The Perfect Gift for a Frenchman

The Perfect Gift for a Frenchman

So, it’s getting to be that time of year again.

Time when I have to wrack my brain about what Christmas presents to give my French in-laws.

This is HARD.

Plus, Sébastien and I are complete opposites when it comes to gift giving. He wants to give something permanent and artistic that people can keep.

I, the person who prefers being able to pack up all my worldly goods in a suitcase (books=major problem here, I love books!) and catch the next flight at a moment’s notice, prefer FOOD. Ephemeral things that can be eaten and enjoyed on the spot or at any rate eaten and enjoyed before trying to move halfway around the world again.

So that’s what I like to give, obviously. You can’t go wrong with food, that’s my theory. Even if you DO go wrong, like the person is secretly allergic to chocolate, the worst that can happen is the giftee will pass it on to someone who likes that kind of food. The VERY VERY Worst that can happen is they can decide to share it right then and there with the gifter and everyone else around. That’s a pretty good worst if you ask me.

Plus, it ENCOURAGES people. They say, Well, Laura likes to give chocolate so much, maybe we should give HER that.

It’s just a whole nice cycle to get going.

I have, in the history of my relationship with France, found only four appreciated gifts for my in-laws, and they were all small and random and not nearly big enough, if you know what I mean, for an official birthday or Christmas gift. They were: a box of pancake mix for someone who had fallen in love with American pancakes while attending our wedding 2; a package of Oreo cookies; a box of Krispy Kreme Hot Doughnots Now picked up spur of the moment the morning of the Blame It on Paris alligator trip; and this…


It’s a hamburger of marshmallow and fries of marshmallow with some jelly ketchup!! Seriously, that is too perfect. Of course I had to stuff it in a box and mail it to Jean-Charles. Jean-Charles and I, we understand each other. At least, we understand each other when it comes to enjoying/inflicting upon ourselves weird and idiosyncratic food items from the other culture.

Unfortunately, we have to go a little bit beyond marshmallow hamburgers for Christmas. And anyway, not all of my in-laws would like marshmallow hamburgers.� Some people are weird that way.
What would YOU get? And are you like me? Do you prefer food or something that will last?

  • Naturally, my gift list always includes an obscene amount of books. Not so good for packing on the spur of the moment and going to the other side of the world, but PERFECT for those days when I’m snowed in and need an escape. I’ve never NOT appreciated a good book.

    I don’t like the generic type gifts that show the person thought of me, but not really. For instance, I just LOVE bath stuff. BUT I am a tad bit picky. I like vanilla, or Amber Romance from VS. I do NOT like any kind of flowers. So someone that gives me a lovely basket of bath bubbles in say, ROSE, would fall into that second group of gifts, the ones most likely to end up with one of my daughters.

    FOOD is always good. Especially if it is Chocolate. Or any type of kitchen thing is good, because I can make FOOD with it. I am actually asking for a Crepe pan this year, so that we can continue the crepe making in style.

    Also, I really enjoy getting writer-type things. Like pens. Or notebooks. Or paper for my printer.

    And frankly, I totally HATE buying gifts for anyone except my children and husband. With six kids, it taxes my brain enough coming up with a few unique gifts for each of them. That’s why I’ve turned to generic gift cards for most everyone else lately. It’s so much easier for those people that I don’t know well enough to get creative with, you know?

    October 5, 2007 at 9:24 am
  • Everyone I know in the U.S. now wants a crêpe pan! 🙂 Hey, a good habit to spread, that’s what I say. I love kitchen equipment, too. Can’t really pack it, but I think my days of easily globe-hopping are over, anyway.

    My in-laws are SO GOOD at finding presents for me, that’s the problem. It puts a lot of pressure on me. They really find that special little something that proves how much attention they’ve been paying to me and how much thought they put into it. And I put, I swear, tons of thought into it and never find that perfect or even semi-perfect thing.

    Except for marshmallow hamburgers. That was luck.

    October 5, 2007 at 9:37 am
  • I hate it all.

