I have a lovely professor who I've become very close with over the past three years. I am an international student and we are both from the same original culture.

I recently finished my master's and am now working in a job in industry. I really admire my advisor and he is one of my role models.

I had my defense a few weeks ago. He lives in another city and is planning to drive to the city that I live with his wife. He invited me out for a lunch with his wife.

I’m very excited to go, but I do not really know what to buy for him and his wife. I am going to meet him in person after a long time, all our meetings were over Zoom so far. It is the first time that I am going to meet his wife.

Considering that they are coming to be in my city and they will be staying at a hotel overnight. How can I be a good host since they are driving to my city? What should I buy? Thanks for your advice. They have not chosen any restaurant yet, should I initiate and choose a restaurant, and pay the bills? He doesn't drink wine.

At some point, I would like to go back to do my Ph.D. So I would like to leave him with a good impression.

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    You will need to provide more info: age, ethnicity, any kids, etc... you probably want to change the question -- maybe to ask the academics here the most thoughtful gifts or gestures they had from students. If it was me, having a meal is good enough. I am happy enough to see the person you've become -- i.e., just bring yourself! Aug 29, 2021 at 3:13
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    @nick012000 Lmao, what? You think a man can't have a professional relationship with a woman without wanting to bone her? Aug 29, 2021 at 19:14
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    @nick012000 Indeed, as Azor said (or implied), it's kind of inappropriate to say that based solely on the fact that there is an older man and a younger woman involved. If there were actual evidence to suggest that one of them has bad intentions, then sure, it would look a little sus, but in this case (at least based on what was written in the question) there is not.
    – David Z
    Aug 29, 2021 at 22:12
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    @nick012000 he is probably taking his wife along for the precise reason that it doesn't look sus. Besides, OP seems to have a lot of respect for the prof.
    – justauser
    Aug 30, 2021 at 5:03

4 Answers 4


As far as generic "western academic culture" is concerned, getting a gift for your advisor in such a situation is not merely unnecessary but might even make things slightly awkward. Advisors are expected to not accept gifts of value from their students, and while you may have graduated, your plans for a future PhD still put your relationship in the general ballpark of advisor/mentee.

Proposing a restaurant for lunch (or maybe a few different ones to account for your advisors preferences) would make sense (as you might know the city better than him), and conveys your interest in having this meeting. If I put myself in the shoes of your advisor, I'd probably intend to invite you for the lunch. You should of course be prepared to pay for your own meal, but I'd be sceptical about an attempt to invite your advisor and his wife.

My understanding is that having lunch with you is not the main reason for the trip, but rather an "since I am in the city anyway"-deal. If this is the case, I'd either leave it at that, or maybe issue an easily side-stepped "if you'd like me to show you some of the local highlights, please let me know"-offer.

Since you mention you and your advisor both being from the same non-Canadian unspecified culture, there is of course a possibility for the etiquette in your culture to clash with the recommendations above. Navigating such a situation would probably depend on a specific knowledge of your advisor as a person, so even if we knew the culture, I doubt we could help much.

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    The issues with gift isn't just awkward, but can be against faculty policy. The student isn't going to have access to faculty policies to verify but usually this is to prevent accusations of bribery.
    – Nelson
    Aug 30, 2021 at 2:42
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    @Nelson Faculty policy doesn't apply to the OP, it applies to her former supervisor. OP presenting a gift to her supervisor which he has to reject due to faculty policy is going to be awkward.
    – Arno
    Aug 30, 2021 at 9:01
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    I would say, the maximum gift that you could get is something small, typical from the city that is hard to get otherwise. Just as you would any friend/colleague that visits the city. As a memory to the city, not as a memory to you.
    – Mayou36
    Aug 30, 2021 at 9:22

Since you were invited, the professor may be expecting to pay and should therefore choose the place.

But a book is pretty safe. Perhaps something from the important literature of your own culture/country or something from the literature of Canada.

It should have only "token" value, for many reasons. And it should not be something personal.

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    Perhaps a souvenir from the city, preferably something very typical for that city.
    – md2perpe
    Aug 29, 2021 at 21:03
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    Or showing him and his wife some nice place in or around the city that they might like.
    – md2perpe
    Aug 29, 2021 at 21:17

He invited me out for a lunch with his wife ... How can I be a good host since they are driving to my city? What should I buy?

  1. If he invited you, you're not the host at the event you're attending.

  2. The fact the they're staying in your city of residence does not make you their host, unless you've invited them to some activity yourself.

  3. Even if you were the host - typically, it's the guest that buys something for the host.

That being said, I'd suggest:

  • Buy nothing for the lunch; or if you must, something physically small, symbolic, and not expensive.

  • Consider offering some sort of physical token or memento your shared experience, if there's something which fits well. Don't force this.

  • Consider offering them a tour or visit of a place you are familiar with as a local of your city and they may not be (or perhaps it's enough that the wife isn't). Not during lunch, of course, but perhaps before lunch, after lunch or on another day.

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    Museums are nice, but ... covid.
    – Buffy
    Aug 29, 2021 at 22:10
  • @Buffy: Well, covid will be over at some point. I hope.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 29, 2021 at 22:11
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    @Buffy Museums are open where I live. They are not considered a significant risk factor, when the visitors are masked up and the air circulation is managed properly. Surely not riskier than a restaurant... Aug 30, 2021 at 7:58

I don't know your culture, but why do you even consider buying something for him? He is the one who invited you, so he wants to give something to you. It's quite common that people receive gifts at their graduation. Also, think from his perspective. His salary is probably higher than yours. He can buy what he likes anyhow. How would you feel getting a present from a former student? There are even laws prohibiting the acceptance of presents (depending on value, situation and country of course). (My perspective does perhaps not reflect the general opinion, but I don't like receiving random presents from people I barely know on a personal level.)

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    Many cultures have different thoughts around gift-giving. While I agree this is not necessary in the stratum of Canadian academic culture, the tone here could be a lot more understanding. -1 Aug 29, 2021 at 22:26

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