Ill have what the yanks are having.....
August 4, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

If you lived in Britain and were coming back from California with an empty suitcase what would you bring back. Are there things that are a) cool b) curious c) ultra useful d) much cheaper e) unique that you would bring.

To give you an example: I would put Zipper bags which you find in US grocery stores as not in the UK in this list. I would also put the new Google Chromecast in the list...

All categories of items like electronics, drug store, groceries considered

They have to be cheap and they should fit in a suitcase (So no Tesla cars! :)

posted by london302 to Shopping (50 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
many items of clothing that you can find in the UK (Adidas Rod Lavers, for example) are much cheaper here.

real peanut butter

hot sauces like chipotle or Tương Ớt Sriracha or virtually anything relevant to Mexican or Vietnamese cuisine (masa harina, fish sauce, etc)

All of the above are just things that I've had to bring over to my brother in Berlin when I visit!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 11:52 AM on August 4, 2013

1. Crest 3D White Intensive Professional Effects Whitestrips

2. Ivory Soap

3. Dried chipotle and ancho chilies

4. These. So handy to attach to a bag.
posted by essexjan at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have friends in Europe that will pay us to ship over American snacks like Oreos and various cookies and treats because they taste better than the EU versions (or so they tell us, anyway!).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2013

Clothes. Shoes. A new winter jacket.
Seconding Chipotles (both our separately-bought batches of anchos turned out to be the breeding ground for tiny imported beetles, that came out with the heat in July. So keep em smoked)
Burt's Bees stuff.
Model trains after North American prototypes.
posted by Namlit at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2013

Proper chocolate chips! I could never find them in the uk.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Red Solo cups (British teenagers/young people will absolutely lose their shit over these).
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 12:07 PM on August 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Also, back before the War On Liquids, I used to bring nice California wine in my carry-on. You could probably still get some in the duty-free, or wrap a bottle "mummy-style" in your checked baggage.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:10 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh and root beer, obviously, if anyone drinks that stuff.
posted by Namlit at 12:17 PM on August 4, 2013

When I lived abroad, I'd make a mad run at Trader Joe's before I left.
posted by so much modern time at 12:17 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would say beer, specifically the California IPA style - Russian River's Pliny the Elder is the most renowned - but also (and easier to find) Bear Republic Racer 5 or Stone IPA.
posted by bradbane at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Levi's, shoes like Nike and Clark's (from an outlet mall, if possible), made-in-Mexico hot sauce (easily found at Mexican grocery stores).
posted by ambient2 at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2013

Honey Maid Cinnamon Graham Crackers...there is absolutely no equivalent here and it's impossible to describe the deliciousness (or difference) to people.

Seconding anything from Trader Joes. Whole Foods has some luxury chocolate bars that you can't find anywhere here. I'm specifically thinking of things like Vosges Bacon Bars and their other flavors. Ghiradelli and Scharfennberger are both California made and will dispel any running commentary about how all American chocolate is crap (although most admittedly is). I know some people that are big fans of Sees Chocolates as well and they make wonderful gifts.

Some American candy is easy to come by here, others not so much. Rarer or impossible to find candy here: Butterfinger (rare, but exists), Babe Ruth, 100 Grand, Twizzlers, Junior Mints, Milk Duds, Tootsie Rolls, Whatchamacallit, Ike and Mike, Red hots, Bubblicious. Shame you can't bring over It's Its because that would BLOW PEOPLES MINDS.

Californian wine. The only brands you see on shelves here are Blossom Hill, Barefoot Cellars, Gallo and Franzia. And it's all outrageously expensive. It's a shame what the impression is of Californian wine is here due to this. Kentucky Bourbon is expensive and rare here as well.

California cheese...what I would give for some Humboldt Fog or anything from Cow Girl Creamery.

Ranch dressing. Or ranch and other-flavored powdered dip packets. Especially for making chili or guacamole.

You need a prescription for Melatonin in Britain, not so in the US. Bring some back! Also, American sunscreen and sunblock is much better (more effective) there than here.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

btw, you can get sriracha, fish sauce and harina in most places in England. But Mexican chilis and those rarer ingredients for making Mexican or Vietnamese dishes are a bit harder to come by. Boullion cubes for making pho is something I've never been able to find here, for example.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:54 PM on August 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh, beef jerky! However, I believe there are some strict laws about beef jerky brought over. BUT, if you look into it and it's ok to bring (in small quantities or whatever) you will make carnivorous people very, very happy.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2013

It depends on your giftee's tastes, doesn't it? My best ones are all food-related, but not for mainstream processed food items - I think we can get those here mostly.

