're Jewish" rather than just "this is delicious."
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:07 PM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another Jewish person here, and for what it's worth, I'd never even heard of babka until Seinfeld came along. (And my grandparents owned/ran a bakery!) But yeah, it's Jewish, but it's not like giving someone a Talmud or a prayer shawl or even a Jewish cookbook.

If you *made* it seem like you were giving it to me because I was Jewish, that would be weird and othering of you. If you gave it to me because you said YOU loved it, then I'd be psyched that I'd made a friend who appreciated the value of pastry. They shared the performance in hopes you'd love it; you want to reciprocate with something you love.

But is there The Gift You Always Give People and is there a reason you're not giving them that?

And I wish I had a friend who would treat me to Hamilton tickets! I don't think giving a nice thank you gift is friend-thirsty, and honestly, it would be less weird to me than if you gave me something somehow associated with your religious/cultural background (if you had one).
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:30 PM on December 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would get a babka (since that's what you feel like giving) along with something else also hip and comforting from Breads that is not-Jewish, rather than "some babkas."

Another amazing place to order from is Zingerman's bakery -- they have babkas and other Jewish pastries along with other pastries that don't signal any one ethnicity. I was sent an assorted box from there for a special gift -- including a babka -- and it was perfect.
posted by nantucket at 9:31 PM on December 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

+1 for this is fine. Everybody loves Babka.

The babka is a nice segue if they ever choose to share their culture with you in the future (but take their lead on that).
It’s Like you are saying, “I see you, I honor you.” But without overtly saying it.

Cultural Jews are still Jews, regardless if they are atheist.

It would be weird if you got them something with a Star of David or religious music CD or something but I think babka is just universally appealing. I would even buy some for my non-Jewish friends.
posted by shalom at 9:34 PM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hm. I would only consider this weird if you were the kind of non-jew who brought up my (halfass irreligious) judaism frequently in conversation even though I myself rarely do outside of the presence of fellow jews. I don't know if I would feel more strongly about this if I lived outside of nyc, though. It's possible that it might make me feel awkward but it would really really depend a lot on how you handle it. You don't seem to be the kind of person who assumes all jews speak hebrew at home or any other such ridiculous nonsense so I think it will probably work out well for everyone, especially the people who get to eat cake.

if you decide it's a bad idea i am available to eat any orphaned cake
posted by poffin boffin at 9:43 PM on December 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Maybe you could instead just invite her to do something that you would pay for? I'm not Jewish so I won't weigh in, but I feel like professional baked goods are always appreciated.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:43 PM on December 2, 2018

I would feel like you were specifically picking out the Jewish part of my identity to emphasize, and I would wonder why, and if you were overcompensating for some anti-Jewish sentiments, or exoticizing me, or what. Because of all the things in the world to give, why a babka specifically?!

(Healthy?) paranoia is historically part of the Jewish experience, and you never know if that's a part someone's retained. So no, I wouldn't give it, I'd give any one of the thousands of possible gifts that wouldn't potentially leave her feeling weirded out.

(Also if she's not Ashkenazi she might find it doubly annoying.)

But giving something is definitely nice, and if she objects you can joke that hey, it's also Hanukkah. I wouldn't find that weird at all.
posted by trig at 10:47 PM on December 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I will say your boyfriend is maybe not familiar with babka? Maybe he’s approaching this from a Southern lense and trying to overcompensate?

Like, I really had a fun trip down memory lane reading the answers and thinking about the pastries of my youth. Teiglach is AMAZING. I miss that. Italian pastries from the right bakery are transcendent. The six years I put in perfecting traditional Tart Tatine. Rugelach, better than Babka IMHO. These special Sugar Cookies made on Cape Cod with Lime essence. And this thing a French bakery in my neighborhood called a Bostock. So. Damn. Good.

Yes buy the most fancy decadent and expensive pastry in your area you can find. Or fly in the Babka. Pick whatever feels right. Don’t look back :)
posted by jbenben at 10:48 PM on December 2, 2018

OMG I want to be your friend. I'm Jewish and think this would be just about the most lovely and thoughtful gift ever. I have been enormously grateful for the allyship some of my non-Jewish friends have expressed in the wake of the Squirrel Hill shooting and other recent visible anti-Semitism. This present would make me feel seen and also it's just really, really delicious. I wonder if some of the posters above missed the part about how you already know that this family loves this bakery? The best gifts to me are the ones that show you've been paying attention. I am now overcome with longing for babka and friends like you.
posted by equipoise at 11:30 PM on December 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

I wonder if some of the posters above missed the part about how you already know that this family loves this bakery?

