What's cool in England this year?
December 11, 2008 5:07 AM   Subscribe

Christmasgiftfilter: I am in England. I'm looking for suggestions for little gifts to take to the American family. Or generic gift suggestion lists.

I'll be leaving England in under a week and doing Christmas with the American family. I need gift suggestions for those adult relatives (and a few kids) that one only sees at Christmas--some "neat thing from England" that one wouldn't have already seen at the mall or World Market.
Previously I have brought them fancy Christmas tree ornaments, souvenirs from the local football team shop, locally made gourmet chocolates, and mounted photographs of local landmarks.
I'm hoping to come up with something along those lines that I can fit a dozen or so of into my luggage. I'm in a smallish city and not able to get to London in time to shop there. Relatives on the list are mostly baby-boomers and 3 teen/preteen children.

Alternately, if you know of any good gift-suggestion-lists that are better than Amazon's, pointers to them are appreciated as well.
posted by K.P. to Shopping (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
- Farrah's Harrogate Toffees
- British candy bars (Lion, Aero, Yorkie, etc.)
- British money (a newly-minted pound coin might make a neat stocking stuffer)
- Wellies (boots) for the teen/tweens; there are some wacky colors/designs nowadays)
- branded pint beer glasses (branded with British beer brands)
- a recipe book of traditional British foods
posted by mrbarrett.com at 5:25 AM on December 11, 2008

I'd agree with the candy bars -- the best stuff encountered when traveling are always the stuff that you don't expect, like different Coke bottle logos, traffic signs, etc. Candy's a great example of a universal constant (which country doesn't have candy?) that a country always imparts its own unique flavor on..
posted by suedehead at 5:28 AM on December 11, 2008

I believe its illegal to do so, but whenever I visit family in the States I take meat products (black pudding, freaky sausages etc) and, when they in turn visit me, they too bring meat products. (Although theirs usually trends towards the steak end of the spectrum.)

We all come from solid working class stock though, and would see nothing unusual in The Gift Of Meat. For some reason, I think it speaks to something fundamental in our humanity. "How nice to see you again," it seems to say. "I have killed this beast in your honour and travelled a long way. Let's eat!"

Like I say though, totally illegal so use caution.
posted by Jofus at 5:31 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Get them some Manchester United memorabilia. Unique because it's very English, yet still American thanks to the US bailing out AIG.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:38 AM on December 11, 2008

A posh supermarket Christmas Pudding. They're usually vacuum sealed and therefore I think OK with customs.
posted by galaksit at 5:51 AM on December 11, 2008

Mugs/glasses are always a good fall-back. Goes doubly so if they drink beer.
posted by jmd82 at 6:03 AM on December 11, 2008


Beer Mats

Young novels based on British myth and legend (Arthur etc.) - The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper springs to mind.

Any product with "By appointment to HRH . . . " on it
posted by protorp at 6:38 AM on December 11, 2008

Digestives! They cost so much here in the states, and the plain chocolate ones are delicious!
posted by SNWidget at 6:48 AM on December 11, 2008

If any of the teens/pre-teens are major Harry Potter fans, they might get excited over a UK edition of one of the Harry Potter books-- they have different covers, and some slight differences in the texts. (I believe the US ones replace "jumper" with "sweater" and "revising" with "studying" and so forth.) Obviously they need to be MAJOR Potterheads for this, but if they are, they'd probably think it's pretty cool.

Whenever we go back to the US, we always bring PG Tips for our tea-drinking relatives. It's apparently much better than any supermarket tea you can get in the US.

If you're looking for more fancy English foodstuffs, I think you can order from Fortnum and Mason online and have it sent to you before you go.

We also have an American friend who always wants us to bring him McVitie's Digestive Biscuits--partly because he likes the taste, and partly because "digestive biscuits" sounds very charming and English to an American.
posted by yankeefog at 6:55 AM on December 11, 2008

Those beautiful postage stamp sets.

Candy with cartoon characters from the supermarket. Or something like bubble bath with cartoon characters.
posted by krikany at 7:09 AM on December 11, 2008

Cadbury's Roses and/or Nestle Quality Street. They generally get put out on Christmas Day or thereabouts, then have all the good ones nabbed first, leaving a few unloved varieties by the time you take the decorations down after New Year.

Bird's Trifle Mix. The Christmas trifle, based upon sponge doused with cream sherry, is not to be sniffed at. You could make a proper trifle with lady's fingers and egg custard, but strangely, there's something more traditional about the stuff in a packet.

