Enough with the Gift Baskets!

by cv harquail on February 21, 2011

A long time ago, I was experimenting with doing a vlog (a video post), but I never posted it because I looked kindof dorky. Also, a few months later, the lovely Susan Robinson of Cultural Care started her AuPairAnswerMom vlogs, and does them so well that I thought I’d just stick to text.

But then I got this email, below, from a Host Mom who’s interested in gift baskets (or Welcome Baskets) that are sent to incoming au pairs at Orientation.

Hi CV. I hope I’m not asking something that has already been asked, but I’m wondering how many families order the gift baskets at the au pair school. Our 4th au pair is arriving in March and we’ve never ordered the gift basket. Now we’re wondering if our girls feel totally left out. Our last AP said she didn’t care about it, and that the things in it weren’t anything she would want, but I’m now wondering if she was just being nice. What do other HFs do?

Thanks. I love the blog. It’s fascinating to see what others think about AP-related things.  Jenna

Since I already had this vlog, and post, somewhere in the hopper, here’s my answer. …
No laughing.

Back in the day (like, 12 years ago) sending a little giftie to your incoming au pair at orientation seemed like a nice thing to do.

I thought it might be nice for her to be welcomed, maybe with some mini-Snickers bars, some photos of the kids and a baseball cap, and get a little extra cash to pay for her snacks on her way down to Virginia. Plus I am a total sucker for presents. Wrap a pencil in some tissue paper, tie on a ribbon, give it to me, and I’m in heaven. However, I must go against my general present giver-and -receiver preferences this time.

Based on the comments on our earlier posts about orientation, I’m revising my recommendation on gift baskets, and I say:

Enough with the gift baskets


Well, many reasons–

  • Gift baskets leave some au pairs feeling special and other au pairs feeling left out — we don’t want to put any au pair at an emotional disadvantage by thinking– even for a minute– that his or her host parents don’t really care.
  • Gift baskets have become a revenue opportunity for agencies. I don’t begrudge them a bit of profit, but I do think that the agencies exacerbate the problem by having several options, each more costly than the last!
  • Agency-sponsored gift baskets aren’t very ‘personal’. They aren’t made by you, or your kids.

In my opinion, the gift basket thing has gotten to be more about making money, spending money, and making the welcome less personal– and that’s not what it’s supposed to be about. Plus, the social drama around gift baskets has overwhelmed their purpose.

The point of sending anything to Orientation is to welcome your au pair and help her or him get excited about meeting your family.

You might still want to send your au pair something (other than a formal gift basket) and if you do, send a package with:

  • Some photographs
  • A welcome note from you and/ or your kids
  • A hat, T-shirt or town-based souvenir (like, postcards of the park near your house)
  • A NYC guidebook
  • Candy for him or her to share with roommates

If your au pair is taking an extra flight, train ride or bus trip to get to your home from orientation, consider sending her or him up to $10 – $20 explicitly for her to buy snacks or lunch. You’d buy her lunch if you were picking her up in your car, so it doesn’t seem like too much to send some food money. But again, just a small amount.

Remember, you’re not trying to win your au pair over with generosity or munificence. You just want to help your au pair feel welcomed.

It’s possible that, really, what you need is a warm phone call.

All of which would total less than $25.

What are your feelings about Gift Baskets? Next post up is a poll!

See also–
Au Pair Advice: Send a welcome package to your Au Pair’s orientation
Host Family Advice: Resist the Amenities Arms Race


Au Pair in CO February 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm

My agency didn’t have an orientation in New York, as the au pairs complete their training online before coming to the country. I got a gift basket when I arrived at my host family’s house, with good sun screen, body lotion, shower gel, a notebook, and a bookmark that the kids had picked out for me (they knew from when we were matching that I love to read).

