When you are staying with a host family, either for an au pair year or a student program or a language exchange, it’s always nice to bring them a gift in order to show your appreciation. It’s also nice to do this when visiting friends in other cities or couchsurfing. It shows that you’re not just a mooch and a free-loader.
It can be intimidating knowing what to get your host family. First of all, most of the host families here in Vienna who can afford to have au pairs… well they really have everything they could ever possibly need or want. I know I was struggling with Christmas last year as my first host parents’ house was perfectly IKEA-rific and blindingly white. I thought that whatever I got them would just look tacky and out of place.
However, buying “thanks for hiring me and letting me live in your house” gifts are a little different from Christmas gifts. They’re more about showing a little piece of your culture, where you come from, and who you are. This is the type of gift where it really is the thought that counts.
For my welcome gift, I thought to myself, what is a staple of where I’m from that would really impress them? But then I remembered that I’m from the suburbs of Delaware where there’s no cool landmarks or exciting specialties… So, I thought what’s a big part of my life right now?
The answer to that was the local bar that I worked at for about six days a week at in order to save up to come here in the first place! I spent a lot of my time there either working or drinking with my friends and coworkers. They had loads of cool music, beer, and food, and the staff and my bosses were like my second family (shoutout Grain Craft Bar & Kitchen). So my conclusion was to get the parents some super cool and funky beer glasses from that bar. While they didn’t match my host family’s white picket fence aesthetic, they still kept them with the other glasses either out of courtesy or because they really thought the glasses were cool.
Make sure you get gifts for both the parents and the kids. Gifts for the parents show you’re grateful to be staying in their house. Gifts for the kids show that you’re excited to be working with them and get you on their good side ;).
Here are some things to keep in mind when buying gifts for the parents:
- Always check to see what’s appropriate. No use getting your host parents a bottle of wine if they don’t drink.
- Ask first if there’s anything they want from your home country. They’ll appreciate the thought. My first host family wanted me to look for these weird striped jumpers for her kids from Osh Kosh B’Gosh that she had apparently not been able to find anywhere else.
- Don’t get them something that they’d rather have in their own country. As an American, I knew wine and chocolate are better in Europe so I didn’t bother with that.
- Consider how you can travel with the item. Don’t bring anything breakable (or just make sure you wrap it up nice and tight) and be aware that chocolates will likely melt or get smushed.
- It’s also nice to attach a card or post card from your home with a thoughtful message. Saying something thanking them for having you join them and how excited you are to begin displays enthusiasm and gratefulness.
Gift ideas for the parents:
- Food is always good because it won’t take up a lot of space in their house and the family will definitely have the opportunity to use it. Is there a weird hot sauce that’s your favorite from a nearby restaurant? Some homemade honey that the lady down the street makes? Some jam from the Sunday market? (Austrians love jam). Some Vermont or Canadian maple syrup?
- If you like baking you could also get them one of those cute mason-jars with all the ingredients for one of your favorite baked goods. Tell them that you’re going to make it for them. This shows that you want to do something nice for them. I know when I got to Vienna my host mom informed me that chocolate chip cookies “aren’t really a thing here,” (???). So breaking out the apron and cookie sheet is a good way to bring a little bit of home to your new country.
- My current host mom is British but used to live in New York and she mentioned that she missed Twizzlers (gross I know) so I got her a pack of Twizzlers. It’s small, but it just shows you’re listening. You could also get them your favorite candy (shout out, Yorks). They may be like, “ew these are nasty you really eat these?” but either way it teaches them something about you.
A film/CD/book indicative of your home
- Is there a movie shot in your hometown that all the townies go wild for? Or a song about your city? You could get the family a movie, which can be a good bonding activity, or the CD. For example, “Vienna“ by Billy Joel is obviously about this beautiful city. The Third Man is an old movie shot in Vienna that the city is super proud of, and shows multiple times a week at one of their cinemas, and does a special tour around the city for it.
- Cute mugs or glasses from your hometown are also a good option. My Australian friend here got her host family tea towels with kangaroos on them, and the family still uses them. A coffee table book about your host family is also a nice item that doesn’t take up too much room and could help them learn a bit about you.