They do have Christmas Crackers at World Market, but the range is very limited, and you can do better in the UK: not easy to transport without them getting squashed, though. Also: a decent supermarket pud (M&S is always good at this time of year) or mince pies.

Outside foodstuffs: Christmas annuals are something I've not really seen in the US, though they're more aimed at children. The Beano / Dandy annuals have a certain cultural place, though. Comedy books are fairly local, and you get a lot at this time of year. The Bedside Guardian 2008, if they're that way inclined? The Private Eye Christmas special? Crossword collections?
posted by holgate at 7:17 AM on December 11, 2008

My daughter loved the High School Musical Annual we got her when we were over there. It's a concept you don't see at all in the US, and if you can find a theme/license that the kids are into, it's a good (and easy to pack) option.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:17 AM on December 11, 2008

Chips or crisps as you call them. You Brits have some crazy flavours (prawn cocktail and such). Seconding chocolate bars as well, British chocolate is usually better than American.
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:25 AM on December 11, 2008

Yeah, the coin sets, especially with the new design, are likely to be well-received. Though the £2 coin alone might suffice.
posted by holgate at 7:36 AM on December 11, 2008

I definitely nth the candy recommendation. I also wanted to suggest grabbing a couple of bags of crisps in some of the particularly English flavors. A few weeks ago I returned from England with a bag of lamb & mint ones, and my group of twenty- and thirty-something friends are still talking about how amazing/revolting they were. A nice assortment of flavors (Thai chili? Prawn?), could provide for a very entertaining afternoon as they get passed around.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 7:51 AM on December 11, 2008

Nthing the coin set — I was fascinated by the 2-pound coins when I went to the UK. We've never had anything so neat and hefty in general circulation. A pack of Iron-Bru would also be a nice novelty.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2008

* candies
* annuals are great
* digestive biscuits

** DR. WHO STUFF -- no really, like cookie cutters and other things you would just not find in the US though Dr. Who plays over here and is popular

** It is hard to get good, lovely, chestnut preserves or confiture. Marmite and vegemite is available here and so is Mrs. Bird's

* the gift of meat, especially, British bacon

* elderflower is a flavor not found in the US

* if they are fans of Pullman or Rowling the British editions are fun to have. But if there is an up and comer in the Young Lit scene bring copies of their work. The UK has lovely writers of the genre who take time to make it over to the US

* if you come during Easter, the UK's Easter egg love is fantastic. That was something that my friend was overwhelmed by was the Easter egg chocolates in their size and variety

*sniff, sniff, miss the UK....
posted by jadepearl at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2008

Black currant anything. Unique cadbury's stuff. Maybe a vintage poster from the London Transport Museum?

Something I've done twice while visiting London is to buy some sort of bath product from a line that I can't get in the US. Whenever I use said bath product, it reminds me of being in London. Now, however, I'm kicking myself, because it would cost me a lot to get more of something I found at Boots in October!
posted by santojulieta at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2008

Anytime I visit England, I am required by my family to bring Smarties back, as well as white Malteasers. The Smarties ornaments (chocolate with the little candies inside) have been a huge hit.
posted by bayliss at 9:00 AM on December 11, 2008

The most successful gifts I brought over for family when I lived in England were the previously-mentioned digestives (McVities please! Hobnobs are also excellent, and similar to digestives), English marmalades (esp Frank Cooper's Oxford Cut), and elderflower cordial (try and get a bottle of concentrate - bottles of liquid weigh down your luggage, and the concentrate goes much farther so you can buy a smaller bottle).

Other possible ideas:
- Ribena: very British, and blackcurrent flavoured things are rare in North America (again, try and find a bottle of concentrate)
- Teas: you can definitely buy good tea in North America, but I think your average off-the-shelf bagged tea is better in England
- Cheese: probably illegal, but a distinctively British cheese would be nice. I think M&S sells trays with selections of British cheeses.
- for teenage/tweenage girls, hit up Accessorize for jewellery, bags, hats, etc. Trendy and cheap.
- as already mentioned, novelty sweets and crisps - don't forget those scary pork rind-things they sell in packets at pubs or Nobby's bacon-flavoured peanuts
- maybe some distinctively trashy British magazines (Heat, et al) for anyone who might be intrigued by the British celebrity circuit
- Alcohol: British beer, cider, maybe whiskey if you're feeling flush
posted by iona at 9:54 AM on December 11, 2008

Twiglets. There's nothing like them.
posted by essexjan at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2008

My family used to love having Christmas crackers. It's a tradition the U.S. doesn't have, so we felt special and cosmopolitan having a Christmas cracker on our plate waiting for us, even if it was just a cheap pound store one. Plus then you get to make everyone wear a stupid paper hat.

