Q. Hi Jordan,
I’m going on a trip…to meet my boyfriend’s mother for the first time! Since we will be staying at her house, I’d love to get her a thank you gift for hosting us. I was hoping you could do a post on gift ideas / the etiquette of giving your hostess a gift. I was thinking about bringing something small with me and then sending a thank you note after we arrive back home, but honestly, I am not sure if there is an etiquette around the timing of these gifts. I obviously want to come off thoughtful, but not seem like I am trying too hard.
Thanks for all the awesome advice! I love your blog
A. Oh, wow – is it ever stressful picking out that first-ever present for your significant other’s parents! I remember the first time I met Kendrick’s parents I agonized over what to bring (I was going to stay with them in Ohio for the weekend): I ended up bringing his mother some Blossoming Tea with a glass teapot. The next time, I brought them a set of awesome NYC-themed stone coasters (similar to these) – both gifts from a local store I love, Domus, that sells unique home decor and entertaining items from around the world.
Unless you know her (via your boyfriend) quite well and she has some all-consuming hobby, I’d go for something in the home decor/entertaining/bath & body sphere – everybody likes that stuff. As to what to get, I like the idea of something that is evocative of your town, like a pie from a local bakery (if you’re careful when you travel) or a set of city-themed dish towels, or a unique item that she’d be unlikely to pick up herself, like beautiful salt cellars or serving spoons. Go ahead and give it to her right after you’ve arrived and settled in a bit – it can be a nice way to break the ice.
As a particularly impressive alternative, you might want to DIY a little something, like body scrub, flavored table salts, vanilla extract, linen water, or reed diffuser (click the links for instructions). Hola, brownie points.
While staying with friends, I usually don’t recommend offering to cook because it ends up being more work for the hostess (who probably had meals planned out anyway) – what I like to do is keep the place stocked with wine, act as sous-chef with any meals-in, and maybe treat my hosts for a dinner at a nice restaurant. However, the no-cooking rule goes out the window when you’re with in-laws (or potential future in-laws). If you’re handy at a stove, go ahead and volunteer to make a dessert or an appetizer.
More advice: keep your room and the bathroom spotless (bed made right when you get up, toothbrush neatly lined up by the sink, etc), please-and-thank-you your head off, and be respectably self-sufficient: it’ll stress out your hosts if they feel like you’re tip-toeing around. Once you get the lay of the land, go ahead and make yourself some coffee in the morning, grab a soda from the fridge, etc; if you feel like you’re at home (but still on your best behavior!) it’ll make everyone else more comfortable. And it’s always nice to send a follow-up thank you card (I think flowers are overkill unless you stayed for an unusually long time) a few days later.
For hostess etiquette tips, click here.