    Oh, that sounds so bah-humbug, doesn’t it? It’s going to be that sort of year, I think. Truth, I’m very hard to buy for. Almost impossible. And I know my MIL usually puts thought into it, because she usually comes thisclose but not quite right, and if I’m to be honest, I’d have to say the problem is on my end, because I’m so picky and hard to buy for. I put TONS of thoughts into in-law presents, and then I get resentful, because I feel it’s really my husband’s job, he grew up with these people, and he can’t ever think of one measly thing. EVER. Plus, I hate everything surrounding the gifts, hate that so much stupid junk is bought for my children, and I have, in the past, simply asked everyone to make a donation to a charity of their choice in my name, and I think I am heading that way this year, too. Oddly enough, people seem to think that’s weird and un-holidayish of me.

    Despite all that, I will try to answer the question you asked. I like good coffee, good chocolate, and good yarn (not the nasty acrylic stuff). Really, nobody could go wrong buying me any of those things, and yet nobody ever goes for the obvious. I don’t know why not.

    October 5, 2007 at 10:00 am
  • Alas, my in-laws have NO hobbies or interests, one each of every kitchen item ever invented, and enough knickknacks to fill a garbage skip. I’m all about the food, or the candles, or the tickets to one-off events because I cannot in good conscience clutter up their houses with yet more crap.

    For myself, I also tend to like perishables more than things I’ll have to find a place for, and then dust regularly.

    October 6, 2007 at 7:14 am
  • Consumable goods are the way to go. You can’t go wrong with food, if you know what they like. The marshmallow burger and fries are PERFECT by the way! I think I’m going to be making/giving a lot of homemade jewelry (mostly earrings) this year. It’s something they can keep but use at the same time, without have a utilitarian feel like a toaster or vacuum cleaner. When I was teaching, I loved holiday gifts because all the moms made me fudge and breads and yummy stuff! But teacher appreciation brought gifts I usually gave away – bath stuff in scents I hated, knick-knacks, things that said “I’m a teacher” – except the really nice occasional gift card. One student gave me a pair of simple, crystal beaded earrings and I thought it was the best gift ever.

    Ken will just go to the store and buy the first thing he sees.

    October 6, 2007 at 8:35 am
  • I had to laugh as I read this post. I was sitting here thinking, “Oh man…it’s that time again…I have to start thinking about Christmas gifts now.”
    I love giving food as well. But I can understand why some people prefer to give “proper” gifts! But it’s so much harder to find perfect non-food gifts. I mean how am I supposed to know what the person will like? As you said, if it’s food at least they can give it away, but with a permanent gift they either have to hide it away in a closet somewhere or do the dreaded re-gifting!

    October 6, 2007 at 2:04 pm
  • Anne-Gaelle

    That’s an interesting question Laura! I think it really depends on who is the person you offer the gift! Ok, in that case they are your french-in-laws so perhaps you should rely on Sebastien but if you find something by chance that you think could be great (just like the hamburgers marshmallow) go for it!! It’s strange as people don’t know me sometimes, you can realize it with your Christmas gifts but I never show us if I’m disappointed because I know they spent time to think of me and I like this idea!
    You could do both food and permanent gifts so you can manage to find the perfect gift and at least you can’t be totally wrong! It’s what I often do!!!
    Kitchen things are always good, even if you think French people have already everything (my father was really happy to get a new better crepes pan). And everything to do with American pancakes are great! I’ve heard about an American friend who put blueberries in it, I have to taste it before leaving!! And it’s a shame you are not kiwi otherwise your gift could have been the rugby game,lol!!;)

    October 7, 2007 at 5:02 pm
  • How about something truly tacky like a “Someone in NC “hearts” Me” T-Shirt?

    October 8, 2007 at 6:48 am
  • Michelle, my daughter’s teachers DON’T LIKE any sweets! Is that bad or what? I can’t even figure out what to bring them back from Paris trips under those conditions. I have limited vision. Food fills most of it. So I get gift cards but I would like to have a good idea for them that I can add to that, some little personal touch since I know they just turn around and use the gift cards to get things for their own kids.

    Anne-Gaëlle, blueberry pancakes are famous! You definitely have to try them. But be careful and either use fresh blueberries or well-drained thawed frozen ones, because if they aren’t well-drained or are still partly frozen, the batter will be all mushy and half-cooked around the berries, and that’s no fun. But you’re right, if I were in New Zealand, I would be getting people some All Blacks stuff for sure–especially my father-in-law, who is a big amateur rugby player.

    Jayne, you’re evil! They would give me one of those LOOKS.