I haven't lived over there for a couple of years, but I remember M&S having a whole floor devoted to Christmas gifts. My sister's favorite gift ever was some smelly M&S lotions in (British) dessert flavors. M&S was something we only ever heard about in English films, so that made it seem special as well. IIRC, they have bath products, candles, linens, stationary - a whole line of specifically Christmas things.

Other popular gifts I would bring back: a TescoSelect (or whatever they call the opposite of TescoValue) Christmas pudding; tea towels with local images; those long calendars with the dates running down the page instead of in a block, of course with local pictures on them; CDs from local folk bands; books of folk song sheet music or a penny whistle for the musicians in the family; and a basket of traditional food stuffs that you can get in a grocery store there but not here (marmite, pg tips, lion bar, hp sauce, etc). On preview, iona has given you some good food suggestions, and I want to second the HobNobs. Oh man, do I miss HobNobs, especially the ones with chocolate on the back. Can't find those in my local British import store, either.
posted by mosessis at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2008

posted by Artw at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2008

Actually, you know what disapeared in seconds last time I got them from England? Dark chocolate hobnobs.
posted by Artw at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2008

posted by triggerfinger at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nice one triggerfinger.
posted by Artw at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2008

Worcester china & Irn Bru

And yes, though you can find them some places over here, Hobnobs are great and always welcome. Ribena the same.
posted by rhizome at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2008

I'm beginning to think I should set up a PG tips and chocolate hobnobs cheap export business, I'd call it "Tea & Biccies"
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2008

Remember that the very cheapest UK stores - namely, Primark and Accessorize - do not exist in the US and therefore, anything bought there will be unique and not available in the US.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:27 PM on December 11, 2008

McVitie's Digestives!! Several kinds!! Available at pretty much any store that sells packaged biscuits and the likes.
posted by Xere at 5:33 PM on December 11, 2008

Pg Tips, Hobnobs, McVities, Lion Bars, Christmas Crackers, are all easily found where I live- certainly at Cost Plus (or World Market, if that's what it's now called). However, most weirdly flavored chips are not. So that's what I would vote for. That, and illegal meat.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:36 AM on December 12, 2008

Accessorize really isn't one of the 'very cheapest' UK stores. It is a lot higher-end than Primark - a beret will cost you £15. However they are cute.

London Transport Museum should sort you out. These are pretty adorable. I'd also recommend Selfridges food hall and Gerry's on Old Compton St for sweets and gifts. The V+A museum shop is brilliant too. Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road has great trinkets and tchkotches, especially at this time of year. I'd also recommend the accessory/gift floor of the Topshop in Oxford Circus if you have girls or kitch-fans in the family.

Whittards is pretty good for teas, as is The Tea House on Neal St (closestt tube is Covent Garden).
posted by mippy at 5:00 AM on December 12, 2008

Sorry, didn't see you're not in London. If you have time, though, some of the places above have online stores. If you can tell me where you are I can let you know if I have further suggestions!

Definitely sweets, though - I love sweets from the US.
posted by mippy at 5:02 AM on December 12, 2008

I assume you'll be flying out of Heathrow? Heathrow's international duty free will carry most of the items listed in this thread.
posted by iona at 8:16 AM on December 13, 2008

Smarties, Flakes, Mars and Crunchie bars. Rowntree's fruit pastilles (the ones with the crystallized sugar on).

British music and magazines are always fun, and if there are kids you MUST bring them Dandy and Diana annuals (and the like).
posted by MiffyCLB at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2008

The 2000ad Christmas Prog (basically a larger special holiday issue of the usually weekly SF comic to tide readers over until the new year) will be out sometime this week, that may work for the teens/preteens.
posted by Artw at 7:33 PM on December 13, 2008

Regarding the crackers: I got them taken away from me last year when I checked in. :(

The lady at the check in counter specifically asked if we had packed crackers and I personally would have lied but my very honest boyfriend admitted to it and she took them away. YMMV It's a shame though, I think my little cousins would have had fun with them.

They did enjoy the boxes of Heroes and Quality Street.
posted by like_neon at 5:47 AM on December 16, 2008

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