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gifts for italians
what to give to whom for any occasion

by Laura Pazzaglia
(return to Travel)

Our forums are filled with questions and advice about what our readers should bring to their Italian relatives, host, boyfriend, etc (no matter what country they're located). It's especially tricky for American travelers, who come from a nation that melds the tradition of many parts of the world, to bring something unique and cultural. To keep you from making faux pax we bring you advice that is both sage and kooky from readers.

The main thing to keep in mind, as with any Italian affair, is that quality counts! Caterina, who visits relatives in Italy often, cautions "Whatever you take make it nice. Cheap wine is a terrible gift! Would you like a screw top wine as a gift?"

for general occasions
calendars | vi gear | edible gifts | cooks toys | language | jewlery | books | videos | music
Both Caterina and Dan, moderator of the Travel forum, bring things that Italians can't get easily. Some of these hard-to find items may be fashion accessories (purse, scarf, etc.) from American designers that may not be readily available in Italy. Casey brought a big box of Jelly Bellys and to her surprise it was a big hit with both children and adults. I, myself, have been known to bring Root Beer, Peanut Butter and miniature stagecoaches! Here are some ideas for general gifts:

  • Fashion Accessories (purse, scarf, etc.) from American designers that may not be readily available in Italy-- these should be made of real materials (leather, wool, silk) not polyester!
  • Clothes - Levi's, timberland
  • Blue Jeans - Levi's only
  • Perfumes - Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, etc.
  • Liquor - American Whiskey
  • Local wine -- if you don't live in a wine-producing region of the US we suggest anything from California!
  • Collectible Currency - Silver dollars, or unique coins
  • Native American, Western or Mexican Art -- cowboy hats/boots/belts, pottery, statuettes
  • Tea Towels with scenes of America on them.
  • Picture book of your city, town, state or United States
  • Cultural Novelties - Jelly Belly's, Candy Corn, Root Beer, Peanut Butter, Wild Rice, Hot Sauce, etc.
Hostess Gifts
If you're stopping by to visit Italians (usually for a meal!) you should want to bring a hostess gift. Alice, Food editor, suggests in her Italian Table Etiquette Primer that you tell your host . "Vengo a bussare con i piedi" (I will come and knock on your door with my feet), which means that your arms will be filled with gifts!

Raffaella, an Italian transplant to America, tells us that whenever she stopped to visit friends or family, she always brought them a box of fresh Italian pastries. Italians usually serve fresh fruit, cheese and coffee at the end of a meal, so pastries are always a treat. Here are some suggestions for what to bring your host:

  • Dessert - pastries, cake, ice cream
  • Flowers - not Chrysanthemums (they signify death, or a funeral)
  • Wine & Liquors -
  • Quality Foods - Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, anything with Truffles (the mushroom), etc.
  • Anything made or grown by your or your family
Wedding Gifts
Modern Italians are just now catching up with wedding registries-- but many may not have prepared them for logistical reasons (met in one country and married in another)-- so it's always a good idea to ask the couple, or their family, if there are any special requests. The general rule is that if it's not made of silver, crystal or any other precious material you're better off giving money-- it's a common Italian wedding gift. The money is placed inside a blank envelope with only the groom and bride's names on it. Inside you'll find cash and a small card with the name of the person dispensing this monetary gift. The envelope usually given during the reception where you might find a line of relatives holding envelopes in one hand and waiting to shake the hand of the groom with the other. Here is a list of can't miss wedding gifts;
  • Money Envelope
  • One or three Elephants with their trunk pointing up (good luck)
  • Silver Picture Frames
  • Hand-made linens (lace, tablecloths, sheets, curtains, etc.)
  • Religious Icons
  • Flower Vases
Personal Gifts
We often get questions from non-Italians that want to impress their new Italian boyfriend or girlfriend. The best gift to a boyfriend, according to Eduardo is good food. He jokingly adds that "if you want to make him really happy, I mean really happy, hook up with his mom and learn how to cook the Italian food he probably grew up on. Italian cooking and eating is the key to the Italian soul!" But if his mother is not readily handy, here are some other things that will do...
  • Jewelry (note that gold should not be less than 18kt, the latest fashion in Italy is white gold)
    • Gold or Silver Bracelet
    • Gold or Silver necklace with one of the following pendants
      • horn - for fertility
      • hand/eye - to protect from the "evil eye"
      • cross - if they're Christian
      • small Italian boot
  • Plant
  • Fashion accessories (see above for suggestions)

Outrageous Gifts
vvDan likes to bring "offbeat" gifts from American manufacturers to when he goes to Italy. In fact, his friends throughout Italy look forward to his visits because he'll usually bring something outrageous!

Dan's previous gifts have included: a Weber kettle grill and charcoal briquettes, Pendleton blankets (Indian designs or cowboy-themed), Craftsman tools, leather man pocket tools, and All-Clad cookware.

The greatest enthusiasm came from recipients of the blankets and tools; according to mutual friends, they were showing off their gifts to dinner guests for the next few months.

But Dan has a warning to anyone else planning to bring the unexpected, "boxes of cookware sets or a Weber grill with briquettes can be heavy or ungainly carrying through the narrow passageways on older rail cars. Two cases of Craftsman hand tools were no cake walk either but the surprise and gratitude were unbelievable. "


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