    I’m glad we all agree on food. Maybe I should print this up and offer it to Sébastien as an argument for my gift style: the more food the better, I say. I used to be embarrassed as a kid when all the other kids brought the teachers those cool “teacher gifts” and my mom sent homemade Christmas bread, but now I know which meant the most.

    Amy, I bet you are like me: they think it would be bringing coals to Newcastle to give you chocolate (or coffee & yarn, too, in your case). But they are so wrong! You can never have too much of those things, can you?

    Ann, I know what YOU want: Nutella!!!

    October 8, 2007 at 2:13 pm
  • Sarah

    Homemade chocolate fudge always goes over pretty well – you know, the classic recipe from off the back of the Marshmallow Fluff jars. Easy and delicious. And it ships well – I’ve sent some overseas before. And it’s awesome with or without nuts. Put it in a nice tin and there you go.

    For your French family members, you could make a little cookbook of all your favorite Southern family recipes translated into French and converted into metric. Pecan pie, sweet potato souffle, pulled pork bbq, sweet tea, sausage cheese balls, boiled peanuts, things like that.

    Food always seems like a good choice to me, though, at least for adults. My parents always insist that they don’t want any more “stuff”, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.

    October 8, 2007 at 5:27 pm
  • The first thing that popped into my head was a copper pot or two…filled with edible special things…jars of pickles, jams, chocolates 🙂
    A fire pit?
    American jeans?
    Flannel sheets?
    Spa treatment?

    October 8, 2007 at 7:48 pm
  • I second Sarah’s suggestion about a cookbook. I typed up a bunch of my favorite recipes for my friends and family last year and they claim that they love the gift. One year I made some homemade hot fudge sauce, caramel, apple butter, and pancake mix for various family members.

    I LOVE food gifts. A few years ago I asked for a bottle of 10 yr old balsamic vinegar and was nearly hyperventilating when I opened up the package from my Grandma and saw that she actually tracked it down for me. Of course, a few of my relatives were looking at me like I’m wacky, but they would probably do that anyway:)

    Good luck!

    October 8, 2007 at 10:20 pm
  • melinda

    If your in-laws have alot of people over at christmas time and entertain a bit then I would send them a lovely table centrepiece or if they have a hallway near the front door – then a flower arrangement in a “christmas theme or colour” for that table where they great and welcome people inside.
    As for me – I am so easy! I adore perfume ( guerlain is my favourite perfume house) so a bottle of something always pleases me!!!!!

    October 9, 2007 at 3:15 am
  • You all have GREAT ideas. Sarah, I’ve done fudge before (Carnation is the one I usually use) and ended up teaching my sister-in-law to make it, and she makes it a lot now. So it was very successful at first, but now they get a lot of it. It’s a great idea, though. If YOU go to France, make sure to bring the recipe and your U.S. measuring cups/spoons so you can make it!

    I love the balsamic vinegar story, dharmagirl! That is perfect. Good for your Grandma for knowing you meant it and tracking it down for you.

    I love the cookbook idea. And a copper pot filled with edible things…that is brilliant. Now I want to give that to ME for Christmas. It could be fun edibles from the US, Christmas goodies, some homemade, some store-bought, some really good things and some really silly things that you would never find in France.

    Melinda, I was in the Chanel-contracted rose fields this summer, but Guerlain is one of the few other big houses that still invests in the old roses de mai in France (the newer perfumes from the big houses as well as all the perfumes from the smaller houses all get their roses from cheaper sources, such as Bulgaria). So when you are spritzing on some of Guerlain’s perfume, you are part of a centuries’ old tradition.

    October 9, 2007 at 7:16 am
  • How about a giant, inflatable alligator? Not only would few people in France have one (and talk about a conversation starter!) but it would also be a lovely momento of their apres second wedding trip through the swamps of Georgia.

    October 10, 2007 at 7:38 am
  • Hey, that would work! It would be funny, anyway! 🙂

    October 11, 2007 at 10:03 am
  • It “is” getting to be that time of year again…….I am now into giving gift certificates….let everyone pick out what THEY like and not what I normally do, pick out things that I like….does anyone else do that? I adore gifts of homemade food items when friends and family have taken the time to bake or cook something I could use around the holiday season….

    October 13, 2007 at 8:26 pm

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