Do you always bring a gift when you are invited to someone’s house? I mostly do, but not always, and I am increasingly irritated by the custom. I wish there were clearer rules!

I definitely bring a gift when there’s a special occasion, like a birthday, or when I’m invited to a dinner party. What to bring can be problematic even in these cases. I prefer items that can be used up, like chocolates or a bottle of wine, or items that come with an expiry date, like flowers or a bag of potpourri. But even with these comparatively simple gifts, you need to know the recipient’s taste. Some people hate any kind of smell in their living space, so potpourri or a scented candle can be a bad idea. Other hosts are on a diet, or hate champagne, so the gift automatically lands on the to-be-regifted shelf in the basement – not my intention when I bought it.

Do you also bring a gift when you are only invited for a cup of coffee, or when it’s an occasion for which a group takes turns in hosting? My book club has agreed that we don’t bring any gifts, as it’s a new hostess’s turn every month, and we are very happy with this arrangement, as it removes the need of remembering to buy another tasteful nothing. My mother has proposed the same in her book club twice over the years, each time meeting with vehement opposition.

Last week a colleague who lives nearby asked me over for coffee, and I decided not to bring any gift. Instead, I plan to invite her soon. I still feel this was the right decision, but I did feel a bit awkward standing in the door with empty hands.

How do you handle the question of bringing gifts when you are invited over? What different customs are there in the different countries you live in? (What I have written above applies to Germany.) How do you feel when a guest arrived without a gift?

– Rike Horstmann