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September 27, 2010 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me get a care package of "Only in America" type stuff for some friends in Scotland.

So it's my friend and her husband's birthdays in October and I'm trying to get a care package together. When hubby and I last did this, we stuck to things that were unique to the US that weren't available to them out there (marshmallow fluff, tequila pops, VA/NC specific candy from Cracker Barrel). Since we're not traveling this year as much as last year, I can only think of the marshmallow fluff.

To give an idea what I'm dealing with, they're both very practical people who, at the same time, love adventure and experimentation. They love to go camping and hiking. She loves to write and cook, he is a gearhead who loves ham radios.

We live in the San Fernando Valley here in LA, but I'm open to traveling throughout SoCal to find the perfect gifts. I'm looking to fill a USPS Medium Priority Flat Rate box, preferably nothing contained in glass (had a bad experience with that last time). Tell me, Hive Mind, what would be appropriately awesome within this criteria?
posted by arishaun to Shopping (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We did a pretty good job with this the last time (exactly a year ago as it happens) particularly with food and the answers for Scotland and Ireland would be more or less the same. Looking over my last swipe at that, my answers are still the same - we've had no exciting developments in the importation of dinosaur shaped mac and cheese, for example.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:18 PM on September 27, 2010

The newer m&m flavors: pretzel, coconut,strawberry peanut butter....
posted by brujita at 10:25 PM on September 27, 2010

When I lived in England, I remember craving Reese's peanut butter cups, pumpkin pie, and Mexican food, all of which were apparently highly exotic and virtually nowhere to be found. (I remember stumbling across an Old El Paso taco kit and some Tabasco sauce at a gourmet/import food shop once in London and paying like four times what I would have paid in the states for it, then spent a couple more days tracking down avocados and sour cream. Best tacos I ever had, I swear to god.)
posted by scody at 10:31 PM on September 27, 2010

Beyond the previous thread: the newly-revived-in-the-US Mars Bar. Exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, alas, but still, back in production. (No, not for them to deep-fry it. Unless they want to.)

You might be able to get MREs or MRE-like packages which won't fit into that box, but can be harvested for items for camping.
posted by holgate at 10:38 PM on September 27, 2010

Not quite Scotland, but apparently Lucky Charms.
posted by phunniemee at 10:48 PM on September 27, 2010

Best answer: How about something like California-grown nuts -- pistachios, almonds, etc. I didn't realize how spoiled we were in terms of price (it's hella expensive outside of California!) until I traveled outside the state. Plus pistachios are great for outdoorsy people -- I take 'em hiking because they're a great way to get energy.

If he's big into ham radios, compare electronics parts domestically vs internationally. I have no idea what it's like, but I suspect places like Jameco (in San Francisco, meaning fast shipping to LA) and Digikey are cheap in comparison. I'm not sure how you can find out what he wants without straight-up asking him, though.

Another thing is consumer electronics -- it might be much cheaper to buy a netbook here, especially without all the VATs they pay (I just did a quick comparison -- a Samsung N150 was $100 cheaper here). This would be targeted at the person who loves writing (so they can write on the go!)
posted by spiderskull at 11:14 PM on September 27, 2010

Can't help with suggestions as I'm English, but just wanted to say that old el paso kits, tabasco, avocado and sour cream are now widely available, and I've seen reeses peanut butter cups in some supermarkets.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:28 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Holy crap, such awesome ideas! We have a Vallarta (mexican/latin american grocery store) about 5 minutes away from my house, so perhaps I'll hit that up for some ideas tomorrow. It would be kinda fun to do a SoCal/Mexican themed package, now I think of it.

I also love scody's mention of avocados as I have such a tree that produces some awesome ones. I'm looking into the ripening cycle and the logistics end of getting them into the country. Any advice there?

Thanks and keep 'em coming! :-)
posted by arishaun at 12:04 AM on September 28, 2010

Canned pumpkin pie filling, Cheetos. I used to love getting stuff from Chinatown in San Francisco, like that chewy ginger candy.

