Recently, a friend of mine had a gift-giving conundrum. She was visiting some friends in France and couldn't think of an appropriate hostess gift. A bottle of wine? They have those in France. Fancy soap for the guest bathroom? That's another thing that France is known for. Gourmet chocolates? Not with Belgium and Switzerland just across the border.
She couldn't show up to stay with her friends with no hostess gift. But a gift should be something special and unique. Not something that the recipient can pick up at the local market. And we all face this same challenge whether we're visiting friends in another part of the world, or just another part of the US.
The trick is to focus on local specialties. What foods does America do best? Well, yes hamburgers are THE iconic American food, but they're not going to travel well in your luggage. Barbecue is a distinctly American cuisine. Some local BBQ sauce or spice rub would make a great hostess gift. Maybe include a small barbecue cookbook if you think the recipient needs some tips.
We also do TexMex really well, and a few jars of gourmet salsa make a great hostess gift. And you can open one as soon as you arrive to start snacking as you and your friends catch up.
Americans also have a passion for hot sauce, as proven by the hundreds of brands made in the US. Thrillist did a taste test and came up with a list of the top ten.
Don't forget that different people have varying preferences for heat. The country where they live may offer some hints. If you're visiting pals in Thailand, bring the hottest salsa and hot sauce you can find. But if you're going to France, stick with mild or medium. If you're not sure of you're friend's personal preference, bring an assortment such as NAKED Infusions 3-Some gift pack - they'll enjoy the variety.
And why not bring wine? American wines rank right up there with wines from the traditional wine regions of the world. Remember Bottle Shock, aka that movie about wine with Alan Rickman? It tells the true story of how California wines beat French wines in a blind taste test way back in 1976. So don't be shy with wine. A local wine can make a great hostess gift. If you're staying with friends outside of the US, then bring a California wine. And if you're visiting another part of America, bring a local wine. Wine grown in New York or Missouri or your home state is more than just an oddity.
Remember to pack your gifts in your checked luggage, so you don't run afoul of the TSA's restrictions on carrying liquids on planes.
When you're traveling, it's great to stay with friends. And it's wonderful to bring a hostess gift that can show your hosts that you appreciate their hospitality and that you put some thought into your gift. By giving your hosts something local, you're showing them that you're not the only great thing about your hometown or home country.