I did miss that! That would definitely take care of the "why this gift specifically" question for me.
posted by trig at 12:30 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pair it with something else (a nice wine, say) and it might be okay.

But personally I’d err on the side of not, as some who has definitely received gifts and had to wonder if they overly trying to cater to my race, which would be offended indeed.

Also I think it matters that ultimately babka isn't really a particularly exotic food

Ugh. Please don’t do this. There is no such thing as “exotic food”. Or “ethnic food”. All food is familiar to some people and unfamiliar to others.
posted by suedehead at 1:25 AM on December 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure the OP says the family loves this bakery - she says "I feel like babkas are festive and kinda hip, and Breads is one of the go-to places for them" - which I read as them=babkas, not the family?
posted by paduasoy at 1:43 AM on December 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think the "Breads is their go-to place" part tips it in the "not weird" column, especially if they are ex-NYC-ers who frequently bemoan the lack of NYC/Jewish deli/bakery foods available in NC, formally being in that exact category myself. That's "You paid attention to something I like (and miss)!" rather than "You're Jewish, here's something Jewish!".

(Also my cousin brought me two babkas from Breads for Thanksgiving, so I might be even a little more pro-get-the-babka biased here.)
posted by damayanti at 4:54 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Atheist with Jewish ancestry here (and a complicated emotional relationship to it) and I would always be delighted to receive babka. And it is lovely and thoughtful of you to want to provide a nice thank-you gift, and not weird or friend-thirsty at all.

That said, if you're waffling on whether it's culturally insensitive, then why cause yourself the extra stress of worrying about that? Maybe find a different delicious gift, or as another poster suggested, a gift box of a few things that includes a babka.
posted by Stacey at 5:19 AM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Babka or any bakery treat is good. Flowers are good. I wouldn't give a poinsettia to a Jewish person because many Jews find the overwhelming presence of Christmas a bit tiresome. Likewise, probably no lobsters, or artisanal bacon. and a card, with a note to the effect of I've so enjoyed getting to know you. Not too effusive, but recognizing a new friendship.
posted by theora55 at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2018

I, too would want to send a thank-you gift to someone who took me to Hamilton and wouldn't let me pay!

(since you're in NC, I know that a lot of people wanted to get tix to those performances and could not. That's awesome that you got to see it!)

Specifically picking out a "Jew-ish" Seinfeldian gift is a little bit of a stretch....if someone sent me such a thing (I am the same) I would be confused as to why that particular gift. I would still eat them, though.

You could send a gift basket from Southern Season or one from any number of places and make it a combo holiday gift/thank you. I think that would be delightful and very thoughtful. And not too friend-thirsty at all.
posted by 41swans at 6:06 AM on December 3, 2018

Their family is Jewish, but she jokes that they are "Jew-ish," i.e. atheist but culturally Jewish.

it me and if you gifted me babka I would not even remotely consider that you picked the gift because of my ancestry. It's a delicious and popular pastry.

But, that aside, this might actually be a bit of an over-the-top thank you. Can you just plan to invite her along to something special with you sometime? Even if it's just a nice lunch and a walk in the park? If I invite a friend to do something, the best thank you is to have them reciprocally invite me to spend time with them.
posted by capricorn at 6:25 PM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m Jew-ish, and when I’ve visited North Carolina a few times from my relatively secular region, I’ve been made aware that it’s been noted about me by Christians. Only with kindness, but it still feels like they’re noticing my religion more than I’d choose. If you gave me babka, I’d appreciate the gesture and enjoy the yumminess, but it would also bother me a little. I’d think it was a sign that my Jewishness was noted by you, like “you’re my Jewish friend so you must like babka.” I agree that if it was part of an assortment, that’d be great.
posted by daisyace at 7:05 PM on December 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hmmm, why risk it? She sounds amazing and if she does take it the wrong way (which she probably wouldn't, but there is room for that) then you might have started to sour a relationship you value for no particular reason except that you were trying to actually help the relationship. Just go with the bottle of wine and write a lovely letter saying how great it has been to meet her.
posted by heavenknows at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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