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gifts for Italians

I am going to Italy this summer to visit distant family that we haven't seen for nearly a decade. I want to take gifts, but don't know them well enough to be sure I'm getting the right thing for an individual person so the gifts have to be sort of generic. I'm also concerned about what customs will allow in (we're flying first into Spain, then on to Genoa) and weight (we are following RS' advice and traveling light). I live in the Pacific Northwest and my son lives in Massachusetts, so would like to take something locally produced.

The personnel breakdown is this: our hosts (an older couple and their adult son), a close cousin (and her 2 daughters, their husbands and 2 kids), distant cousin (her kids, their spouses, and their kids), and possibly some random others... It's quite a long list and a bit of a moving target. I'm thinking individual gifts for our hosts, but family gifts for the others?

I've considered candles, chocolate, handmade soap, maple syrup and smoked salmon. (Not sure what will get through customs?)

We're not rich and I really don't know what kinds of American things Italians find fascinating. Any suggestions?

Posted by
714 posts

Visit the "Made in Oregon" store inside PDX. Buy "Oregon Hill Marionberry Jam". They will love you forever.

(You could also buy some Voodoo donuts to eat during your flight. They make a wonderful (awful) impression with your fellow travelers.)

Posted by
31218 posts


Given the fact that you don't know them well, I'd suggest being a bit "conservative" on the gifts. I'm not sure the food items would be a good choice. They might be a novelty at first but they may not like maple syrup or smoked salmon. Unless the salmon is canned, that may not be allowed. Which region of Italy do they live in?

Hopefully one of the Italian members of the forum will have some good suggestions.

Good luck!

Posted by
145 posts

They live in Liguria--east of Genoa, north of Cinque Terra. Small, very Italian town.

Posted by
3465 posts

My preference would be to bring things from my home state, so since you are from Oregon, I like the idea of the jam. You could also do some cranberry jam or something that relates to Mass. I think that would be welcome with all the breads Italians enjoy. Other local Oregon products? Tilamook cheese is excellent, but they do have nice cheeses in Italy, already. Vacuum packed meat is fine coming into the U.S., but I'm not sure about going into Italy. I think I'd just do a small basket for the whole family and perhaps treat them to a dinner out.

Posted by
3465 posts

Small books with photos from Oregon and Massachusetts? Like the little books of 20 postcards or so?

Posted by
9520 posts

I love the idea of the Marionberry jam and maple syrup would be a novelty. Most Italians I have met know what pancakes are but have never had them. Maybe a good boxed mix with syrup for the families with children. But that is a lot of bulk and weight to carry.

How about a Christmas ornament for each family? Something uniquely Oregon, perhaps the ones by Margaret Furlong. An American book for the children? They learn English at school so they will be able to read, depending on age. I have also given CDs as gifts; Pink Martini is my favorite to share.

Candles, chocolate, and handmade soap abound in Italian gift shops, so not so novel.

Posted by
308 posts

Ex-nay on the soap. If you give an italian soap, they will assume that you’re telling them they smell!

Posted by
3465 posts

Laurel's idea of English picture books are a great idea, too. My kids received gifts of picture books written in German a few times from German relatives. Maybe you could even find one about Oregon sites/animals.

Posted by
5511 posts

Forget the food and think about what's interesting in the Pacific Northwest that you can't find in Italy.

Redwood trees come to mind.

Tiny ring boxes, Christmas ornaments. Maybe a lovely salad bowl for your relatives.

Oregon Duck T Shirts for the children.

Maybe one or two boxes of note cards with photos of redwoods. I even remember seeing and gifting a redwood bookmark that I found at the Downtown farmers market.

Redwoods are unique. I think sharing their uniqueness would be a bonus.

Posted by
2506 posts

Great ideas! I would second the idea of Oregon made products. Marionberry Jam, Moonstruck Chocolates, boxed smoked Salmon (if allowed). As mentioned upthread, a treat for yourself-- new favorite: Cupcakes from Sarah Bellum's in Multnomah Village!