What went down well of the things I brought back was stuff from the Latin aisle of the supermarket: sour orange, guava paste, solid chocolate for drinking, El Yucatero salsa picante. Cilantro stock cubes. Some kind of fabulous Bayou seasoning mix, can't remember the exact name. Very very regional.

Sparkly/logo clothing turned out to be just as available from Asda! Except for University T-shirts, which you tend to find in airports; and very cheap kids' clothes from the dollar store. Something about the cheap dollar store things seemed somehow more colloquially 'American', though I suppose they're more likely to have been made elsewhere.

Just saying, Vietnamese coffee and paraphernalia is easy to buy in the UK now, so maybe other Vietnamese food-related items.
posted by glasseyes at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2013

Can you bring avocados? I mean, MAY you bring avocados? Because I'd bring some avocados.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:03 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a British chef friend who lived in California for a year, and what he misses most are Mexican ingredients in general and the cheap and easily available dried chiles in particular. He brings back huge bags when he visits.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2013

Why would you? Of course we have avocados.
posted by glasseyes at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've assumed you're bringing stuff back for gifts. Bring a box of mac and cheese - that's a real 'divided by a common language' item.
posted by glasseyes at 1:08 PM on August 4, 2013

PB, Cheeze Doodles (crunchy) and shoes, as they are way cheaper in the US than elsewhere.
posted by chiefthe at 1:08 PM on August 4, 2013

Okay, this is totally my wish list here, speaking as someone who occasionally gets to go to California from the UK with a mostly empty suitcase.

Anything cinnamon flavoured. Gum. Altoids. Mouthwash. Toothpicks. Dental floss. Candies.

Molé sauce. The kind that comes in the jar.

Giant cans of ground coffee.

Huge bottles of Excedrin.

T-shirts, denim shorts and other things from the men's section at Target (because they fit my fat ass).

Root beer anything.

Hamburger Helper. Or Zatarains. Or any other random prepackaged mixed food prep. (Did you know they do Southern Gravy in powder form? YES.)

Then I would take like 40 bucks, head to the 99-cent store, and go nuts in the candy and snack section. With 10 bucks for random toiletries, books, or other weird things.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:08 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Go to Trader Joe's and buy all their cookies. Pick up some jars of their 21 Seasoning Salute. If you like coffee or know someone who does, they may or may not still make coffee with chicory (New Orleans style).
posted by Lyn Never at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2013

Why would you? Of course we have avocados.

We have avocados in New York, too. But I still brought some back from California and was sad when they were gone, they were that much better (and cheaper).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:13 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Londoner here. We can get Burts Bees stuff easily. We have lots of places that stock a wide selection of Californian wine although nobody's going to turn down a nice drop. We can get sriracha with ease. We have lots of Asian supermarkets and Vietnamese food is hot in foodservice but nobody really makes it themselves.. yet. We have a fair few branches of Whole Foods, albeit that the shops are typically much, much smaller than US ones and what they stock is very European oriented. In short: if you're going outside London, prepare to wow people with these amazing exotic things. In London some of these things are less exotic.

UK tastes are very different for confectionery. In particular US mainstream chocolate is very much an acquired taste. As in cinnamon flavoured candy and gum. But I consistently get love for Reese's, even if you can find it around London.

Now... proper Mexican groceries are not really common and I say that as someone who lives in one of most Latino parts of the country. Anywhere. Most supermarkets have some Mexican stuff but it ain't authentic. Ditto any southern cuisines. The quirky stuff that US kids grow/grew up on like Twinkies and Kool Aid and Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch and Cinammon Grahams can just about be found at a price in London but are not common. Oreos are a little more common. Although the UK has a lot of convenience food like ready meals, a lot of US convenience food is a different beast and when encountered is viewed curiously.

We don't have Target. In fact almost all US clothing is half the price in the US.

