I believe it is more in the culture of Colombians than Americans, but I could be just out of the loop in regards to America. My wife brought back from our trip to Singapore something for everyone from relatives to friends and even the guards for our house. A student of mine, who will soon travel to Canada, already has a list of 29 people to give a gift to when he returns to Colombia. As for me – well, if I travel and bring you something then you should feel really special because it does not happen very often.
Now obviously if you are going to a country and a person is putting you up or showing you around then a good gift for them is the proper thing to do. But to use a third to half of your suitcase for presents to others after returning home seems a little bit crazy to me. In my mind there seems to be the impression that you are telling the person, “I vacationed to this neat place and you did not.” And they have something to look at every day to remind them that they did not vacation there. Not to mention that the gift brought back could just be another dust collector that really does not match the decoration in the house. And if you look at it from a financial stand point; you saved and scrimped for a great vacation only to spend a great deal of that money on presents for people who didn’t help you get there.
My wife has a point also that it is just good etiquette. And indeed some people appreciate the small gifts and would feel insulted if you did not return home with something for them. The Japanese have the word of omiyage where after one travels they bring back gifts of food for the office and others.
Perhaps now the times they are a changing. Many people often fly for those wonderful vacations. Before, when we drove the USA in our massive gas guzzling Chevrolet, there was plenty of room to stack those special gems to bring back to others. I remember piling Rocky Mountain rocks in the car to bring to one relative who collected them. But even the airlines are making it more difficult and expensive to return with those special things. You use to be allowed two suitcases without charge. Now it seems you get one (and on some airlines zero) without extra change. And the weight is really being watch. You get 50 pounds and that is it.
On our last trip out of Detroit my wife had 56 pounds in her suitcase and I had 52 pounds. We had one extra bag to check, mostly because of all the gifts going to Colombia. The United Airlines ticket agent looked at us and calmly said, “Your bags are slightly overweight and you have one extra. That is $470. “ Heck, the presents we were bringing back were not worth that much by a long shot.
Then there are those friends who wish for you to bring them back specific items. Duty free stuff is popular. But I have heard stories about friends wanting ten large bottles of vitamins, stereo systems, bowling balls and large exercise equipment. An acquaintance of mine once honored the request of his friend to bring a suitcase of butter flavored microwave popcorn to him in New Zealand. The customs people really gave the guy a hard time when the drug sniffing dog took one whiff of the baggage and backed away in a strange method refusing to go near the luggage again. Another friend was asked to deliver a package to a relative in another country. His embarrassment was much when customs opened the package and it was full of black leather bondage things. My wife on one of her trips ended up hand carrying a very large glass bowl throughout Europe that her sister wanted brought back.
So I am curious. When you travel do you bring back gifts and for whom. Has anyone asked you to bring back anything specific that was large, heavy or required questions at customs?