Invited to a Country House Getaway? Don’t Forget the Hostess Gift!
As the festive season approaches and gatherings of friends, colleagues, and families become more and more frequent, there is a very good possibility that at some point you will be invited to a country house for a getaway, whether it be for a weekend, or longer. If you are planning on taking your host up on his or her very generous offer to open their home to you for a special occasion, a hostess gift, although perhaps technically not required in these modern times, is an invaluable way to extend your appreciation to your host in both a civilised and time-honoured tradition. Emily Post, the late etiquette expert and author of many a volume on the subject, identified several specific situations where hostess gifts are called for: casual dinner parties, first visits to a home, housewarmings, weekend or extended visits, and cocktail parties. Your country house getaway will most assuredly fall into one, if not more of these categories.
The “if” of whether or not you should bring a hostess gift is actually the easy part. It is the “what”, as in what you should bring, that is more challenging. The temptation to splash out and spend a lot of money should be resisted. It is not a contest to see who can bring the most expensive gift to the occasion, but rather a thoughtful thank you to your hosts for the efforts they have undertaken in order to provide you with their generous hospitality. With this in mind, guests should take into consideration the fact that any hostess gift they give should not provide even more work for their hosts. If you decide to give flowers, be sure they are already artfully arranged in a tasteful vase, so that your hosts do not have to expend energy searching for a vase and trimming the stems.
Other gift items that are tempting to bring but may prove problematic are food and drink items. If you are spending some time at a country house, your host has invariably thought long and hard about the menu, and any complementary wine pairings. Showing up to the occasion with food and wine may leave the host feeling that your offering is meant to be shared with the other guests, and could be awkward. If however, you are unable to part with the traditional idea of bringing a hostess gift of a bottle wine or a box of chocolates, be sure that you go the extra mile and make it really special. Ensure that you get a bottle (a single bottle) of wine that is of good quality, and that you can recommend with ease. Perhaps there might even be a wee story behind why you chose that particular bottle (i.e. “this is the cabernet that is made in the small village in France where I used to live and has always been one of my favourites”). Again, it is not necessary that you spend a fortune here, but at the same time, you don’t want to bring something that you can find on the bottom shelf of your local grocery store. Ask your local wine merchant for help in this matter if you find yourself stuck.
Likewise, if you must bring a box of chocolates, please do not just nip in to the corner shop and grab the first package of grocery store candy that you see. Take the time to go to your local gourmet or farm shop and see what is on offer. Try to find something artisan or locally made, or purchase a box chocolates, truffles, or even macaroons from a high-end department store that houses a food marketplace.
Of course, if you know your host, gift giving gets a whole lot easier. Knowing your host enables you to give a gift that you are confident he or she will enjoy. If you garden and happen to know your host is a vegetable lover, you might bring a selection of fresh fruit or produce from your garden (neatly boxed so that he or she can slide it directly into the refrigerator). If the gathering is small and you know not only your host but the other parties involved, you might bring a loaf or two of freshly-baked artisan bread that you know your host is fond of. What is nice about knowing your host, is that you can always call them ahead of time and ask if they would like you to bring anything specific. That way, not only are you showing your appreciation to your host, you are also helping put by offering something pragmatic.
Finding an appropriate hostess gift can be tricky if you do not personally know your host, or are only very loosely acquainted, say, if you are attending the occasion as a part of a work or corporate occasion, or perhaps are attending as someone’s guest. Scented candles, gourmet coffee, and designer spices are all gifts that are luxurious, yet pragmatic, and avoid the pitfalls of the food and wine trap such as allergies or special dietary restrictions. Another fantastic option if you do not know your host, particularly if they live in a large, rambling house with many rooms, is handmade or designer soaps. This is an item that every house needs, and can be easily put to use in one of the guest bathrooms in the house, The key here is to keep whatever gift you decide to give relatively small, and to ensure that it is wrapped (unless it is a bottle of wine or liquor) in an elegant, but not overwrought manner. The most important thing to remember is that it is better to give a small hostess gift and perhaps get it slightly wrong than to show up empty-handed.