When we lived in the US, I went out to find the most loaded gadget I could as a gag gift for my NZ stepdad. I found one of those tools that looks like a pair of pliers but has a couple of dozen other, Swiss-Army style doodads, and sent that to him. He wound up using it all the time, absolutely loved it.
posted by tracicle at 1:01 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (they're in Scotland but insanely expensive). In fact, get a Halloween candy pack since they're pretty cheap right now. I would suggest an Annabelle candy bag if you can find it, since they definitely don't have Aba-Zabas in Scotland.

I highly recommend sending over a CD or MP3 of the Prairie Home Companion.
posted by parmanparman at 1:12 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Some good suggestions already, but I'd add that I've appreciated receiving the following (and my friends have enjoyed trying):

- See's Candy (particularly the peanut butter/butterscotch pops)
- candy corn
- cornbread mix
- creamed corn (particularly if sent with the El Torito sweet corn cake mix)

- chili mix packs (like Mickey Gilley's mix, or a spicy chili mix - they have normal chile con carne mixes here but they make a pretty wimpy pot of chili)

- green and red mole/enchilada sauce/green enchilada sauce
- Ibarra chocolate
- marshmallow fluff (nutterflutter sandwiches were a big hit)
- beef jerky
- payday bars

- crispy cheetos (particularly flamin' hot cheetos. Don't bother with regular cheetos, as they're sold here as wotsits)

- pretty much anything from Trader Joe's - there's nothing like it here, the food quality is usually quite good and unique

A word about Mexican food: don't bother with things like masa ingredients, as you can actually get masa harina in supermarkets here (weird, I know, but true). You didn't say where in Scotland your friends live, but Edinburgh is a mini-Mecca for Mexican food in the UK. I have expat friends who make pilgrimages to mexi food shops in E'burra. Your friends might have access to things like pickled chiles, but they won't have much access, even there, to brands like La Preferida (or to larger sizes of things that aren't sold in the shops). Corn tortillas are different here, as well, and very expensive in the Mex food shops.

Don't bother with reese's peanut butter cups and avocadoes. They're sold everywhere, and though not quite the same as in Cali, your friends can easily get them.
posted by Grrlscout at 1:43 AM on September 28, 2010

Cheez its!
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:13 AM on September 28, 2010

Oh my god yes Lucky Charms! We have Reece Cups, we have mexican food, we have pumpkin (although i have to buy it at Harvey Nicks) but there is no freaking Lucky Charms to be found! I think i'm going to bring back about seven boxes when i visit home this Christmas.

My husband also enjoys Moon Pies, although that's quite a regional NC/TN/VA thing.
posted by ukdanae at 2:21 AM on September 28, 2010

As people have said, Reece's cups have been available here for quite a while...

But when I was a boy, my dad used to head to the US on business quite a lot, and my mum would always make him bring back industrial quantities of peanut butter M&M's. I was actually talking about them with some friends here recently - they're still unavailable as far as I know, as nobody had ever heard of them.

So there's an idea for you.

In a similar vein, my brother and I were always crazy for Fruit Loops cereal. I've seen Lucky Charms in the Uk but never Fruit Loops. So there's another idea!
posted by Ted Maul at 2:35 AM on September 28, 2010

There are American supermarkets opening up across Scotland. Unless your friends live in the Highlands its conceivable they can buy much of what you can.

I'd go for locally produced homemade/artisanal/farm products.
posted by fire&wings at 3:02 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: I visit the US every 18 months at least and have still to find the perfect US to UK list of items but outdoors items are one of the main things I get.

My best buy ever was a Leatherman Micra which is still in weekly use and cost a third of the UK price. I also got a bigger Gerber but it doesn't get as much use.

I'll be buying walking sneakers & jeans on my next visit. I also tend to buy some electronics/computer stuff. I tend to go for accessories rather than major items. (Worth remembering that US & UK keyboards are different.) You can compare prices buy using google.co.uk and only listing from UK selling sites.

