coffee + cre8tive {oct 5 '06}

As I sit here typing, the sun warms my face as I hear the church bells ringing, a sound that I look forward to every hour on the hour. Ah, another beautiful day in Germany! We're on a lucky streak with the weather, friends are joking we brought the sun with us, which is impossible since it was raining when we left Boston.

Today, outside of working, we'll be enjoying the company of our family and later tonight, visiting more of our friends, a very nice couple with 8 children, ages ranging from 34 to age 7! Most of them, my husband held as babies and the older ones, he attended school with and has been close to since childhood. The 16-year-old plays piano and one of the highlights of my visit is that she loves to play the entire soundtrack to Amelie (by Yann Tierson) for me. Afterwards, her little sister usually works with me on my German and we play games and have fun with craft projects, me with all the kids around the table, pasting and cutting and usually me looking like the child and them, the artists. Their mother is very creative, she sews everything by hand, paints, and is a fine cook and a loving mother. She bakes weekly with her children, so I'm sure we'll be having tea with cakes tonight.

One thing that is quite common here, at least since I started visiting in 1999, is that friends will usually lay out a lovely spread of meats, assortment cheeses, wine, and fresh bread or rolls when you pop in for a casual visit. If not that, baked goods with coffee and tea. For the guests, it's common to remove your shoes when you visit and to bring a little something with you for the hostess, a votive candle wrapped in pretty paper, a few flowers, a package of tea, something small to show appreciation for their display of hospitality (usually spending no more than $5). Most Americans tend to do this too, as we usually bring a bottle of wine or snacks when we visit our friends, and if it's a special sit-down dinner, often flowers. Here, simple is better and an extravagant gift would most likely make the hostess feel uncomfortable.

In your part of the world, is this practice common there as well? A gift for the hostess?