Are you gearing up to go home for Christmas? Spending possibly thousands of euros on the trip and being expected to come bearing gifts? But what to give to your beloved family and friends back home that fits in a suitcase and isn’t a random souvenir?
Here are some ideas for great gifts to bring home as an expat.
When you are in doubt about a gift, the best guideline is: “Would you like this gift if you knew nothing about this country?” I like bringing hand crafted gifts (though not necessarily handicraft in a traditional sense).
Gifts to take home for Christmas
Jewellery: necklaces, pendants, bracelets
Find something that is unique to the region but maybe not too big or unusual. Silver or if you can afford it gold, perhaps with local gem stones or pearls. Sometimes words or characters in local script (yes, ask what they mean and write it down because you will be asked about it). or perhaps they sell small wooden or porcelain jewellery boxes.
Great for: mums, friends, nieces, sisters (in law)
Care products: Soaps, Lotions, Balms- ideally handmade or a local brand
Some homemade or perhaps a local brand that you are a fan of. Look for items without allergens, or for specific issues such as balms for dry spots (for friends in cold locations) or sunscreen (for those in warm places).
Great for: mums, friends, nieces, sisters (in law)
Food items: Tea, Coffee, alcohol, local cookies or snacks
Do you have any favourite local delicacies that your friends might enjoy too? Bring them a pack. When bringing coffee, make sure you know the type of coffee machine and whether it takes beans or ground coffee (yes I made that mistake). With alcohol, make sure to wrap it well or your suitcase will smell like it for a loooong time if it breaks (yes, baijiu (Chinese alcohol) smell I remember you). A local bottle of beer or wine is your best bet. You could also take a selection of cookies and snacks if you are planning to host a get together with friends or take ingredients for a local dish for a Christmas meal with friends.
Great for: anyone (except the alcohol of course)
Baby items: personalised, traditional or handmade local clothes or toys
Onesies with a local animal or words in local script, bunting with the babies name stitched on, or a traditional wooden rattle toy or e.g. a toy taxi. A soft toy for example with their Chinese birth sign is great if you live in e.g. China, Singapore, Vietnam. Or find toys made by local charities. If I had still lived in Beijing, I would have bought a traditional gold pendant for my newborn niece.
Great for: a new baby or a new grandma.
Home ware items: tea towels, pretty candles, coaster, cookie tin
These are items that anyone uses. Even when people have a dishwasher they still have a tea towel lying about J you can find them in very pretty designs, though you may need to look at expat fairs or upscale (tourist) shops for those. Or fill a nice cookie tin with local cookies.
Great for: friends and family
Christmas items: baubles, wreath, ornaments
Something to hang in the Christmas tree, or a linen table cloth with a Christmas motive perhaps? For kids look for a (personalised) Christmas stocking.
Best for: family members who put up a Christmas tree and are not too colour coordinated about what they hang in it.
Clothing and accessories: hoodie, fancy tie, sun hat or socks, (leather) bag
Ok, I’m not big on giving or receiving clothing as a gift as it is such a personal choice what people wear. But maybe you have a friend who will just love a nightgown in a local design or a tshirt with a local tourist attraction. Look a bit further for a hoodie with a small notice of where it is from, a neutral tie, or a sun hat with the local sports team. Handbags or laptop bags may also work. For small kids, a t-shirt with animals on it may work.
Best for: brothers, dads, nephews or their female counterparts
Stationery: note books and pens
Always useful, a notebook or a pen. Find a pretty notebook for your friend, or one with a local pattern. For little girls, a unicorn pen is still popular.
Photo books or other photo gift
Possibly the best gifts for grandparents are gifts with pictures of the grand children or your family abroad. Make a photo book online and have it sent over directly to them in hard copy (e.g. via Shutterfly or Albelli/Bonusprint). Make a calendar so they have a new photo to look at every month. Frame a great shot of them with your children. Mugs, coasters, fridge magnets, phone or iPad covers, so much is possible these days. Christmas ornaments with pictures too!
Where to find these gifts?
Christmas markets geared at expats are your friend. Many international schools and clubs organise Christmas Fairs. Vendors pay to use a table. Part of the proceeds often benefits the school or a local charity. Vendors are often a mix of local artisans and expats who have spent years honing their craft.
There they often also sell food like brownies and cakes. These won’t survive the trip home, but you can gift them to teachers, helpers, receptionists or your spouse’s colleagues where you live.
You can also ask a long term expat in your location which shops or artisans they recommend. And local supermarkets can also be great for gifts, especially food related gifts.
There are events at many of the international schools and some people’s homes, and check out stores like AEWON (a.o. one in the Radisson Hotel), the gift shops at the Empire Hotel, the Handicraft Centre in Bandar, the Royal Regalia Museum, the 1,80 shop, Best Eastern bookstores, Helping Hands Penan charity.