"Since you're heading for Thailand/Venice/the wilds of Turkmenistan, can you pick me up a silk cushion cover/a Murano vase/a yak wool carpet in a traditional design?"
How the traveller's heart trembles at these words.
Shopping for friends and loved ones when you're away from home is a terrifying burden. It means finding the thing, agonising over whether this colour, size or scent is going to work and locking horns with a wily trader who knows you're buying for someone else and are prepared to go big in order to display your affection.
Of course the traveller abroad in exotic parts feels an obligation to bring back a little something. It shows that although you are currently being massaged by a willowy Thai person, or into the third margarita and about to bust a move on the samba floor, your thoughts are home with them as they scrub the black bits of carbonised gristle from the sausage grill.
From my own travels, I have discovered that scarves are the perfect gift. Scarves are light, they pack down to practically nothing, they'll do nicely for men or women and they're never out of favour.
If you ever have to say "I couldn't find the alabaster Buddha you wanted but I saw this silk and pashmina scarf and I thought of you", bingo, you're in the winner's circle.
As anyone in my immediate family will tell you, the perfect number of scarves is just one more. Apart from Africa and the polar regions, they now have scarves from every corner of the planet.
Oh, and by the way - spoiler alert - guess what Santa is bringing you this year, kids?
Have you been asked to bring back specific gifts from overseas for friends or relatives? What is your gift of choice to bring back? Post a comment and share your stories below.