To bring a gift … or not?

Do you always bring a gift when you are invited to someone’s house? I mostly do, but not always, and I am increasingly irritated by the custom. I wish there were clearer rules!

I definitely bring a gift when there’s a special occasion, like a birthday, or when I’m invited to a dinner party. What to bring can be problematic even in these cases. I prefer items that can be used up, like chocolates or a bottle of wine, or items that come with an expiry date, like flowers or a bag of potpourri. But even with these comparatively simple gifts, you need to know the recipient’s taste. Some people hate any kind of smell in their living space, so potpourri or a scented candle can be a bad idea. Other hosts are on a diet, or hate champagne, so the gift automatically lands on the to-be-regifted shelf in the basement – not my intention when I bought it.

Do you also bring a gift when you are only invited for a cup of coffee, or when it’s an occasion for which a group takes turns in hosting? My book club has agreed that we don’t bring any gifts, as it’s a new hostess’s turn every month, and we are very happy with this arrangement, as it removes the need of remembering to buy another tasteful nothing. My mother has proposed the same in her book club twice over the years, each time meeting with vehement opposition.

Last week a colleague who lives nearby asked me over for coffee, and I decided not to bring any gift. Instead, I plan to invite her soon. I still feel this was the right decision, but I did feel a bit awkward standing in the door with empty hands.

How do you handle the question of bringing gifts when you are invited over? What different customs are there in the different countries you live in? (What I have written above applies to Germany.) How do you feel when a guest arrived without a gift?

– Rike Horstmann

12 thoughts on “To bring a gift … or not?

  1. LeeB.

    I live in the USA. If I were just visiting a friend to shoot the breeze, I wouldn’t take a gift. But if the occasion was a small get together with other friends, I’d take either flowers or chocolates.

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  2. Victoria S

    Wow, are we becoming rude as a nation, or is this a custom that has gone the way of land phones and 8-track players. I cannot remember the last time I brought a gift when going to someones house. I guess that’s because I haven’t been to a new or budding friends’ house in a long time. Longtime friends obviously don’t expect gifts unless it’s a special celebration like a birthday, anniversary or holiday gathering. And I wouldn’t think of going empty handed to a new or “first-timers” house.
    The people I know are in their late 50’s and up, and I believe them when they tell me “Don’t bring anything”. The reason I believe them is because when I say it, I MEAN IT!!!! At 58, I’m pretty much filled up with “stuff”. And when planning an event at my house I’ve been doing it long enough to have it down to a science. I know the people who are coming, what they like, don’t like; eat don’t eat; drink don’t drink. And am usually savvy enough to be prepared for an occasional “surprise” or two.

    I think bringing a gift such as flowers is entirely appropriate to a new aquaintance, but long time friends neither expect, not want to store anything more permanent.

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  3. Missie

    Well, it depends on several things — the specialty/formality of the occasion, the type of gathering, relationship with the host/hostess, etc.

    I think, also, with the economy’s rather shaky shape, gift-giving is more reserved, generally, anyway.

    For example, we often have family gatherings at my in-laws, and we don’t jump to thinking “hostess gift.” But when my in-laws were hosting an informal family gathering for their 59th wedding anniversary, we brought flowers — ‘though those were, technically, a gift for their anniversary.

    Most of our large family gatherings are pot luck, and so the “hostess gift” is the contribution to the meal that we bring — and/or the clean-up in the kitchen afterwards. Other gatherings are informal, with good friends, and once again, a hostess gift doesn’t really feel necessary.

    So really, it’s the reason for the occasion and the relationship to the host/hostess that determine whether I feel a gift is called for. For example, with my ex-husband’s family, there would be some family gatherings with family members we didn’t see too often, and we weren’t always included with the pot luck portion, so on those occasions, I would select a plant or flower arrangement or some such.

    All that being said, I NEVER expect or anticipate a hostess gift whenever I have guests — I just look forward to hanging out with them!

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  4. CindyS

    I’m probably one of the worst people to invite to a home. I don’t bring anything unless hubby says something like ‘should we bring wine?’ and I don’t bring chocolate or anything unless I have told them I’m bringing dessert.

    Another friend of mine did finally say to me ‘you know you can come to my house without a gift!’ and I thought, ‘okay then, that works’.

    I certainly don’t expect anything and am sometimes caught off guard if someone brings flowers because I have to find that vase, are the scissors in the holder?, and now I have cutting all over the kitchen which was already a mess because I’m cooking. Not that I don’t love the thought but for me, it’s about relaxing with people you like to be with.

    Again though, if it’s a more formal event I do bring wine – hubby and I don’t really drink so we have bottles all over the place.

    If it’s Christmas I would rather bring a small ornament or something like that the hostess doesn’t have to spend too much time over as I know they are busy.

    Then there is my other friend who will buy a freshly baked loaf of bread for a dollar and come over where we cut it up, slather butter all over it and gobble it up together ;)


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