Posted by
327 posts

Personally, I love the "Made in Oregon" store! However, you say you are "travelling light" so I would suggest not packing jars of jam or maple syrup. I've also had "jam" (not jelly) confiscated by TSA when in a carry-on bag (they said it was considered a "liquid" even though the jar was clearly labeled as Passion Fruit Jam from Hawaii). I've also known people who were not allowed to bring Saskatoon Berry Jam jars back from Canada to the UK.

Rules are always changing but maybe better to be on the cautious side when it comes to food items and airline travel. Or do your homework about what will be allowed through Security and/or Customs for the countries you are travelling through or to.

Posted by
8293 posts

Well, the picture books of Oregon may be of polite interest for a little while and then into a drawer they will go, just as I am guessing you would do with picture books of Italy. Take your hosts out to dinner and when you go to visit the others, go armed with a bottle or two of Prosecco.

Posted by
1660 posts

If someone wants to take pancake mix (great idea), I recommend Kodiak brand. There easy and really tasty.

Posted by
3465 posts

ooops, YES, jam is absolutely considered a liquid. Must be in checked luggage.

Posted by
714 posts

Two considerations:
1. The Made in Oregon Store sells jam in glass jars as small as 2 ounces.
2. Unless our traveling poster is stopping in Massachusetts and leaving the airport secure zone to meet up with her son, once past TSA at PDX, she can buy all the liquid carry-on the airline's weight limit will allow.

Posted by
86 posts

I married into an Italian family over 30 years ago and I have concluded that Italians care most about 1. Family and 2. Food. The fact that you are flying a great distance to see the extended family is enough of an expense already. Most of them will understand that and they will expect nothing from you.

Tell the hosts that you wish to pay for the food for when you are there. You can go shopping with them and pay for the fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, desserts, etc...However, they will insist that they pay and you are their guest.

If they don't let you pay while you are there, leave about 100 - 200 Euros hidden in their home (maybe under a pillow). After you have cleared security at the airport, send them an e-mail or WhatsApp message indicating where the money is hidden. (I have found that most of my wife's extended family uses WhatsApp, except for her Aunt and Uncle who are in their 80s.).

Posted by
145 posts

I am Italian enough to know you are correct about family and food. I also know, as you do, that they will not let me pay for anything while I am there. I had a hard enough time paying when they were here! :)

I really like your idea about hiding money under a pillow. That trick would only work once, but it might get me through this trip. Thanks.

Posted by
3666 posts

I know its a bit cliche but I (and my adult kids) love using the linen tea towels my mom collected on her bus travels back in the 70's. I still buy good quality ones from some travel locales. Of course, it only works for one of your hosts, but if you are doing some sort of gift basket it could be in that.
If pancake mix is too heavy, perhaps go armed with a recipe (bilingual?) And promise to make them breakfast one day.....with the maple syrup you take. I am sure they have milk, eggs, sugar, flour and baking powder.
Hopefully that wouldn't look like you think they cannot cook......

Posted by
1625 posts

Wow, that's a lot of gift bringing. Not knowing a person's tastes is a tough task.

Before arriving at each person's home, perhaps go to a pastry store and buy all kinds of pastry "for the family to enjoy." And, get a couple of bottles of nice wine too.

Unless they came to visit Boston or your home in the Pacific Northwest, some things may not be too meaningful.

Maybe just concentrate on the kids? For the kids, this may be a cute idea - a little 3-1/2" crock pot with Boston Baked Beans candy. If a crock pot won't work because it is fragile or for weight issues - the "beans" comes in a cardboard box or cello bag. They are a "hard coating," so keep that in mind.

Or, little plush lobsters (reminiscent of Boston)

Or, lollipops Also, there are lobster gummies.

Or, some little trinkets representing The Boston Red Sox and The Patriots - the kids may get a kick out of our sports.

Maybe bring each family (as a whole) a heavy duty canvas bag imprinted with your state or Massachusetts on it? They could use it for groceries.

