Get Creative with Gifts from Paris

Get Creative With Gifts from Paris

By Patricia Tennison

www.ParisCafeWriting.com

Sure, you’ve had a great time in Paris and then the guilt sinks in: What do I bring home as gifts? They’ve got to be small enough to jam into your suitcase, and inexpensive enough so you can afford to fly back to Paris yourself. But the gifts still need to be creative, things you can’t easily buy back home.

I’ve been through this, and offer 10 fun ideas:

Bring your dog home a treat from Paris: a rabbit dinner.
Bring your dog home a treat from Paris: a rabbit dinner.

Rabbit dinners for dogs

Go to the pet food aisle in a grocery store, and look for a little aluminum packet of terrine au lapin & aux legumes (rabbit terrine with vegetables). How … French. I love the product description: une solution quand on n’a pas le temps de chasser le lapin (one solution when you don’t have time to chase the rabbit). Yes, there are also lapin dinners for cats. Price: about 50 cents.

 

 

 

 

Pack a cassoulet dinner to bring back from Paris.
Pack a cassoulet dinner to bring back from Paris.

Cassoulet TV dinner

Still in the grocery store, find the aisle with pre-fixed, shelf-stable, microwaveable meals. We’re not looking for gourmet quality, just a quintessential French dish—cassoulet, for example—that someone in the States can warm up in 3 minutes, serve with a better quality glass of wine, and laugh as they think of you. (You might suggest doctoring up the white bean stew with a twist of black pepper.) Price: about $4.

 

 

 

 

Pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar)
Pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar), representing Corsica.

Pâtés by Reflets de France

While the cassoulet TV dinner is a bit of a blague (joke), this brand of prepared food is not. Mega-Michelin-star chef Joël Robuchon tests and endorses the products by Reflets de France, a line created in 1996 for the Carrefour chain of grocery stores. The quality is very good and designed to highlight various food regions of France. Look for the distinctive, tan-colored paper label on jars of pâté au foie de canard (a pâté with 20 percent duck liver) representing the Aquitaine region, or perhaps a jar of pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar), representing Corsica. Price: about $8 to $10.

Salers, a semi-hard cheese from Auvergne, is an excellent gift from Paris.
Salers, a semi-hard cheese from Auvergne, is an excellent gift from Paris.

Salers cheese

Bringing home cheese is not a new idea, and you’ll find numerous French cheeses on sale at the airport. However, the cheeses meant for export at the airport are pasteurized, which eliminates many of the bacteria that make French cheese taste so good. Head to a fromagerie (cheese store)—not a grocery store—that will shrink-wrap your cheese for an extra euro and buy a cheese that is cru (raw). Pick one that your friends might not see as often in the States, such as Salers, a semi-hard cheese from cows that summer in the mountain pastures of Auvergne. A lovely image, a lovely cheese. Be sure to store it in your checked luggage where it will be kept cool. Price for a nice chunk: $6.

A gift idea: a couple pounds of Poilânebread.
A gift idea: a couple pounds of Poilâne bread.

Poilâne bread

You can grab a baguette from a boulangerie (bakery) on the way to the airport. But even better, find a shop that sells Poilâne bread, a brand with a slightly sour-dough taste and firm mouth feel that many foodies adore. A whole round loaf with the famous “P” etched on the top would make an impressive gift. It’s hard to find in the States. The larger loaf also stays fresher longer, so you could buy it the day before you leave. Stash it on board in your overhead space. Price: about $10.

Look for consignment finds at La Jolie Garde-Robe in Paris.
Look for consignment finds at La Jolie Garde-Robe in Paris.