Don't bring electricals. They won't be under warranty here and faffing with the voltage differences is often a pain unless it's computing gear where you swap out the adaptor. But peripherals - headphones etc are 1.5x as expensive here.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:40 PM on August 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

YMMV I guess. My Dad has avocados growing in his garden, I'd never dream of taking them through customs to UK. It shouldn't cause any trouble though, I just checked and it looks as if it's ok to bring fruit in, although the leaflet doesn't mention USA by name.
posted by glasseyes at 1:44 PM on August 4, 2013

Anything from Trader Joe's.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:44 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stuff I bring back to Belgium/have people bring back for me: double stuff Oreos (I swear the filling tastes different, and we don't get double stuff), Levi's, converse shoes (outlet malls are the way to go here), peanut butter (PB & co's cinnamon raisin), Aunt Jemima's maple syrup (because I crave that fake maple flavoring like nobody's business), random cookbooks/books/magazines (probably less interesting for England, without the language barrier), Advil, and the occasional random (cooking) stuff I can't find here (chili powder, cream of tartar). My dad brought an avocado from our back yard when we came to visit last December, and it was delicious, way better than what we can by here, so yes, avocado, preferably from someone's yard. My cousin also has a small palm tree, grown from a coconut in our backyard, that we brought him once, so that's always a fun gift.
posted by Karmeliet at 1:50 PM on August 4, 2013

Cracked wheat sourdough.
posted by brujita at 2:16 PM on August 4, 2013

Definitely dried chiles of all kinds that you can't easily get in the UK. What part of California are you visiting? Do you have access to a Hispanic supermercado, or any supermarket in a heavily Hispanic area? Those are the best places to look for chiles and other Latin American ingredients that you can't get elsewhere.

A waffle iron (a good one) and waffle mix (if you'd rather lug that home than mix your own) for sweet American waffles.

Mexican chocolate if you like it.

Oh yes, definitely good California cheese, wine, and beer.
posted by WasabiFlux at 2:37 PM on August 4, 2013

Do NOT purchase a waffle iron. I repeat, do not purchase a waffle iron. Or any electronic (especially kitchen) devices.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

sees candy
posted by parmanparman at 2:57 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shoes mostly, so much cheaper in the US! And winter jackets. And for outdoorsy people bring them smartwool socks. It keeps people from stealing yours for starters. If you have friends who ski or backpack or do any sport most of that stuff is half the price or less in the US.

Food/ gift stuff:
Abuelita (mexican hot chocolate)
Chipolte peppers.
Ancho chili peppers (dried poblano peppers)
Aole sauce
Blackened seasoning for fish (I know you can get this everywhere but it's cheap and so good in the US)
Stock from Vietnamese stores as noted above is delicious and if you can get it I'd bring that.

Other things that have been big hits:
Cool/ funny logo or slogan t-shirts from a local source NOT a chain. Like your local brewery or ski shop or surf shop or what have you. These are always better in the US than in the UK because in the US they tend to be organic and local and in UK they are manufactured in a lab by Topshop to look organic and are fake and therefore a bit lame.
Electronic stuff that is way cheaper in the US like digital picture frames or whatever the cool kids/ maiden aunts are using now.
posted by fshgrl at 3:02 PM on August 4, 2013

Could I have some Cinnamon gum, mints and pop tarts, a Kindle and some Tylenol PM please?

Electronics that charge over USB are fine, I got a 32gb iPad with a case and AppleCare in Boston for the price of a 16gb in England.

I have a Costco card, so get ziplock bags there, if I didn't I'd have bought 100s home, it's frightening how muh better they are than supermarket ones.
posted by chrispy108 at 3:12 PM on August 4, 2013

Oreos. Double Stuf. My husband, who is from England, did not understand the fuss about them until he tried US Oreos. There is one thing the US does incredibly well, and that thing is making junk food. Seconding Whatchamacallits, although - my husband didn't care much for them. Target also sells the softest shirts known to man, which we buy like crazy when we get down there. They opened a Target here (Canada), but it's just not the same stuff.
posted by routergirl at 4:06 PM on August 4, 2013

They do make non-electric, cast iron waffle irons, if you can find one - maybe in a sporting goods/outdoor store or the same section of a department store.
posted by WasabiFlux at 4:50 PM on August 4, 2013

Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna. The only thing I ever made that impressed the neighbors was Tuna Salad American Style. I didn't get it until they showed me the contents of a can of "tunny" that I wouldn't have let the cat touch.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:58 PM on August 4, 2013

Moonpies (like you find in the south). Nothing else like them and I don't know if they're available in California.

And seconding, Ranch Dressing mix.
posted by mightshould at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2013

real peanut butter

This always comes up in these threads and -- the UK has peanut butter. I grew up on the stuff. Skippy or Jif will be a novelty only in that it's significantly sweeter than UK brands.

This recent AskMe might be useful: not quite the same question, but expat cravings are often going to hit the same iches.