Since I haven’t been to the orientation in NY, I can’t really say anything about feeling left out for not getting a basket there, but I think most girls would prefer getting the gift basket at home instead of at the hotel, if they’re getting one at all. For one – most of us arrive with our baggage so full that fitting extra stuff in there while still in NY just makes it harder to get it all to our final destination;)

AFhostmom February 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I’ve never seen you before CV. So lovely to see you and hear you! I voted in the poll so I’ll comment there on what we did.

NoVA Host Mom February 23, 2011 at 2:14 am

I have never been a fan of the pre-packaged gift basket, AP or otherwise. Not only do I question what would be in it, but I also like to gather a few personal things. Our current AP came from a warm-weather country, so a warm hat and mittens for a week in CT/NY was a nice touch. Add a rechargable phone card and some local information (as well as a couple of snacks and a nice note), and you have yourselves a personalized welcome gift.
I have always gotten the medium-sized single-rate shipping boxes from the post office and use that. Not only does it keep me from over-buying, but it also is an easy process.

There is always the risk of giving a gift to someone who expects to get one (like a “Princess”) but she will flush herself out soon enough. A welcome package is not going to be the swing vote.

maleaupairmommy February 23, 2011 at 3:49 am

I tell the au pair before they go to the school that we don’t do the gift baskets. They tell me after it is stuff they don’t want. I do order the CC sweatshirts to put in their basket upon arrival at our house as the guys seem to like it and wear it all the time. We send a fax to the school with the kids handprints and a note telling them we are excited, etc. They love it! It’s all about the little things in life. Plus to be honest guys don’t care so much especially warned in advance. They basket includes upon arrival to the house shampoo, shaving cream, etc. Some pops in their fridge and some american candy and things they might like. My current one loves sports and I found a calendar that was a basketball hoop with each month a pic of a different court each month. Last year I bought a cheap and I mean cheap guitar for the au pair as he loved playing guitar which was worth it as he played it all the time for the kids. I hate the stupid baskets worst things ever.

Anna February 23, 2011 at 7:59 am

No, we don’t send gifts baskets and I think it is in general a bad idea to send one to the orientation.

Here is why:

iMom February 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

For our au pairs we have sent something baked – banana bread or cookies – along with a letter of welcome for when they arrive at the au pair training school. Our au pairs seemed to appreciate this as a home-y touch. Plus, they were able to share with their new friends and not have to pack anything home. I was a little appalled at the price of the gift baskets the agencies offer, but even if they were cheaper I still think it is too impersonal. We have a welcome basket in her room when she arrives at our home.

DarthaStewart February 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm

We send some GS cookies- usually shortly after we match, which is – coincidentally – right after the end of the cookie sale. ;) It’s an American cultural thing, available only once a year, so it works well.

My 2 cents February 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

CV – totally off-topic but you have terrific hair ! !

DCMom February 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Our au pair had orientation in NY before coming to stay with us in DC. During orientation, the au pairs had the option of going on a tour of NYC which was not covered. We arranged and paid for tour because we felt that she may or may not see NYC again. We also arranged for her to have a $25 calling card so that she could call us or her family. She didn’t get her cell phone until she connected with us in DC. These extras were offered by the agency (so I guess they are gimicky) but they made sense to us. We had a more personalized basket waiting for her when she arrived. It included some essentials like shampoo and toothpaste, but also some other fun things. She is our first au pair and I don’t know how we will behave with possibly each subsequent au pair. However, she just extended with us for another year so I’d like to think we make some good calls (although her extension probably had very little to do with the tour or calling card!)

BLJ Host Mom February 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Not Dorky At All!

We have sent the minimum gift basket the last two years, but this year I think we will ONLY spring for the NYC trip. It’s 40 bucks and oh so memorable for them.

Thanks for the idea about the letter and picture/map.

I found it very hard the second time around to invest in the “new” girl and her gift, because I was focusing on saying goodbye and a goodbye party and the “old” AP. The gift basket the second time was actually a lazy way to do something thoughtful last minute! :(

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