During a trip, it's not always easy to know if you can make a gift to the persons you meet or not, especially if the standards of living between them and you are very different. Moreover, making gifts to local inhabitants can create expectation or even begging.
In Mongolia, gifts are part of the daily life. When we visit friends, or when we go to the steppes knowing that we'll sleep at someone's, we always bring some small gifts. Mongolians often offer a bottle of vodka. But alcoholism is a public health problem and it's better to avoid.
Because giving presents is part of Mongolian culture, we think that it's not a bad thing if travellers do the same when they come to Mongolia, quite the opposite. But it's important to respect this tradition with the same spirit as the Mongolians' one. So it's rather advisable to follow these small rules.
Making gifts is part of a general ritual about greeting. When you arrive at a family's, you'll always be proposed the traditional tea with milk and some dairy products (cream, cheese, etc.) and drinks (airag or vodka). You'll give your present at the end, at the moment you'll leave your hosts, with the two hands (in the same way as your hosts had served the tea with milk). Travellers sometimes say that they have games for children and they would like to play with them before leaving. Don't worry. You can play with the games you brought, but they remain your games ; you will offer them to their mother when you'll leave.
The gift must remain a symbol. You're not here to flood the family with your gifts, this is not the aim of the tradition. If you wish to offer more important gift, there are many associations in Ulan Bator that will best manage your gifts to families.
The gift is made by the group, so each person needn't offer something in his/her own. The gifts are generally put in common in a plastic bag and offered to the hostess before leaving. Don't be surprised if your host does not look at the gift outside you, Mongolians are rather reserved and they generally only put it aside.
Never give your presents directly to children, because:
Like everywhere in the world, children are suggestible. If each time they meet a stranger, the latter offers something to them, they could get used to it, and this could create expectations or begging.
The relationship between parents and children is very strong in Mongolia, children show great respect to their parents. As much as possible, it's better not to interfere in this relationship. Giving the present to the mother, who will manage it like she wants, is the best way.
Small gifts that will always please your hosts
This is a non-exhaustive list of useful things that generally please hosts. But you still can be more original!
Pens, small toys (without batteries), caps, t-shirts, candles, cigarettes, lighters, knives (Opinel-type or Swiss knife-type), notebooks, sewing accessories (scissors, sewing thread, needles), batteries for radios, dynamo lamp, sunglasses, cream for babies... In summary, useful objects, avoiding sophisticated ones or with batteries.
Sweets are also whidespread (Mongolians generally have excellent teeth thanks to mare milk).
Men smoke tobacco rolled in newspaper. It's very toxic because they inhale lead. So rolling paper is very appreciated.
Mongolian women are very elegant, even in the steppe. So, why not creams, perfumes, or make up?
Games can help to break the ice and will give great pleasure to children: frisbee, balloons, bubble tubes, jigsaws, Uno, beach rackets, etc.