One thing I miss about the States is my mailbox. There is something magical about opening up a little black door and having a handful of letters (okay mostly junk mail, but still) with your name on it. I don’t have a mailbox in my host country. But, every now and then, a man on a motorcycle will pull up to the gate, yell an unintelligible phrase and hand me a yellow slip of paper. Oh, what a happy day that is!
There is nothing else that will get the whole family giddy (even the husband) more than a slip saying that we have mail. We will literally skip to the Post Office knowing that we have something from home waiting for us. I think all expats will agree…nothing brightens our day more than a care package. We love them. When you ask how we are doing and if we need anything, we say “No.” That’s because we really don’t have any “needs”. We are content with our lives. But what we really mean is “I need nothing, but want plenty. Send me a package, please.” When you ask us how our birthday was, we say “Fine”. But what we mean is “Birthdays are better with presents. Send me a package, please.” Pretty much any question you ask we can answer with the words, “Send me a package”. I’m being serious. We love mail.
I know sending packages internationally can be expensive. So enlist others. Small groups. MOPS groups. Family groups. Strangers you meet on the street. I don’t know. But do it together. Share in the cost and in the fun.
Maybe you have a group of friends together and you want to send something, but you don’t know what to send. And when you ask, your friend is reluctant to say. Of course it is best to find out favorites of your friend and family, but sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we forget what is available. So, I am here to help. Go to your local post office and grab one of those trusty flat rate boxes and start filling it up with the following goods:
1) Something Pretty
Our world isn’t always pleasing to look at. Some of us live in post-communism countries that lack color and beauty. Some of us live in war-torn lands, while others pass trash piles and open sewers every corner. A little pretty goes a long way. Whether a candle or a new stationary set or a lipstick color you think would look good on us, what may look like an ordinary item on aisle 3 of Target will probably be extraordinary to us.
2) Something Yummy
Sour Patch Kids. A can of cranberries. A jar of cream cheese icing. Snickers. Marshmallows. Butterscotch chips. A can of rotel. Don’t worry about whether we like it or not. We do. I never liked Oreos until I moved overseas but now I crave the crispy chocolaty cookie with the creamy center…because it is a taste of home I can buy locally. We may have our favorites, but anything will do. Whatever we don’t like, we will share with other fellow expats. We are good at sharing our loot. We like to buy our friends with our foreign goods.
3) Something Seasonal
We love the seasons and some of us don’t get to experience any of them. For others, Christmas is 90 degrees and June is freezing. No one cares about 4th of July and they look at us crazy trying to explain why we wear green in March. There are no “Happy Birthday” streamers anywhere. No Valentine cards or yellow peeps. Fall decorations…don’t even get me started on that.
4) Something Personal
The internet is a wonderful tool, but it tends to de-personalize our communication. Long after we have licked the last bit of peanut butter from our Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, your small note will remain. I have a sweet card from my friend from over 3 years ago pinned to my fridge and another card in my bedside table drawer. A few simple and sincere words go a long way.
5) Something for Everyone
Nothing is more disappointing than feeling forgotten. Let’s go ahead and admit that numbers 1-4 on this list are mainly for the women of the house. Everyone remembers the kids. But the husbands…they can be left out. The single expat man may never get mail. Men are pretty easy to please. Think stomach. Or sports. Or music. Or a book. They need encouragement too! Whatever you do, don’t forget about them. When in doubt on what to buy for men, ask their wives (if they’re married). She’s always listening when he casually mentions the things he misses from ‘home’. If he’s single, stick to this list, omit the “something pretty”, and double up on “something yummy”.
Once you have assembled all the loot, it is time to pack it. Here are a few tips for packing:
- Don’t leave empty space. Stuff the stuff in every nook and cranny. Don’t worry about making it look pretty. If a container, toy, or anything has a pocket of space, stuff some fun-size candy packs in there. Wasted space is just that, wasted space! (That’s deep, ya’ll).
- If the store packaging of an item is taking up too much valuable box space, just take the packaging off. We won’t miss it. This usually applies to toys for children. You can always double check with the recipient of the care package before removing items from the store packaging, if you’re feeling a little guilty about pre-opening something. Chances are we will say, “Do whatever you have to do to fit as much as you can in that flat rate box.”
- Double Ziploc anything that can spill. We’re actually thankful for Ziplocs. Those are just as much a gift as the rest of the package. We will wash and reuse them a hundred fold. Also, Ziploc any food item that isn’t packaged well. I have received a package that a rat received first. <Insert tear>
- If you wrap a present, please know it will most likely be ripped open by a very nice customs officer. So, send a little bit of extra paper so we can do some repair work.
- Double and triple check the address. Those addresses are foreign and look funny and they are easy to mess-up.
- Allow plenty of time for you package to arrive if it includes time sensitive material (ex. birthday or Christmas presents). Most international packages will take 2 or 3 weeks to reach their destination.
I hope this list has inspired you to go shopping and to do a little packing. I promise you will hear shouts of glee even from thousands of miles away. Because we love care packages!
For those of you who frequently send/receive care packages, do you have any additional packing tips? Share in the comments section!