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Holiday Gifts Reduced at the UN: Pick Your Country

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Wooden decorative dolls from Austria at the UN Gift Center.
Decorative wooden dolls from Austria, as tight-lipped as diplomats, at the UN Gift Center. The shop is offering a 40 percent discount on its wares before renovations in the lobby area force it to relocate by mid-2013 to another spot in UN headquarters. JOE PENNEY

The United Nations Gift Center is relocating, along with the UN post office and bookstore, to the Dag Hammarskjold Library building by April or May for the continuing renovation of the UN, including the lower lobby area.

The gift shop, post office and book store will still be accessible to the public in their new temporary quarters, but their spaces will be squeezed, so the gift shop is to sell UN souvenirs only. When it returns to its former quarters in about two years’ time, it is likely to sell its more lustrous goods — jewelry and decorative objects from all over the world — once again, said Hanna Shoukry, the shop’s longtime buyer.

So now is the time to take advantage of the 40 percent discount the store is offering to clear out its inventory and say bonjour to Shoukry, as she works the glass display cases, eager to describe in her Egyptian brogue the bracelets, earrings, pins and necklaces draped according to country. If jewelry isn’t the right gift for the folks on your list, the shop is crammed with other beauts, like sylphlike glass perfume bottles from Egypt, evoking Cleopatra’s every whim, or  wooden cuckoo clocks from Switzerland, surely carved by a tidy alpine workshop.

Objects are selling fast, says Carol Giovanelli, a saleswoman at the shop for 19 years: the blue-veined Moroccan vases are gone; so are the ornate gold chokers from Bahrain. As always, the pearl-laden jewelry from the Philippines, Giovanelli’s home country, remains the best-seller; native American turquoise pieces from the United States also sell like hot cakes. Why not try something off the beaten path this year? Cameos in 14-karat-gold settings from Italy could turn into a cherished heirloom gift, passed along generations. Or what about butterscotch-toned amber from Poland and Sweden, two very calm countries that just want peace and prosperity?

Prices for the jewelry range from $6 to $3,000 — with one of the best bargains hidden in a drawer, so you need to ask to see them: glass-beaded elastic bracelets from Turkey. They adjust easily to any wrist and glow like precious moons in a range of offbeat colors, from light greenish jade to dark purple amethyst to carnelian brick red. Their cost is $42, not including the discount.

The gift shop, accessible through the main UN lobby entrance on First Avenue at 46th Street, is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Be prepared to go through a security check.

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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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