When I visited the Bay Area I'd bring sourdough bread back to the UK.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:10 PM on August 4, 2013

Most of the suggestions are for processed food, which seems about right. The foods I couldn't get in the UK that I missed the most were the most processed, junkiest stuff from the US--which is to say: not much.

Clothes are much, much cheaper in the US, especially bridge fashion lines. Another thing that can be useful for an expat living abroad is a good set of US measuring cups and spoons. They're harder to find in the UK.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:18 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a Scottish person, leaving Utah and going back to Edinburgh this very Wednesday I have been faced with the same dilemma.

Things I am taking in my empty duffel

1. Dried Chillies, Mexican Oregano, assorted products from a Mexican grocer, guava paste etc..
2. 5 x 200ml plastic bottles of Everclear (might not be available in CA) - shhh don't tell customs
3. Tons of thrift shop clothes. If you can spend the time searching through all the rubbish the quality of stuff you can find is exceptional. Even in major metropolitan areas with lots of hipster thrifters. Generally in the UK the good stuff is taken out before it hits the shop floor to be sold at vintage wholesalers. Cashmere sweaters $5, silk shirts $3 not to mention the trove of 80's and 90's things. Also if you want to go down the ironic American t shirt route you are in luck. 'cough' guns, eagles, wolfs, 'cough'
4. Bonito shavings of good quality - no good japanese market in Scotland but in London you have tons.
5. Cheap merino socks from a big box store, ditto for some underpants and swimming trunks.
6. Small pocketknife - If you want camping gear buy it in America, much cheaper and better selection.

For some people who may not know, we have many brands of peanut butter, also a Costco in nearly every city over 200k people for things like jumbo coffee containers, ranch dressing, Ziploc brand food bags etc.. American/Canadian memberships work here (worldwide in fact) and the products are imported from the USA for the most part. In my experience though the food products made in Britain and sold at Costco are generally much higher quality than their USA counterparts but that might be my palate... You can get fantastic premium Californian wine but it is very dear just as it is in California at schmancy wine stores. Tescos now stocks an American section in most stores with cereal and candy. Yay globalisation.

As Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo said people do go apeshit over those red cups though and you can't get them here. Sadly my beer pong days are long gone so won't be bringing any back.

If you are going to take liquids try and find plastic bottles or decant. This will cut down on weight. Bourbon can be a good idea although most 'rare' Kentucky Bourbons actually made by Brown Forman/Fortune (Old Forester, Booker's, Baker's, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's) etc.. are all available here. I would actually bring back Sake as the range in the UK is very poor and expensive due to taxation/not having such a large Japanese population. If you do take lots of booze then wrap up your bottles in your thrift shop clothes.
posted by camerasforeyes at 10:19 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can get California wine in the UK but the selection is horrible.
I'd just fill every square cm of my bag with a great California wine like Robert Sinskey and forget everything else.
posted by vacapinta at 12:46 AM on August 5, 2013

I always make people bring me:
- Big ass bottles of Motrin/generic brand ibuprofen
- Playtex tampons
- Bath & Bodyworks soap
- French's Fried Onions for my Thanksgiving needs
- E.L.F. cosmetic brushes from Target

I am defo putting red cups on my next list. It ain't a party without red cups and I think my next shindig Must have them.

For fun/interesting/freak out factor, I would bring Baconnaise. I don't like them but my Brit co-workers like Reeses minis.

If I wasn't scared of customs I would bring avocados and mangoes. Yes they have both in the UK but they are Hard and Flavourless. My British husband swore he didn't like mangoes because "they don't taste like anything." !!!!!
posted by like_neon at 1:44 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trader Joes buttermilk pancake mix, peanut butter M&Ms and cheap t-shirts were my go-tos coming back. I second the thrift stores being amazing in California - I picked up a battered but beautiful Coach wallet for $15 in SF.

Next time I'd grab all the Mexican groceries I could, because the only ingredients I can find in the UK are chewy/sweet/processed gunge. There are only about 6,000 Mexicans living the UK so there's not much good Mexican food going round. (On the other hand, we have the most amazing Indian food outside of India ... maybe it balances out!)
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 1:56 AM on August 5, 2013

Great question! Cinnamon gum is a good suggestion - I'd add wintergreen too. Red solo cups are a great suggestion too but I did see them for sale somewhere here (Ireland) recently (Tesco maybe?) on a big "as seen on TV" display. I would not bother bring back Levis, peanut butter, Burts Bees, cereals and the other items that earlier commenters state are available.

