When traveling overseas, I usually try to bring small treats and candies with me as a gift. Many people have a sweet tooth, whether for candy, fruits, cakes, or cookies, so offering a bit of American candy is usually a fun way to offer thanks for a team’s hospitality or to serve as a motivator during workshops and trainings. There’s nothing like a little sugar to sweeten an attitude, boost energy, or encourage participation!
I’ve tried a lot of different sweets, but chocolate seems to be most widely welcomed. However, sometimes I’ve tried to bring other treats just because I may be traveling to a place where they produce chocolate and might not like what I’m bringing or because people have a lot of different preferences and might like a different kind of sweet! But so far, chocolate has by far been the most successful gift. For example, I don’t think Starbursts were very well received in Afghanistan. Although the staff were unfailingly polite in accepting the sweets and showed pleasure with the gift, I noticed that there weren’t many requests for more. However, Girl Scout Cookies — especially thin mints — travel pretty well and have been a big hit among expats and locals alike. I have had to place advance orders for upcoming trips and then ensure that they are fairly distributed. I think that expats appreciated the reminder of home, while locals enjoyed the chocolate, minty crunchy cookie!
I was lucky to be traveling to Burundi during the American holiday season, which made it very easy to load up on mini-candy bars, peppermint patties and peanut butter cups. I’m sure that anyone in customs who scanned my luggage on the outbound trip thought I was a serious chocolate addict, as the candy took up quite a bit of space in my bag! But I knew that the Gitega workshop was going to have a high number of attendees, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty to go around.
Happily, the chocolate was a hit! I gave the participants candy after participating in gender focused activities to encourage active participation and thank them for their great work. Most of the candy was immediately eaten, but some of the participants and staff saved a few pieces to take home to their children and families as a special Christmas treat — the peanut butter cups were a particular favorite.
Almost immediately, the candy gifts earned me a new nickname: la mère Noël! After giving out the treats during several different activities, the participants began to assume that ALL candies in the workshop came from la mère Noël. Mostly, this was true, as the Burundi staff did not incorporate candy in their training sessions. However, one of the other facilitators came from Cameroon, and at the end of the workshop he put small chocolate bars from his country at each of the participants’ seats. When they returned to their seats and discovered the chocolates, they all thanked “mère Noël” for more chocolate, and I had to explain that this gift wasn’t from me. They then began thanking both mère et père Noël!
I don’t think that this nickname will follow me, but it brought everyone a good laugh during our time together. Although since this was a workshop with “youth” partners, I hope they weren’t literally thinking of me as old enough to be Mrs. Claus or motherly! Ha!