Gifting long distances is hard. Gifting is as much about the experience of watching them open the gift as it is the actual giving of a gift so when someone lives an entire ocean away, it can make gift giving and receiving feel difficult or less enjoyable.
For me, this gift giving/receiving stress is multiplied by the knowledge that my apartment is small, my status abroad is temporary, and I have champagne taste on a sparkling grape juice budget.
Because of that, I don’t personally feel offended when people don’t send me Christmas gifts, I really don’t. I live 5,000 miles from home and I know that not getting gifts is just one of those things that go along with sometimes not making it home at Christmas time. I would 100% rather be at home with friends and family than to get a gift from them. I’ve long since decided that getting a gift from someone doesn’t negate the sadness that I feel when I don’t get to be home with them, so I don’t stress out about it.
Last year, multiple members of my impossibly sweet family offered to buy me a nice coffee maker for my apartment in Paris and I declined. If you know me, you know how hard this was for me and I still really want to let them. I LOVE COFFEE and I LOVE GIFTS and I LOVE NICE COFFEE MAKERS and I hate to make people feel like I am not appreciative of their attention and thoughtfulness because I so am.
However, my reasons for declining are as follows:
1. My apartment is small, so I really don’t have space for another countertop fixture in my extremely tiny kitchen.
2. The coffee maker I wanted was expensive because that is who I am as a person.
3. My status abroad is still relatively temporary – as I need to find a new visa every year – and I can’t see myself shipping a nice coffee maker back to the states or to wherever my next move takes me (budget constraints), and finally even if I did that, the outlet plug is wonky and I would have to buy a converter and as I don’t understand the logistics surrounding it, I would spend the rest of my life with this coffee maker wondering if it was going to short out or explode due to the different electrical current.
This decision was physically painful to me. As I sit here drinking my coffee from my 10 euro french press, I am still thinking about changing my decision and allowing someone to purchase it for me, but I can’t do that. Can I? …. I still don’t know. Mom, call me.
Anyway, I asked my gaggle of expat friends what gifts they would truly appreciate and find useful from their family and I thought I would share with you the most common answers.
I know, no one likes to give money. It feels uncreative, uncaring and cold. I get that. It also is the same thing everyone has been asking for since they were 12 and so it also feels greedy. However, living abroad is (sometimes, but not always) expensive and money is the one constant you can guarantee your loved one will need, use, and be genuinely thankful to have. I, for example, count on getting USD so that I can pay my student loans each month. I realize that it is not your responsibility to help me pay off the massive debt I accrued while pursuing very practical theatre degree (sorry again about this, dad) but it really does take a weight off my shoulders knowing that at least for one month, I don’t have to transfer my hard-earned and frankly too few Euros to America to pay Sallie Mae and whatever other company owns my loans now. *All the adults collectively groan at my fundamental lack of understanding about what it is to be an adult*
2. Amazon Gift Card
Okay, so, this is kind of a lame number 2 considering that number 1 was money. However, people seem to feel better giving gift cards than they do about venmo-ing you 50 bucks so I’m suggesting Amazon as the best gift card to receive. At this time, I believe that Amazon ships to over 70 different countries, and I don’t need to tell you the variety of items you can buy on Amazon. This gift will get used. I promise.
3. Airline miles
Let me start this by saying, I don’t know how this works. I don’t understand the science or physics or rules behind transferring someone your airline miles or buying them or anything. I haven’t reached that point in my travel career or done any research. All I know is that some people do it and it can make travel less expensive. This is a great way to guilt trip your expat loved one into coming home for the next function. “But I gifted you 20,000 miles, are you sure you can’t make it home for Aunt Millie’s cat’s quinceañera??”
4. A big ol’ box of homegrown love & treats
If you are dead set on sending your loved one something, the answer across the board from my expat friends was unanimous. Send us food we can’t get wherever we are. Peanut Butter and ranch dressing were the two most requested items but honorable mention goes to Hot Cheetos, Quest Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Girl Scout Cookies. Basically, send us any food that makes us think about being home and happy. Throw in some beauty products that we can’t get wherever we are, and it’s the perfect gift.
That being said, shipping can be expensive, so don’t get too crazy with this. Also, always write on the customs form that what you are sending is a gift, because it is. Due to some mix-ups, I’ve had several friends (and it has happened to me too) have to pay extra customs taxes when packages arrive based on what was box was ticked at the post office.
5. Something practical
Finally, I would suggest asking them what they genuinely want or need. I asked my friends this question and one of them said she wanted a butter churn. Sounds strange, but it would be a gift that she would genuinely use. Unless she was joking. She might have been joking? Anyway, you could see if they need something for their apartment, kitchen, home, wardrobe etc. You could also find out if their country has a company that sells reduced-price beauty treatments and gift them one, in France, there are balinea.fr and treatwell.fr. I’ve had someone gift me a massage that they found on Groupon. My yoga studio offers gift cards for class credit, etc. Any gift you can give them for something practical or an experience is a good idea in my books.
I think you can see where I’m going with this post.
For a temporary expat such as myself, it can be really hard to justify receiving a gift that I may have to get rid of in a few months or figure out how to transport. I will add, as a side note, that I have a very nasty habit of assigning emotional value to objects and if it is something from someone that I really care about, I will have a very hard time getting rid of said object. If you are not like that, then you will not share my stress of trying to figure out how to keep all of your possessions through international moves and this article may not apply to you.
I personally find useful things to the best presents of all. Money for my student loans, an Amazon gift card for when I need to order something but cannot figure out what store would have it here in France (happens very often), miles to help me fly home, a box full of ranch dressing (one very specific kind) and girl scout cookies (any port in a storm) or credit to take classes at my favorite yoga studio; any of these would make me a happy little bunny.
Either way, gifts are a lovely way to let someone know that you are thinking about them from the other side of the world, but I would also take a 3-hour Skype phone call over a gift any day.
Are you an expat? What do you think about these gift ideas? Anything you would add or change? Let me know in the comments!