Consignment store purse

I love shopping at a friperie (second-hand store) for clothing accessories. Because you can never be sure what the store might have that day—or even if it’s open that day—your gift ideas must be flexible. My favorite find one year was a used Nina Ricci purse that I gave to my sister Ninnie, largely because I liked the Nina/Ninnie name similarity. Fine. It’s particularly fun to search for a high-fashion name like Nina Ricci or Pierre Cardin because you pay a fraction of the original price yet have priceless fun imagining the backstory of the previous owner. One of my go-to spots is La Jolie Garde-Robe in the Marais at 15 rue Commines, 75003. As usual, the place got practically cleaned out in March by the crowds in Paris for Fashion Week, but my husband, Joe, still managed to shoot photos of a few purses. Price: $60 and up.

Not sexy and not French—find another piece of underwear.
Not sexy and not French—find another piece of underwear.

Monoprix slips

 Backstory on the photo: So I asked Joe to do me a favor: Go to the department store chain Monoprix and take a photo of a sexy French slip, pronounced “sleep,” which is the French word for a lady’s panty. Maybe red, maybe leopard, you know. One year I packed a half dozen into my suitcase, then threw them on a bed back home so that my sisters could laugh and pick their favorites.

The lingerie set in this photo is red (good) but those cover-everything slips are not sexy—and they are made by Playtex, an American brand. I can’t send Joe back; he’s really a nice guy. And anyway, he won’t go back:

This was the sexiest thing I could find at Monoprix! I couldn’t find anything on the ground floor, so I had to go up to the ladies’ department. I had to wait three times to go through the racks because people kept passing by me. I am no way secure enough with my manhood to rummage through women’s lingerie at Monoprix!

Okay. Okay. Price: $10 to $50.

A Corolle brand doll—with its vanilla scent—makes a lovely gift from Paris.
A Corolle brand doll—with its vanilla scent—makes a lovely gift from Paris.

Corolle dolls

 When I was looking for a baby doll to bring home to my two-year-old granddaughter, my French friends all suggested the same brand: Corolle. The 12-inch doll I selected has eyes that open and close, a soft body, flexible plastic legs and arms with a thumb that fits neatly into the baby’s mouth. The Corolle brand has a lovely oh-so-French kicker: the baby dolls smells like vanilla! You’ll find Corolle dolls in better department stores or specialty boutiques. The 12-inch doll is about $28.

Get your book stamped at Shakespeare and Company, Paris.
Get your book stamped at Shakespeare and Company, Paris.

Stamped book from Shakespeare and Company

 For a friend who likes to read, head to the famous English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in the Latin Quarter, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005. Yes, you could buy the same volume of James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway in the States, but if you buy it at Shakespeare—and remember at the cashier register to ask; I’ve made that mistake!—they will stamp the book with a sketch of Shakespeare and the words “Shakespeare and Company Kilometer Zero Paris.” Very cool. No extra fee.

Chat lunatique

There is no photo with this idea. Joe is still seeing red over the sexy French slip ordeal, and sometimes in a marriage it is best to just … step … back.

For this fun gift, go to a hardware store or the sous sol (basement) of the BHV department store, 52 Rue de Rivoli, 75004 and wander the section of small signs for doors. There are many in French equivalents of Welcome to Our Home, but my favorite find has been chat lunatique, roughly translated: wacko cat—perhaps one that chases rabbits. Price: about $10 to $15.

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Jan Powers and Patricia Tennison represent Paris Cafe Writing at the AWP convention in D.C.
Jan Powers and Patricia Tennison represent Paris Cafe Writing at the AWP convention in D.C.

Who Won the Umbrella?

I sooo wish I could have talked to everyone who stopped by our Paris Cafe Writing table at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs convention in D.C.

Instead, I had to flip over my name tag to the show the word “laryngitis.” An extrovert with laryngitis. Sounds like a writing prompt.

I have recuperated, thank-you-very-much, and can now announce the winner of the lovely French umbrella. She is Sarah Davis, a faculty member at Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.

“Thank you! I’ve never won anything, so this is a treat,” Sarah said.

 

 

 

 

 

Top Photo: Consignment purses and jewelry from La Jolie Garde-Robe, 15 rue Commines, 75003, Paris. Gift idea photos by Joseph Prendergast.

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