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Reader question: What kind of gift should I give a French person?

As one of our readers has discovered, the French are not accustomed to giving bottles of wine as a gift - particularly at dinner parties. We take a look at some alternatives.

Reader question: What kind of gift should I give a French person?
Photo by MARTTI KAINULAINEN / LEHTIKUVA / AFP)

Question: I am British but have been living in France for quite some time. My go-to gift in most social situations is a bottle of wine but it seems that a lot of French people don’t do that and some look a little puzzled when I offer one. What would you suggest I should offer instead? 

The kind of gift you could choose to give someone in France really depends on the context and of course there are no hard-and-fast rules. There are, however, some guidelines on gift-giving.

It is considered rude to arrive avec les mains vides or empty-handed at someone’s house if you have been invited. But at the same time, bringing wine is not common.

Gifting a bottle of wine in France can give the impression that you don’t trust the host’s selection – especially if you are going to a dinner party.

There’s an age divide here – if you’re going to a student party then bringing your own booze is definitely the norm and younger French people in general do sometimes bring wine to parties. However this is not the tradition among older generations, especially among the more well-off. 

Find our list of alternative gift options below: 

Flowers

Flowers or plants are a strong gift option in France. This partly explains why French florists generally remain open on a Sunday even when many other businesses are closed. 

There are a couple of things to be aware of though. Some French people believe that bouquets should always contain an off number of flowers – for good luck. 

Certain types of flowers carry special symbolism: white flowers are often given at weddings (except for chrysanthemums and lilies which are generally used at funerals) and red roses are obviously seen as a romantic gift. 

A plant in a pot is a popular housewarming gift, while the red-leafed poinsettia is often given as a gift at Christmas. 

If you want to think a little outside the box and go for an alternative, you could always get a cactus – they are not particularly French but are durable and can survive without a lot of sunlight or attention. 

Chocolate 

Chocolate was thought to have first arrived in France in the 17th Century, when it was presented as a gift to King Louis XIII. 

Since then, it has remained a safe bet as far as gift giving is concerned. 

Even if France is not as well known as neighbours like Belgium and Switzerland when it comes to the manufacturing of high-quality chocolate, most French cities have a range of decent chocolatiers to choose from.

It is probably best going for something in the mid to high range, even if the French really love Nutella

Macaron

The other thing that generally opens on a Sunday, even in small towns, is the pâtisserie.

If you have been invited for lunch at the home of someone you know well, you could offer in advance to pick up a dessert at the pâtisserie, usually one of the delicious large family-sized tarts or cakes that you will see in the window.

If you know the person less well, or if they already have dessert in hand, you could pop into the pâtisserie anyway and pick up a box of macarons. Almost all pâtisseries sell these, often in a gift box, and it’s a classic gift to bring to someone’s home (unless the person you are visiting is diabetic or has a nut allergy).

Booze 

As previously mentioned, wine is generally a no-no. But there are a couple of exceptions – a sweet dessert wine can go down a treat. Bringing a bottle of Monbazillac or Sauternes will not be viewed as a slight on the host’s wine-food pairing. 

Alternatively, a bottle of something bubbly (Crémant or Champagne) or a high-quality liqueur that can be served as an apéritif or digestif are seen as appropriate gifts – for adults. 

Other gifts 

These are the classics, but there are loads of other options too, which very much depend on who you plan to give your gift to. 

As in any country, it’s a question of knowing the interests of the recipient and getting them something that you think they will like. If you have a close relationship with someone, you could even consider getting them a novelty present – like these French election socks

As a big present – for a birthday of a close friend or family member – you could always consider offering an experience rather than a physical gift. Companies like Wonderbox are incredibly popular in France and can be used to organise a massage, getaway, cultural experience or sporting activity for the recipient.

Special presents for close friends are always good but if you’re in a situation such as a family Christmas where you’re buying gifts for lots of people, there is no need to spend a fortune. French Christmas gifts tend to focus on children, with adults swapping smaller tokens of affection. 

What else do I need to know about gifting in France? 

For a nation of writers and poets, it can be surprising to realise that the French generally don’t send cards to each other – whether for birthdays, religious holidays or anything else. If you receive a gift though, it is considered polite to write a thank you note. 

The French are pretty elegant when it comes to gift giving so it is worth wrapping any present nicely (or ask the shop to do it for you, most shops that sell popular gift-items will ask when you pay whether it’s a gift, and if so wrap it up nicely for you with some ribbon).

Finally, if you are lucky enough to receive a gift in France it is considered rude not to open it straight away or to take it home and open it later. So get ripping! 

Member comments

  1. Totally disagree about bringing wine as a “no-no” to a dinner party. Maybe it’s a Lyon thing, but it is in fact the default offering in this city (at least since year 2000, and probably a lot longer than that).

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FOOD & DRINK

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

ALSO READ ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”

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