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Primer on Hostess Gifts

Should you or shouldn't you? That's the question when you've been invited to a party or dinner at a friend's home. Should you bring a hostess gift or come empty-handed and hope that your sparkling personality and witty remarks will be enough of a gift?

We've all been faced with these kinds of decisions. Being invited to someone's home can often be very stressful if you worry for days about what to bring as a gift. In our Why-can't-I wear-my-jeans-everywhere-I-go? society, it can be difficult to know what the right thing to do is when proper etiquette comes into question. And we Baby Boomers are all about doing the right thing, albeit while still wearing jeans.

In order to get the real skinny on this perplexing problem, I asked Mary Miller, who was an entertainment writer for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to give Boom This! readers a few lessons in social graces for these occasions.

Mary graciously provided the following info:

  • Giving gifts never goes out of style, so, bottom line: It is always nice to bring a gift for your host. The only time it MIGHT not be necessary to bring a gift is when you are providing a dish to share as in the pot luck tradition. Even then, though, it can't hurt to bring a small hostess gift to say "thank you" again.
  • "The best types of gifts are those that can be enjoyed by the host after the party," Mary says, "and do not cause more work for the hostess." In that vein, it's not a good idea to bring fresh flowers without a vase. Although they may be beautiful, the flowers force the host to immediately scurry off to find a vase, abandoning his guests in the meantime.
  • If you choose to bring a bottle of wine or a food item, the host should ask if you want these items served to the other guests. Mary "saves wine gifts for another occasion, unless the wine has some special meaning for the party, or unless I run out of wine! If I've already planned the menu and their donation just doesn't fit, I say thank you and let them know I can't wait to enjoy it tomorrow." She also recommends not pestering the host to open your gift right away because it is perfectly acceptable for the gifts to be opened after the party.

Mary offers the following clever ideas for hostess gifts (which she picks up during the year as she comes across them) and suggests you take into consideration the likes and dislikes of your host to guide you in your choice:

  • A coffee cake for breakfast the next day
  • A birdfeeder
  • A scented candle
  • Picture frames
  • Jams or jellies
  • A new CD
  • A homemade craft
  • Small ornaments

If you really don't have time to run out and get something for that night's party, it's OK to have a gift sent the day after the event. Sending flowers, a plant or a box of chocolates would be a nice surprise (and help guarantee you'll be invited back soon).

You should never feel that you "have to" bring a gift, but do so because you really want to thank the hostess for a wonderful time. Putting just a little thought into the gift will guarantee the host will appreciate it - and you.

By Teresa K. Flatley


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