An old friend came to stay with us last month and completely blew us away with the presents she brought as a thank you for having her to stay: a HUGE tub of Jo Malone Nectarine Blossom and Honey Body Crème, $120, Jo Amber and Lavendar bath oil, $90, and Tom Ford Neroli Portofino Bath Soap, $58, and a bunch of flowers so enormous we didn’t have a vase big enough to put them in.
She even brought presents for other family members- yikes! It definitely piled on the pressure to provide a big weekend, but it also raised a lot of questions: What exactly should you take as a weekend present these days? Are overseas and city-based friends more generous than country friends? Or are country tastes just a bit rural due to the lack of local shops stocking high-end brands?
We shared our concerns with a few trusted friends- some country-based, some born-and-bred-Sydneysiders-to gauge the situation.
‘Oh please, it’s so ordinary to overdo it,’ said one. We get that, but actually when you think what goes into providing a bells-and-whistles weekend for thirsty and hungry friends, a pot of homemade chutney or jam isn’t really going to cut it. If you want to make the guest list again, it’s time to up your game, but there’s a fine line before it all gets a bit OTT. One friend who has a whopping country house nearby admitted to being rather excited by the prospect of cupboards heaving with the latest Jo Malone and Diptyque and Cire Trudon products given by generous friends.
Alas we’ve ended up with endless jams and marmalades. But we’ve also been the recipient of marvellous imported candles, scents, soaps, bath oils, potions, lotions, books, linens, wines and flowers from guests who have obviously enjoyed our hospitality.
We are always thrilled when someone brings us imported chocolates, but less enchanted when we see they went out of date six months ago. Good champagne is a lovely old faithful we’re always happy to see. We would far rather than one solitary bottle of wine, which is actually quite an irritating thing to be given, because who drinks one bottle between the 12 of you?
Plus, we have an account with a grown up cellar, so the thought of mixing one random bottle in with our large, curated supply only makes us rather annoyed.
We do love receiving imported olive oils or vinegars. These are reliable things if you’re stuck, but with impersonal presents quality is paramount. Get the very best you can afford. The sort of thing your host might have trouble finding.
Cheap things make any hostess feel worthless- especially when you’ve done all the hard work for the weekend (shopping, preparation, planning and so on). Don’t underestimate the appeal of wonderful food from a specialist food shop – a slab of some brilliant imported cheese (nothing too smelly), some properly aged balsamic vinegar. Not only can they be enjoyed right now, but they can send a message that you think the recipient is someone who appreciates the finer things. What would you prefer: flowers that wilt, a knick-knack that you’ have to dust, or something delicious? There’s no contest.
Everyone has a present drawer; just don’t commit the cardinal sin of passing the present back to the person who gave it to you. It would be quite fun to put a tracker on the next present I take to a friend’s house, just to see how often it gets passed on…
Once you have upped your game on the weekend-present front, there is one final social hurdle you can still fail at: do we follow our British pals and leave money by the bed at the end of the weekend?
I was asked by a beautifully mannered Australian country friend if I could leave some money on the bedside for the person who made our beds (and for household electricity). The British apparently still do this. Even if they don’t have help, they have gone through the hassle of getting the room ready for you- and they can put the money towards some more washing powder. What did I do? I took my brand new pashmina off. And left that instead.
The best of anything is special to receive. My visiting goddaughter recently gave my daughter and I, a big, beautfiful and luxe book by Bruce Weber- Cartier I Love You- inscribed with MY MOO and MY MOUSE, (family names) articulating just how much I love and adore you both is no mean feat. And so where words will not suffice I thought I would let diamonds (or at least their history do the talking)…Endlessly grateful for such stellar pseudo family, love always Tatiana.
And that perhaps is the best house gift of all. Something that conforms the host’s taste- but they think too indulgent to buy for themselves.
Do you give great gifts? Or are your gifts worthless? Here’s what your choices say about you:
Laid by your own hens, selected by your own fair hand and garnished with a downy feather.
You’ve never left town before and this is all a little intimidating, and you thought you were doing the right thing and did actually buy this in a shop, sniffed it and everything, but now you’re worried that they think it’s regifted and your new sister-in-law is so grand and glmaourous and there are selected candles on literally every surface, even in the utility room, and now you just know that is where your candle is going to end up.
A Box of Macaroons
You only eat sugar once a month, but never in conjunction with starch or anything acidic, obviously, so your host is kind of blessed that you’re choosing this moment to break you sugar fast, which means that if she doesn’t serve the macaroons that you brought and have been staring at all evening, and you won’t let you have the salted-caramel-and-bitter-chocolate one that you’ve been actively fantasising about for the past 29 days, then the karmic weirdness you will unleash on this previously perfectly normal little party is something she doesn’t even want to think about. Which is another reason why people should never invite their yoga-flow teacher to their house for the weekend.
Clever one, aren’t you?
A Leg of Iberico Ham, Sent Beforehand
‘Hello, to-do list, hello synced online calendar, hello terrified cleaner/nanny/pa, it’s just little old me ORGANISING LIFE UNTIL IT BACKS DOWN and does precisely what I tell it do. I’ll bring the jamon stand with me, shall I? And my recently sharpened cheese knife, so we can enjoy some before dinner. Everyone happy? Great’
You’re careless/overwhelmed by life and now deeply embarrassed and dying a little bit inside, flapping those empty hands, saying, ‘Sorry, Felicity, sorry’.