Are these guys from the US originally? If not, sportswear: A good fashion item over here (in the same way UK football (soccer) shirts are in parts of the US). Either vintage stuff – I see lots of Jordan 23 Bulls shirts, Bryant 8 Lakers – or current. Bonus points for infecting them with your local team or finding a link to their local team (e.g. Coventry City & Manchester City both play in the same colours as the Tarheels, a Glasgow Celtic fan might appreciate Boston Celtics gear and so forth). Me? I'll be at the NBA Store or Madison Square Garden buying Knicks stuff.

scody sounds like she last visited the UK in the 1950's! Seriously, I grew up in a little village in the middle of England and I've been eating avos since the 70's.

If you are going for foodstuffs stick to local specialties and random candy. (Although be aware that some UK people don't rate US chocolate as it's pretty low grade & a lot of the stuff we have here is lower grade than continental Europe.) Seconding the new flavour M&Ms, Moon Pies and the like.
posted by i_cola at 3:29 AM on September 28, 2010

Oh, Smores. Or the crackers to make them.
posted by i_cola at 3:35 AM on September 28, 2010

Chipotles in adobe and Chipotle tabasco are on my shopping list when I visit the US from Scotland. And a Scottish colleague has asked me to bring back Jif peanut butter.
posted by hazyjane at 3:58 AM on September 28, 2010

Two things we always have our US friends bring us: Chocolate chips and cheerios.

You can get chocolate chips of a sort here, but they're just not the same. Cheerios you can't find at all (except in stores catering to American expats, where they're very expensive.)
posted by yankeefog at 4:23 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Oops-- I should have noted that we're in London. I assume Cheerios and chocolate chips would be equally welcome in Edinburgh but that's just a guess.

And one other thing that occurred to me as I write this-- I really miss Trader Joe's! Sadly, much of my favorite Trader Joe's stuff is refrigerated or frozen, but whenever we visit the US, we always bring back TJ's trail mix, chocolate covered nuts, and (yes) peanut butter cups.
posted by yankeefog at 4:25 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Clothing: Surf gear is here but very expensive. Get Hollister or the like tshirts. There is also a "cheap" abercrombie and finch downstairs in South Costa Plaza and my sister goes nuts there . Clothes about a fifth of the price here.

Hot Sauces: Forget your tabascos which are readily available. You want things like Tapatio. If nothing else you could use the little sachet versions as packing for everything else.

Things are generally sent by weight rather than size so be aware of that

Electronics: Your friend willl be hit with a customs charge unless you lie on the customs form and if you are found out they wil be in bigger trouble.

Sweets/Candy: Get the stranger things; Whatchamacalits (sp?) Rocky Road, etc. Cinnamon is not a big flavor here but it is in the States. Sees would be good but remember Scotland is the sugar eating capital of the world so there are a lot of sweet things available ( Thorntons ) ( It amazes me how many small bakeries there are here ; Greggs are like Starbucks )

Thinking about it i would probably just raid a Trader Joes. ( Although there are Aldi and Lidls here which are owned by the same company but just dont stock the same things )
posted by stuartmm at 4:40 AM on September 28, 2010

As someone in London (we have Cybercandy but it is EXPENSIVE) I would want Butterfingers, Reeces things, Pop Tarts and some crazy pure-sugar cereal - I got Fruit Loops shipped back over here for my boyfriend's 30th as he ate it on holiday as a kid. Also, flavoured lipbalms and various types of make-up (which may not be relevant to your friends - MAC and Kiehls are a fraction of the price your side of the pond, though, and there are several things harder to get over here). Canned pumpkin. Special sodas (I like Frosties, and that's as someone who never normally drinks it). All-American things like Lifesavers or Tootsie Rolls.Lucky Charms and Twinkies (Twinkies are £1.20 each here.) You get great novelty cake pans over there that we don't get here, and thift-store finds could be pretty cool. UK folk don't tend to like Hershey's - it tastes kind of bitter. Oh, and Mexican hot chocolate!

We can buy Old El Paso in supermarkets, as we can Tabasco (at least since I was a kid).I can pick up guacamole in any supermarket, and it won't travel well. Prairie Home Companion is on the radio here, but how about some DVDs of shows we don't get like Parks and Recreation?
posted by mippy at 4:47 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: love adventure and experimentation

Only in America? Potted Meat Food Product. America's #1 Choice!
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:17 AM on September 28, 2010

Something else I love – salmon jerky. Slightly coals to Newcastle considering Scotland's fishing industry but really hard to find here and most folks won't've come accross it.

