Giving and Receiving Gifts in Switzerland Part II
What do the Swiss give, when they are invited at a friend’s house for dinner? What’s appropriate?
In olden days, when a couple invited friends, the woman of the house was cooking the dinner, then one brought flowers to the woman and wine to the man. But nowadays that has changed a lot but basically don’t bring more than two gifts! Unless, the hosts have children and you want to bring them something too.
How much money you spend and what, depends really on the occasion AND on how close you are with the inviting people and how well you know them. It might not be the best idea if you bring a hand knitted teapot warmer to the posh dinner at your boss’ place, nor is it very smart to shower your frail in-laws with sample whisky bottles (I exaggerated here of course)
As for the cost of the item you want to bring, here's an example:
If a doctor is inviting two lawyers and a CEO of a company to dinner, they will have such huge salaries that a Fr.250.- bottle of a vintage liquid yummy will be peanuts to them. Considering that an average Swiss family's income is between Fr. 4'500 and Fr. 5'500.- per month, a gift of that price range would be out of bounds in most cases.
A Swiss would be embarrassed to get stuff that he or she can see as having been very expensive, and the Swiss person would feel an obligation to give something of the same amount back when the invitation is
reciprocated... and this might not be as easy for them as it is for you. If you have a good salary yourself, you may feel mean if you don't spend well on the gift in your terms, but remember it is the thought that counts, the gift is only a token. A typical Swiss family would probably spend no more than around Fr.50.- for gifts to take with them to an invitation. Assuming that some expats often have a much higher salary, I'd say something in between Fr.50.- to Fr.100.- would be ok, but really as an absolute maximum.
So you want to hear about ideas, apart from the usual, a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers??
Well, for a start make that, two bottles of wine!!!
Especially if your host (-ess) is a known wine lover, if he/she does not open the bottle you bring, to have with the dinner. It might get served at another occasion, with other guests.
Some people like to open a different bottle with every course they serve, but the average won’t and will remain with the same wine throughout the dinner. Or have a white with the starter and then switch to red.
Oh and, don’t think you need to bring a Chateau What-its-name or anything else that expensive.
You can almost never be wrong when you bring a Cabernet Sauvignon (be that French, Californian or Chilean) as a red and a Chardonnay as white wine.
This works well, especially when you are not sure of the tastes of your host, as these wines are pleasant and have some character, but will suit any taste. If the host is a close friend/relative of yours, I am sure you will make the right choice anyway, as you will know their preferences!
Other ideas of things to buy could be:
If you know that your host likes Whisky or other such ‘waters’ for example, then bring a bottle of that instead of wine
Fancy bunches of spices or tea; you can get these at most florists
Aromatised oil, like Truffle oil or a vintage Aceto Balsamico
A couple of sample sized bottles of hard spirit such as Whisky or clear Schnapps like Dammassine or Abricotine, who are quite special and very yummy consult your directory to find a liquor maker ( Schnapsbrenner) in your region, they often have these small bottles on offer.
If you are visiting friends that live further away, try to get a local speciality by example a special made chocolate truffle or a sausage that’s typical for the region, also some cheese, bread, cake or other such delicacies are often very welcome to get as gifts, and will last longer than flowers, who’ll wilt away after two days
Candles, with or without candleholders, scented or plain are also a good choice, make sure you don’t choose one who’s extremely colourful and smells overpowering.
Rather smelling fresh than sweet and sophisticated decorations are a good choice.
Small tokens of the GLASI Hergiswil are a hit in almost every Swiss household and the small things are not very expensive.
If you know the taste of the hosts, a new book to read, will also be a good choice or for people like me, one can never fail with a cookbook or a food/drink related book. Keep the receipt, in case the host has this book already in its collection or check beforehand, directly with them or discreet on a visit, what they’d like!!
Know the musical taste of your hosts, then the new CD or a compilation album of their fave singer or band etc will also be a good choice.
Host is a Pipe smoker? Get him some special tobacco, a blend or scented mix.
Host loves tea or coffee? Buy a large mug and add a pack of special coffee or tea.
Host loves foreign food? Visit the nearest Indian shop or a similar shop and assemble a small selection of goodies.
Host is a gambler? Some new decks of cards or one of these special carpets for card games!
Ideas of things to make at home to bring
Homemade jams, jellies, preserves in general, syrups, flavoured oils and vinegars etc.
Offer to bring the dessert, by example bake a cake, leave in form, adorn with ribbon and give the new baking tin along as a present.
Assemble your own cake or brownie mix (like the Americans do) in a nice glass with a lid, and add a handwritten list of what liquids etc one has to add and don’t forget the baking time and C°.
Buy small earthenware pots and matching ‘saucers’, fill with soil and add i.e. parsley, chive and basil seeds or other seeds of herbs or flowers of course, stick little flags with the name of the seed into the pots.
Host is a keen gardener? Buy a small pot of potted flowers and add further three to four sachets of seeds on long wooden BBQ skewers.
If you’ re a keen craftswoman or man, decorate with porcelain paint or special beads and stones, a large plain coloured plate or bowl and bring homemade cookies on that plate and give the plate as a gift.
Host is a keen coal maker, oh sorry, loves to BBQ and is master of the grill?
Then buy a plain white pair of oven mitts and either decorate them yourself with special cotton paint or, print out a picture with the ink jet on special foil (the one that you can iron on) OR do the whole thing with an apron. Both items can be bought at craft stores or in supermarkets crafts corners.
If you have a wonderful mug shot of the host or a snapshot of another time you were together and had a good time with the inviting party, you could buy or decorate a photo frame for that particular piccie and bring with you.
So, I hope I have listed enough ideas for you, that everyone can make their pick and next time you are invited at your Swiss friends house, you’ll know what to bring.
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