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A few years ago my mom and I went to the Nancy region of France to visit some friends (after our trip to Nice and Cote d'Azur). They kindly invited us to stay in their home for an extended weekend and we wanted to bring a hostess gift to the mother of the family. We fully intended to bring a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers, a typical hostess gift. But while we were out shopping and chatting with a number of French people, they warned us against our gift choices. They said that you must be very careful as an American offering a French family wine, as they are very particular about what they like. In addition, just choosing fresh seasonal flowers is nice, but flowers have specific traditional meanings and they were concerned that we would give them funeral flowers by mistake.
My mom and I settled on a special bottle of olive oil and it was a raving success with our friends. They even insisted we open it the very evening of our arrival, in order to enjoy it with bread and dinner. We were relieved that we didn't commit a cultural faux pas and so happy that our friends could see how much we appreciated their invitation.
So I got to thinking about other gifts that might be thoughtful alternatives to the usual bottle of wine and flowers. All items above cost about the same or less as a bottle of wine.