I would love drugstore products such as: Noxzema, Cetaphil and Queen Helene Mint Julep mask. Melatonin also a great suggestion. You can get the equivalent of Tylenol PM and those giant bottles of Ibuprofen in Boots now. I had an American friend that used to bring back those Tide mini stain pens. Many products that I used to like to bring back (Aveeno, Neutrogena) are all widely available now.

I usually enjoy going to a Borders and buying a bunch of US magazines and going to Sephora and buying their own brand products. That said both of these are things that are more about the in-store process of browsing/buying at non-inflated prices than an availability issue because you could probably easily get the stuff itself if you looked around or online if you wanted.
posted by bimbam at 4:45 AM on August 5, 2013

Take a clip of yourself as a spaghetti western tough guy. Learn to light a strike anywhere match with your thumb nail.
posted by tinker at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2013

The people mentioning Mexican dried goods should know that with MexGrocer and Cool Chile and Casa Mexico there really isn't any need to do that. The stuff you still can't get: fresh masa, elotes de tamal, fresh tortillas, queso fresco, etc...are things you also can't bring over in a suitcase.
posted by vacapinta at 9:26 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tapatío Hot Sauce

They import it into Hamburg, Germany now, but I doubt it gets widely distributed.
posted by wcfields at 12:15 PM on August 5, 2013

Before you bring any food products into the UK, make sure you read the regulations from Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs on what you are, and aren't allowed to bring in.
posted by essexjan at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2013

My wishlist, as a British person who doesn't get to visit the US very often:

There's an awesome cinnamon roll recipe that calls for maple flavoring (maple extract?) for the icing... I assume that's a standard product in US supermarkets, but all I've found on the shelves in the UK is actual maple syrup. So, that, plus any fun-looking baking ingredients you don't find in the UK. Mint chocolate chips, for instance, or pumpkin pie filling.

If you'll be in a position to buy stuff online: anything from ThinkGeek, or from various webcomics' online stores. Trans-Atlantic shipping and customs charges are prohibitive.

If you'll be in San Francisco: 0.5mm Japanese ballpoint pens, and in fact Japanese stationery in general.

A Kitchamajig!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:07 PM on August 5, 2013

I haven't been to California for 14 years. However, if I were going to the States generally, I'd bring back some Demeter fragrances, as they're near impossible to get here. I'd also head to Target for unusual homeware, but that's tricky if you can't judge tastes.(I'd be all over the thrift stores too.) J.Crew seems to be in demand over here - like a lot of US brands, it's cheaper in its country of origin. I'd also want to go on a mini-spree in Bath and Body Works - I rationed my Vanilla Bean body wash for way longer than was probably healthy when I went as a 17yr old - and Sephora, as we don't have either here. OPI/Essie is a LOT cheaper over there - it's about $16 for a bottle of OPI polish here. Clarisonics and most US beauty doohickies are remarkably cheaper. If you're bringing back stuff for a make-up wearer, it might be worth going to the Container Store and getting an Every Drop beauty spatula as well - I lost mine and couldn't get one here for the life of me.

Designer fabric (Michael Miller, Makower etc.) is about half the price - I used to find it cheaper to order online from the US and have it mailed to me rather than buying it from a store here - and you can't easily get Red Heart yarn here (which is annoying as I read Crochet Today and they often have patterns that require a specific varigated yarn). There's a bunch of US mail order stuff I'd want to get to save on the shipping, such as Made With Love By Hannah skirts - which I have wanted one of for years - but that's complicating things.

Also, seconding Butterfingers. You can get a lot of US candy and cereals here (though they're a lot more expensive - £5 for a box of Pop Tarts) but I've never seen these in stores. If your giftee is outside a major city then assume they don't have regular access to Us sweets. Abuelita, peanut butter candies and root beer are unusual too. Also, Pumpkin pie filling here is sold in Fortnum and Masons for crazy prices, so definitely bring some back if you can. I asked a friend to bring me some popcorn seasoning back as well - that's not common here.

Clarks shoes are a UK brand, so I wouldn't bother with those. Also, you can get here: Burt's Bees, avocados (don't bring avocados back on a long-haul flight, your case will look like Slimer puked in it), peanut butter (unless it's a nostalgia thing where you want the sweetness - Whole Earth is readily available here), ranch dressing, ibuprofen, ELF, Queen Helene (unless your giftee doesn't live near a black beauty store).
posted by mippy at 4:39 AM on August 6, 2013

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