Buying Christmas gifts for your family and friends can be difficult enough, but what about when it comes to people you don’t know quite as well – who also come from a different culture? What if it’s your German landlord – your German neighbor – your child’s German teacher at school? Sometimes it can be really tricky to buy Christmas presents as an expat in Germany because you want to ensure that you give people gifts that they will both enjoy and appreciate, but without accidentally gifting them something that might be culturally inappropriate. So, for anyone still struggling with their shopping list, here are five ideas for Christmas gifts that Germans (especially Eifel Germans) will love.
But first – a disclaimer. It’s important to keep in mind that Germans tend to have much more strongly drawn lines between friends and acquaintances than other cultures do. Just look to their language differentiation between “du” and “Sie,” as well as their need for more time to warm up to strangers. This applies to Christmas gifts as well. You want to be careful that you don’t give someone who is more of acquaintance a gift that would only be appropriate for someone you are close friends with. The gifts on this list are reserved for the acquaintance category – but I will add a bonus tip for closer friends at the end of the post.
A nice bottle of wine is probably the most common Christmas gift as far as acquaintances go. It’s simple, it’s practical, and they can use it at their leisure. When Germans buy for other Germans, they typically go for a medium-dry white wine (Halbtrocken Weißwein) as that is a middle-of-the-road wine that you can’t really go wrong with. Not too dry, not too sweet. Obviously, if you know a little bit more about the person’s taste, you can get a wine that is more suited to them. The Eifel is known for beer, so there isn’t really anything local you can buy, unless you want to get them something from the Moselle region. But, it really doesn’t matter where it’s from – if it’s local or not. What is important is that you don’t accidentally offend them by gifting them a cheap 1€ or 2€ bottle of wine from somewhere like Aldi.
If you want to buy someone a bottle of wine to be polite, stay in the 3€ to 5€ range. If your gift goes beyond just being polite and you maybe know more about their preferences, you might spend a little bit more, but don’t go too high. Remember that you can get a higher quality of wine here in Germany for less money than you can in the States. So, it’s not necessary to spend 15€ or more.
Box of Chocolates
What’s also extremely common is to give people a box of assorted chocolates. In Germany, these are called Praline (what sounds like the English “praline”). However, they are not the pralines that we tend to think of. They are the boxes of chocolates that we would normally buy for people on Valentine’s Day. Just like in the States, you can get them in all different sizes, designs, and flavors. All of the major brands make these types of boxes, but Lindt is usually considered to be the top-of-the-line.
As a quick sidenote here, it is completely acceptable to give a box of chocolates to men. I actually had a conversation with my husband about this because I thought that this type of gift would be more common for women. Maybe it has to do with my association of this type of candy and Valentine’s Day, but he assured me that there is absolutely nothing weird or awkward about giving a box of chocolates to a man – even if you are a woman.
In the States, I think we would be hesitant to buy liquor for someone at Christmas – especially if this person was more of an acquaintance than a friend. But here in the Eifel, this is a very popular and very common gift. Although fruit is not a major part of the Eifel’s economy, it is asbsolutely a major part of the culture. People in the area produce all kinds of wine and alcohol that is fruit based, and, as a result, they like to drink it as well. So, when you go shopping, you want to look for bottles that say Obstbrand. Just make sure, though, that you don’t get something over 50% alcohol content (shown on the bottle as vol.). At that point, you’re just moving into hard liquor.
If you want an alternative to alcohol or candy, you can also give someone Christmas cookies. But not just any Christmas cookies. Give them Spritzgebäck. Now, this word translates into English as “baked goods,” but don’t be fooled by that. Spritzgebäck is a very specific type of cookie. These cookies, which are usually only sold around Christmas, are extremely popular gifts. They come in a variety of shapes and may or may not be dipped in chocolate. You can buy them at just about any grocery store – they’re usually setup in the Christmas goodie area or by the bakery counter and come in a see-through bag.
And finally, there is always meat. I think canned meat has a bit of a stigma on it in the States, but it is quite the opposite here in Germany. Many Germans will give each other canned, smoked, or even dried meat as a gift. Again, it’s easy, it’s practical, and it can be eaten at the person’s leisure. You can get all kinds of different types of meats in these cans, and they last forever. They also come in handy, especially with kids, as they can be quickly and easily sliced up and put on bread. They don’t even have to go in the fridge. And while, as Americans, we might just think of Spam and think, “ugh, that sounds like a cheap gift,” the German canned meat is quality meat with good ingredients, and they will absolutely not think, “yuck” if given a Christmas gift of canned meat.
If you are looking for a nice gift that you can give to a German that you are close friends with, one very popular gift that Germans give each other is a travel voucher or some kind of wellness voucher.
Germans really love to travel, and so one thing they often do for each other, especially if it’s a group of friends all putting in on a gift together, is to buy someone a voucher for a travel agency. You could either pool money together to buy them a voucher for an entire trip or to cover the cost of, say, half of the trip.
If you want to get a gift for a couple or maybe a mother and a daughter, you can buy them a voucher for a wellness day at a local spa – somewhere like Bad Bertrich. Most Germans go to the sauna or get regular massages, and so wellness vouchers are a pretty safe gift. But, again, these types of vouchers are really only appropriate for close friends.
And, there you have it.
Five gifts that you can safely give to any German that they will both enjoy and appreciate – and that are all culturally acceptable. But don’t feel like you have to be limited to just one thing. Feel free to mix up things on the list and create pretty gift baskets based on the different things you think the person you’re buying for would like.
Happy Christmas shopping!