I’ve stayed with lots of people whilst volunteering in India and in Sri Lanka and I’ve always found it difficult to buy gifts for people. What exactly is an appropriate gift?
One type of gift which I’ve found good is UK paraphernalia; things like mugs, tea towels, keyrings, etc with pictures of the UK (telephone boxes, double-decker buses, castles, rivers, lakes, cities, etc).
It can also be a good idea to take things that are easy to get in the UK but harder (if not impossible) to get abroad; a pepper grinder for example. Though be warned, I got a pepper grinder sent out so that my host Mother wouldn’t have to grind peppercorns in a coconut shell with the handle of a large knife. She thought the pepper grinder was ‘lasanai’ (beautiful) so she kept it in the trophy cabinet.
When you’re volunteering in Sri Lanka and you get taken to visit someone, a packet of ‘gift biscuits’ is a cheap, easy, hassle-free gift. It may not be the first thing you’d have considered taking, but biscuits are the things that Sri Lankans take when they visit each other and they’ll be well received… and all the better if they are lemon puffs! You can get biscuits in almost every ‘boutique‘ (small, roadside shop). It’s the equivalent of the UK bottle of wine.
I’ve also found, when stayed with people for an extended period, that I either go for household items (like pots, pans, dishes, etc) or for books. I’m volunteering as an English teacher and I like to leave gifts that are useful or that mean something. Dictionaries are a bit boring but are very useful and are highly valued, as are English language novels.
But don’t get too carried away with presents… the ‘value‘ of money is different abroad and while spending £10 on a present in the UK might seem reasonable, in Sri Lanka or India that is probably excessive and may even be viewed as extravagant. You’re not trying to show people how much money you have, you’re just trying to be nice so don’t over do it.