Friday, February 17, 2012


Today I am going to impose on you the German word "Mitbringsel" because there's really no succinct term in English for these things we bring for someone from a trip. "Mitbringsel" is one of those great literal word creations that are possible in German: "mit" means "with," and "bring" means "to bring," and "sel" is a suffix meant to endear. So these are "withbrings," things you bring with you from where you went, or if you visit someone. Travel is involved, and often the recipient knows what you're bringing because you asked what he or she wants, or if you're the recipient, you asked the traveler for these specific Mitbringsel.

Like I did when my husband recently traveled to Germany. "Give me a list," he said. The photo shows all the Mitbringsel stacked on our couch, once we were done unpacking (from the upper left): a bag of cholocates for the kids, my handcream, toothpaste my husband prefers, Munich-themed napkins my brother-in-law sent, a few dishes from Munich's delicatessen K√§fer (bug) to replenish our supply, a special Vichy cream, and of course, a few German books.

I am told we are not unique in this schlepping of Mitbringsel. If you've lived in one country but used to live in another, there are certain things you like from the "old" one, and suitcases can get heavy. A Mexican friend of mine always travels with an extra suitcase full of stuff she has to bring to Mexico for her relatives, and stuff she brings back for her family here. My mother has lived in Germany for more than 40 years but she still washes her hair with Prell shampoo, that either I or others bring from the U.S. Similarly, I love a certain drugstore brand of German handcream that I've managed to keep "importing" all these years.

In a way it's fun to think about what you keep schlepping back and forth, or ask others to schlepp. Of course I could find a handcream here I like but as long as I can keep getting my favorite one, I will keep doing that. It's a small part of who I am.


  1. Love this! We have certain "Mitbringsel" we always bring back and forth from Ukraine too. :)

  2. I absolutely love that word! The German language is full of so many wonderful portmanteaus. The mitbringsel I schlep back from France is a certain chicken bouillon cube that tastes so great. There is a fabulous handcream I love from the town of La Roche-Posay, but it's harder to get because it's only at one shop and I have to coordinate the purchase with a friend who has a house near there. I also might bring some computer accessories for my friend because we can get them so much cheaper here.

  3. I love that word, and I too love to bring things back from countries I've visited or lived in.

  4. Gillian - I figured you'd be schlepping stuff home from Ukraine!

    Julie Farrar - I love it that you're also "importing" hand cream!

    Julie Hedlund - glad you like the word.

  5. I love the word- and I know the practice all too well. My husband just went to Ghana and he brought an entire suitcase (literally) of "Mitbringsel"-- when my mom visits me from Singapore- she brings me the special 'crackers' which I cannot get here- or small cans of this or that- :)- my hubby always gets his mom to bring the tidbit which he loves.

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