Why everyone is getting pencils for Christmas this year

If you work internationally, family expect you to bring home exotic Christmas gifts – not this year, says Jennie Devine
11th December 2020, 11:06am
Jennie Devine

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Why everyone is getting pencils for Christmas this year

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/why-everyone-getting-pencils-christmas-year
International Schools: With Travel Limited By The Coronavirus, Teachers Can't Bring Home Exotic Christmas Gifts This Year

Ah, the holidays. Spending time with the family, travelling back home - and despite all that, still a delightful time of year.

For international teachers, these trips often mean lugging luggage full of local items to friends and family. On our return home, the conversation inevitably goes:

  1. How was your flight?
  2. What did you bring me?

The requests usually start coming a month or so before you fly home. Or perhaps there aren't any particular requests, but the quiet expectation that you will bring back "something good" from your host country.

There may be heavy hints about how hard/expensive/inconvenient it is to find good Thai curry paste, prosciutto ham or French perfume, for example.

Magical Christmas gift helpers

Soon, your gift list is longer than Santa's. Christmas concerts, shows, end-of-term assessments and distracted students mean that the last thing you feel like doing at the end of a school day is dragging yourself out to the shops.

If only you had access to several elves…. Wait, could you justify this as an outing with your students? "OK, Marco and Giulia, you're going to need to get a gift for my Mum - maybe some slippers, but keep it classy. No animals, size 40."

"Rocco and Anna, you're in charge of the grappa. What? I know you're only 7, but ask the guy behind the counter for recommendations."

Local delights

If you are lucky, a trip to the supermarket can provide many gifts for the folk back home. Local chocolates! Sweeties! Bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar! Local meats and cheeses!

As the quantity mounts, the mental calculation of luggage space ramps up. "Let's see. If I only pack one other change of clothes, I should be able to fit it all in. Or maybe I can wear three layers of clothes… Otherwise, how will I fit in all of grandma's bags of unusually shaped pasta?"

More often, it is a last-minute dash around the airport trying to purchase something suitable. Usually, anything printed with the name of your host country will do, at a pinch, or a small bottle of the local spirit.

2B or not 2B

Pencils in the colours of the local flag - handfuls of those for friends and relatives will do. It's the thought that counts, even if that thought is rushed, stressed and indiscriminate.

Oh, and some croissants and a can of Coke from the airport café? -"Look, the writing is in foreign, Dad! You're welcome! Merry Christmas!"

Your suitcases are packed tightly enough that nuclear fusion is taking place in them, and various airport bags hang from your arms (how many carrier bags count as one carry on?). You flop into your seat, exhausted.

What is that smell?

However, even then your nightmare is not over. That suitcase full of cheese and ham? It can go missing. It can go missing for six months.

When you open up your suitcase in June heat to see meat and cheese that has travelled from Minnesota to Malaysia and back, you will seriously rethink your shopping choices.

And you will need to figure out how to get that smell out of everything. Trust me - I know of what I speak.

Save your pennies

This year, of course, travel is much more limited. This means that gifts are having to be sent. In some places, shops are still closed down. This makes the "supermarket Santa" routine even more vital this year.

You will go and buy several gifts at the supermarket, but wait until you see how much it costs to send that bottle of olive oil! You might as well charter a private jet to deliver it. Wine? Maybe save some money and buy a vineyard instead.

So you will need to buy something local, small and light. I guess everyone will be getting pencils this year.

Jennie Devine has worked in international teaching for 18 years, most recently as a principal at a school in Italy

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