Since you're packing on the lighter side, it is a bit hard to suggest items.

Perhaps also check out and for some ideas - they have a lot of unique food items (some are gluten free..) **

Added **

Posted by
616 posts

I think your idea for Maple syrup and smoked salmon are very good ideas but travelling from Spain to Italy in summertime heat might be difficult (smell for the salmon) and for the maple syrup, make sure it is not too liquid and that the security guards do not throw it away before embarking.
Maybe some special American sweets, some cheap toys for the kids,
Some photographs of your areas and of your family.
A small album or video featuring some aspects of your life, your pets, the sports or game you do, your garden, the plants, the birds, and other animals that you have there.

Posted by
2258 posts

I like the idea of bringing nice photos of your US Family, as many people as you can gather together before your trip.
Or maybe, as a unique gift and collectible, photo portraits of our President. Perhaps as he speaks from the Lincoln Memorial on July 4. Or bobble heads of the same.

Posted by
3465 posts

What I was getting at with a small photo/post card book and I believe Larry is saying as well, it would be nice to share with them where you live. Especially since Oregon and Massachusetts have distinctive sites. Massachusetts may be a bit heavy on the U.S. history for the Italians, but there would be some features to share. It might be fun for them to see photos of Boston's North End. Oregon is stunning with such different geographic areas. If I was getting to know people from a different country, I personally would love to see photos of where they come from. (as long as it wasn't a 100!) I have photos that were sent to us from locations in Germany from German friends/family and I've enjoyed them. And if you can get family together and in the photos, all the better.

I visit lots of U.S. national parks. I've come across and talked with many Europeans on holiday. Often there is a fairly predictable itinerary and from there they don't tend to know a lot of other areas. Seems like they hit DC, NYC, perhaps Florida, then some of the Utah and Arizona National Parks and end in California. If they stop in the middle of the country, it might be Niagara Falls and/or Chicago. Many probably don't know much about Oregon or Massachusetts. Most often when I meet Europeans that are not terribly familiar with the U.S., if they have even heard of MN, they think we have snow year round. (It was 90 degrees yesterday in St. Paul, FYI)

Posted by
431 posts

I always take a miniature jug of Ontario Maple Syrup to each B&B and they love it. The jug is plastic so it's light & unbreakable.
Hope this helps.

Posted by
852 posts

When my older son was in high school, he went on a trip to France with the French teachers. Part of the trip (5 nights) he stayed with a French family who had a son his age. I wanted to send something to the parents as a thank you and was struggling to find something that would show Colorado. My son and I settled on a framed Bev Doolittle print. It was one of her camouflage prints of a Native American in the woods. My son particularly like her art, so he chose that. He said the parents seemed really interested and the son loved it. I hope so. My son also took a few pictures with him to show our family and Colorado to them. He told them about the mountains, skiing, the gold mines and rafting and camping. He said they enjoyed that, too.

Have a Great Time with your family and how lucky you are to stay connected!


Posted by
12092 posts

Maple syrup, jam, honey, printed tea towels or cloth napkins, key chains (there are some really fun Pendleton ones), CDs (have any from favorite local musicians?), pictures of the U.S. relatives, a gathering of favorite recipes from the U.S. family (if you can convert measurements to metric, all the better), rain globes, silver charms, scarves, candy....

Sorry but what I definitely would NOT bring are printed pictures or other images of our President. Aside from it being a polarizing subject, I can't think of what I'd do with a portrait of Sergio Mattarella?

Posted by
307 posts

Late to the game here, and you probably already have your gifts. But, was in New Seasons today and they have some awesome looking tea towels featuring Oregon. I've also found clever "Oregon" things in New Seasons that I've not seen in Made in Oregon.

Posted by
145 posts

Still short a couple of gifts.

(What does one buy for an ancient Italian cousin, a widow who speaks no English, lives alone, and whom one has only met once before...)

Thanks for the suggestions!