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Gifts for French people - from Portland, Oregon

I’m visiting French family and friends in the Midi-Pyrénées and Provence regions for 2 weeks. I have not seen these relatives in almost 15 years but do understand it’s traditional to bring some small gift for everyone. At some of the gatherings there will be about 10-15 people including kids.

I don’t want to break the bank or take up a lot of luggage space but would like to bring something unique/special for them. I live in Portland, Oregon so recommendations for anything from here would be appreciated.

Posted by
884 posts

I like Andrew's VooDoo idea, but, frankly, you and I know they will never make it to France. Someone posted a similar question, yesterday, although Italy was the destination. I recommended to them (and, now, to you) stop by the "Made in Oregon" store inside PDX and buy some Marionberry Jam. As you know, the Marionberry is uniquely from the Pacific Northwest - good chance your French family have not tasted them. The glass jars are available in sizes as small as 2 ounces. They sell Huckleberry Jam, too.

Posted by
8230 posts

Especially when there are many people and you don't know them well food is good. From Oregon -- a couple of really good bottles of local wine; get advice if you are not knowledgeable. Most people enjoy trying wines from other cultures but you do want to get ones that are well regarded. In the northwest there are lots of candies that involve a fruit enrobed in chocolates e.g. bing cherries, blueberries, almonds etc that come in nice boxes and which have the kids covered for gifting. Another NW specialty that is not that common in France where smoked salmon tends to be like lox is the hard smoked salmon. All of these things are very shelf stable and thus easy to carry. Wine travels reasonable well in checked luggage -- use a bit of bubble wrap and seal in plastic. We haven't had a bottle break yet.

I would second wine as a possibility. Though bottles are heavy, Oregon wine is (in my experience) all-but unavailable in France and would consequently be a curiosity. A couple of good pinot noirs would go over well, as it's similar to red wine from Bourgogne. A few weeks ago my wife and I gave a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon to a couple in Paris who had done us a favor, and they were very happy with it. They were having a family gathering the next evening, and after thanking us told us that we would be there with them (in their thoughts, at least) as they enjoyed the wine.

Chocolates are also a common gift for visitors to bring, so consider a few boxes of Moonstruck chocolate -- I suspect that would be well appreciated.

In addition to Marionberry jam, strangely enough apple butter generally is unavailable in French grocery stores (at least in my experience) -- I've only seen it once, at a small craft market I stumbled across one weekend. It was made by a family enterprise in a little place called Savigny Poil Fol, located about midway between Mâcon and Nevers -- it's called pâte à tartiner pommes-cannelle. If you can locate some good, locally-made apple butter, maybe from Hood River, that might also be something unusual and probably would be well received.

Lastly, a few Pink Martini CDs might be appreciated. The title track of their first album Sympathique was a minor hit in France and I've heard it and Amado Mio, another track on that album, from time to time in France. The French seem to love them -- I attended their concert in Lyon last summer and it was packed, ending up with a substantial fraction of the crowd dancing energetically in a l-o-n-g conga line that snaked across the stage, down the steps, and into the auditorium's aisles. I wouldn't be surprised if (1) some of your friends and family would recognize the song Sympathique, and (2) they would be amazed to learn the group that performed it came from your hometown.

Posted by
5837 posts

I would also vote for Oregon wine but you would need to check the wine. No carry-on of 750 ml bottles.

Check out the Made in Oregon store in Portland.

Posted by
1321 posts

I'd say bring chocolate over wine since it's WAY easier to pack and all ages will enjoy it. We also bring smoked salmon. The Made in Oregon store will have lots of options for sure. If alcohol is of interest why not beer from Portland - way more unique than bringing wine to France. A 32 ounce "cowler" weighs less than a 22 ounce bottle and many "growler fill" places now have the "can/growler" option. I brought beer from Hop Valley to a University of Oregon gathering in Belgium last fall! Big hit!

Posted by
8230 posts

FWIW. I don't know anyone who has had wine break in transit but I know two people whose clothing was totally beer soaked after taking beer which is not as securely bottled. One was a limbic beer from Belgium I think and it turned all the clothes in the suitcase a lovely shade of pink. Picking glass and soggy clothes out of the suitcase is not fun. We are taking one bottle of wine home from us this week from Paris -- a special bottle we won't get around to drinking here -- it goes in the suitcase with the clothes we don't care about -- the suit my husband packed for a wedding in transit and my good clothes and the clothes I bought for the grandkids are all going in a different suitcase from the wine just in. case.

Posted by
2 posts

These are wonderful suggestions. Thank you! I do home canning of jams, jellies, apple butter, etc. in the summertime. It didn’t occur to me to bring a few small jars of them. A regional one like marionberry or blackberry would be something unique to bring too.

Originally I was planning to pack light and just use a carryon suitcase but am now considering checking something just for gifts. Might be helpful when bringing home souvenirs too.

Posted by
5687 posts

I was half-kidding about the donuts - but I often see people carrying those ubiquitous pink Voodoo Donuts to PDX. They probably aren't going all the way to Europe, though...

Posted by
10356 posts

Good idea to bring a larger suitcase because they will probably be giving you gifts, too.
Your homemade jams will be appreciated, and the French do a lot of jam cooking, too, so don’t be surprised if you are given some of theirs.

They will be curious and grateful to try the pinot noirs, but such a delicate wine will have to settle for several weeks after a transatlantic trip. It should be put away until later.

Finally, they will love getting the smoked salmon from the PNW. IMHO, that is the real local specialty.

Posted by
145 posts

I'm visiting (lots of!) family in Italy that I haven't seen for 11 years, and live in Portland, so am struggling with some of the same questions. Here are some things I've figured out (but I look forward to reading other responses to your post for more ideas):

  • Avoid liquids (and that includes jams) unless you plan to check your luggage.
  • If there are a lot of people, family gifts are one solution. That reduces the cost, but increases the complexity. What would everybody like and what could they share?
  • Check French customs to see what you can bring in. I assume it will be the same, or similar, to what I've discovered about Spain and Italy. The main point: Europe seems especially adverse to meat and dairy.

Try Made in Oregon for shopping (although I found a ton of things there that wouldn't work). At least you wouldn't be embarrassed when they turn the bottle over and see "made in Thailand" on the bottom--or worse, "made in France." Also, Saturday Market under the bridges might be a good option.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

  • marionberry jam (glass jars can be a problem)
  • handmade soaps
  • handmade candles
  • bookmarks with Portland images or made out of cedar
  • for kids: Blazer t-shirts
  • for music lovers: a Pink Martini or other Portland band CD
  • printed dish towels with Oregon images
  • sox with Portland patterns
  • and I'm still hoping to get some Moonstruck Chocolates and smoked salmon through customs...
Posted by
8230 posts

There is no 'customs' to speak of and no one cares about chocolates in customs anyway. This is a non issue.

Posted by
10356 posts

Indeed, jam in carry on will be confiscated—and as Janet said, the chocolates and packaged non-refrigerated salmon is a non-issue. Just walk through « Nothing to Declare » and go out the door.

Posted by
435 posts

When I visited a school in France, I brought dried cherries from Michigan thinking they would be a special treat from my home state. They were easy to carry and the children really enjoyed them. Perhaps there are some dried fruits you could bring in addition to the other great ideas about jams and candies?


Posted by
1056 posts

As you Know, Portland and other surrounding areas offer a wealth of beautiful places to see and to visit. When I travel, I bring sets of 10-12 notecards featuring beautiful Pacific NW scenes. I make these by attaching 4x6 photo prints to plain folded notecards I buy at Michael’s Craft stores. Not only are these useful and compact gifts, they are also springboards for discussions about my hometown.