Careful of DVDs. Region encoding and in the UK we use PAL rather than NTSC. I've been watching Parks & Rec since season 1 without resorting to DVDs ;-)

(That said, my Apple laptop will read NTSC DVDs but I have to switch the DVD player region which can only be done so many times.)
posted by i_cola at 5:31 AM on September 28, 2010

thomas's English muffins and stuffing. No, crumpets were not a satisfactory substitute. Stove Top stuffing was insanely expensive. Real good Mexican was very hard to find so definitely bring in chili spices and varieties hard to locate. Surprisingly enough, there were some Vietnamese things I had a hard time finding in the UK.

The advantage of Mexican spices is that they are very light for transport. Goya does several dish spice packets such as, pozole.

If your friends are chili heads then a definite good time can be packed.

I missed certain foods, I missed having American specific measuring spoons and cups. I missed cheap book prices. If your friend is a cookbook junkie get her some books in the US because book prices are spendy with the exchange rate.
posted by jadepearl at 5:35 AM on September 28, 2010

I just found out from a friend in England that they don't have Bisquick over there. She has to make her American pancakes from scratch. Maybe you could send them some different pancake mixes.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:24 AM on September 28, 2010

just remembered; Lawry's seasoned salt and some of their other seasonings and marinades
posted by stuartmm at 6:40 AM on September 28, 2010

yankeefog: you can't find Cheerios in London? Have you tried a supermarket? This is as boggling as scody's Stone Age trip to Britain before the invention of sour cream.

Mexican food is generally rare and crap in the UK so might well be a good area to explore. But would anyone be pleased to receive some instant pancake batter in the post? A lot of the stuff being recommended sounds frankly horrendous.
posted by ninebelow at 6:59 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: So much fun junk to get, go nuts!

When I get packages like this together I look for candy bars with names that are typically American or silly or suggestive:

100 Grand
5th Avenue
Oh Henry

Also, unusually shaped candy like Fruit by the Foot and Bubble Tape

And a classic like Twinkies just to round it off.
posted by Dragonness at 8:23 AM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: Electronics, booze and expensive stuff is definitely off the table, as I know that the value limit without incurring customs for each package is about $60 or so. So foodstuff and other inexpensive things it shall have to be.

I really like the Trader Joe's suggestion. We shop there regularly, so I'll be looking through there. They are actually in the Fife/Dundee area, if that makes a difference.
posted by arishaun at 9:34 AM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Oops, ninebelow-- sorry, I should have been clear! Yes, in the UK, you can definitely buy a product called "Cheerios," but it's very different. For one thing, it's insanely sweet. Check out the nutritional info on your link-- it's got 21.6g of sugar for every 100g! By contrast, in the US, you can buy Cheerios with only 1g of sugar per 100g. The UK product is so different that I don't even think of it as the same thing. It's kind of like telling a Briton that if he misses fish and chips while living in the US, he should go to McDonalds and order french fries and a fish sandwich.

And Bisquick isn't "batter"-- it's a powdered baking mix. I rarely cooked with it myself, but people who are used to cooking with Bisquick (and who have a number of recipes that depend on it) would indeed be pleased to get it.

Which reminds me of one other thing you could send, arishaun -- baking powder. After living here for eight years, I finally learned that UK baking powder is single-acting (meaning it begins to rise when you add liquid), whereas US baking powder is double-acting (meaning it rises once when you add liquid, then again when you put it in the oven.) 8 years of failure with my American muffin recipe, finally explained! I had my sister-in-law bring over a $1 container of American baking powder on her recent trip over, and it's made a major difference in my muffin cooking.

(Note that this is just baking powder -- baking soda seems to be the same on both sides of the Atlantic.)
posted by yankeefog at 3:15 AM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Good call, yankee! I'll grab some of that stuff when I stock my own larder for baking supplies. Thanks for all the suggestions everyone!
posted by arishaun at 10:01 AM on October 1, 2010

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