Thinking of original, thoughtful and appropriate presents can be difficult enough when it comes to your own family. Trying to come up with the perfect gift for your boyfriend's parents, however, is extra challenging, given how your choice may reflect on your relationship with him. Choose your gift, therefore, based on the stage of your relationship.
Early in the relationship, you may wonder if it's appropriate to give gifts to his parents. If you decide to give a gift at this early stage, say, if the occasion is significant, like a round-number birthday or big anniversary, you'll probably want to keep it small. Going with something too big, extravagant or expensive might make him feel like the relationship between the two of you is moving too fast.
You might, for example, give a gift that straddles the line between "card" and "present," such as a handwritten or designed card on elegant stationary or a poem that's meant to be displayed. This is especially good for anniversary gifts. Decorative bookmarks are another option, as are any "stocking stuffer" gifts during winter holidays, such as ornaments.
Choose items that are relatively generic, because you want to express goodwill without expressing a level of familiarity that's premature. Food items can be a good choice--wine, artisan foods or candy and recipe-ingredient gift packages. If you're travelling to see his parents, consider bringing something that's particular to where you're coming from, such as maple candy from Vermont, rice wine from Minnesota or cheese from Wisconsin. These gifts add a "getting to know you" quality to the encounter.
As your relationship with your boyfriend progresses, so will your familiarity with his parents. At this stage in the relationship, give gifts that are a bit more expensive and require a bit more familiarity with his parents' personalities and interests. This is a good time for standby gift ideas, such as books you'll know they'll be interested in, CDs of their favourite music or gift tokens to stores or restaurants you know they'll enjoy or would recommend to them. Think thoughtful but not extravagant.
Decorative items also are a thoughtful gift choice at this stage, especially items like one-of-a-kind artisan pieces, such as wall hangings or pottery and vases, or unusual imports and items you pick up while travelling or in speciality markets. You might opt for small accessory items, like scarves or ties, if you find something suitable. At this point, you probably know his parents well enough to observe things about their taste in style in colours, textures and types of clothing and decoration, so see if you can coordinate.
As you and your boyfriend move into the realm of a serious, long-term relationship, it's appropriate to give gifts to his parents in a manner closer to how you give gifts to your own. You might even discuss with your boyfriend the idea of the two of you giving something together. This option will make it both easy and appropriate to give his parents a really nice gift, one that's bigger and more expensive than anything either of you might give on your own. This might include new furnishings or electronics or gift tokens for weekend getaways, massages and spa treatments or upscale gourmet restaurants. You might give his parents equipment or tools related to their hobbies, such as a new golf club or a sewing tool.