- You could get them a small framed picture of your home town, maybe one that was taken in the good ol’ old days when it looked all vintage-y and adorable. Or maybe even one you photographed or painted yourself if you’re a skilled artist.
- If you’re from somewhere with delicious foods, consider getting them a cook book with authentic recipes from your home country. You could even get a spice kit from your home country with the indication that you will cook something authentic for them. Or if your home country isn’t really known for food, consider getting them something special to you personally. For example, Ghirardelli caramel turtle brownie mix was my favorite and I used to make with my best friend in college all the time.
- If they like sports, consider getting them some memorabilia from a sport in your home country. A surprising amount of Austrians actually watch American football. If your host family has a favorite team, get them something to do with that, like a jersey, hat, or water-bottle.
- Only if it’s near the holidays!
- When I was in high school, we had a Brazilian exchange student live with us and he brought all six members of my family a t-shirt and flip-flops with the Brazilian flag on them. That was super nice and thoughtful that he got one for each one of us. This can definitely get expensive though and it may be tricky. While I appreciate a brand new cozy t-shirt to sleep in, not everyone else does.
Things to keep in mind for the kids:
- If there are kids in the family, get the kids something! It shows the parents that you have an interest in them and obviously the kids will be super psyched!
- During the Skype/Facetime interview, it’s best to ask the parents what the kids are interested in. Sports? Trucks? Dinosaurs? Princesses? Disney? These are things that will make it easier for you to know if your gift will succeed.
- If there are multiple kids, consider getting them all the same present or slight variations of the same present so that none of them get “the good gift” and it doesn’t cause any jealousy/tantrums/competition.
- I got my first host family’s kids three books with buttons that made noises when you pressed them. Each one was a different theme according to the kids’ interests. The boy got a book about trucks and tractors because he was obsessed with construction. The baby got a book on farm animals and the girl got one on safari animals.
- Consider what the host parents would think of the kids’ gifts. You might be like, “Oh i used to love Play-Doh, I’m sure they’ll like that.” Or “What a sick Crayola paint set.” But the host parents might be like, “The kids are never using that and messing up my perfectly IKEA-infused house.” You might be like “Aw, candy! Kids love candy! Lemme get this and get on their good side.” The parents may see it and be like, “Great, I’m gonna look like an asshole when I don’t let them have it.” You might think “Aw a cute American baseball cap. Kids love baseball caps!” but your proper British host mum might be thinking “Baseball caps are so tacky and I have no respect for anyone that wears one,” (true perspective from my host mum). Just make sure you know what the parents expect before jumping on that gift game.
Gift Ideas for Kids:
- Books are good because it encourages reading and learning the language that you’re supposed to be teaching them. Interactive ones with sounds and buttons spice it up a little.
- Fairy tales typical of your home country or one that you used to love when you were a kid make it more personal.
- CD with songs from your host country is another great learning tool for them.
- Puzzle that makes up a picture of your host country– You can put it together… together!
- Coloring book & pencils
- Board games can be good depending on how old the kids are. If an appropriate age, they are a great way to bring the whole family together through a bonding activity.
- Beauty stuff like nail polish that shows you want to spend time with them. I was always psyched when my sister would paint my nails when I was little.
- Keychain (I used to collect keychains when I was little so I would personally be psyched if an au pair brought me a cool new one from a far away land).
- A stuffed animal representative of your home is another cute sentimental piece. For example, you could get a stuffed dog that looks like your dog at home, or a kangaroo if you’re from Australia 😉
Things au pairs have personally gotten their host family:
“I just brought things from my hometown. So I went to pike place and got lavender tea, some smoked salmon, and a Seattle skyline puzzle for the boys. Also some drawing things I think.”
-Anni from Seattle
“I got a kind of interactive kids book on Canada and maple syrup aha. Which they never ate pretty sure it’s still in the cupboard.”
-Myra from Ontario
“I brought them an Australian themed Monopoly ha.”
-Alex from Brisbane
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