package ideas for a European
February 17, 2008 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Help me think of interesting American things to send to my European friend!

A close friend who is English/Finnish and I have been sending small packages to each other for a few years. She has sent me phenomenal packages filled with British comedy dvds (I don't have the technology to reciprocate.. and she's not too interested in American entertainment) and various European sweets, and I've felt that the packages I've sent to her have been far less exciting. Though she's pretty well-traveled, she has never been to America and has seemed interested in sampling quintessential American foods (namely, the sorts of things that can be mailed internationally). I've mostly sent US candies, snacks, and other sorts of sweet stuff (cookies, etc), but I'm running out of ideas (and my non-edible ideas have been even more pathetic!). I feel like I've sent her 'junkier' foods than she has sent me, as well. Also, I've never been totally clear on which American foods are widely available in Europe.

I'm wondering if there are any expats (or people who have traveled a lot) who would be able to suggest foods (or other items that might be considered interesting that would also do well in the post) that are fairly unique to the US. Is there anything you love/miss that could be easily mailed that you can't seem to find in Europe? Also, if you were putting together a similar package (US to UK), what would you be sure to include in it (both edible and non-edible items)? I'm in the Philadelphia area, if that makes any difference.
posted by Mael Oui to Grab Bag (50 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Hershey bars (You're from pennsylvania, dangit). A bottle of Jack Daniels (yeah, you can't LEGALLY send alcohol throught the USPS, but so what?). A phillies baseball cap...and the movie SUPERBAD. I have NEVER known anyone (regardless of ethnicity or origin) to NOT like that movie.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:02 PM on February 17, 2008

I sent someone a packet of wild rice in an international swap once and the person was intrigued by it because they had never had it before. (I'm talking raw wild rice, usually in a clear plastic bag, not like an Uncle Ben's "long grain and wild rice" thing!) It's ubiquitous here in MN, I am not sure about Philly. It's not a classic American food but it's unique to America nonetheless.
posted by cabingirl at 9:02 PM on February 17, 2008

Salt water taffy from the Jersey shore.
posted by amro at 9:09 PM on February 17, 2008

Good, real maple syrup and pancake or waffle mix, if you haven't already.
posted by Lycaste at 9:12 PM on February 17, 2008

Peeps for Easter (if protected from squashing). Jerky. Apple butter. Wintergreen is a very American flavouring, and wintergreen candies are rare outside the US. Those cheap yellow rice / rice-and-beans packets: though warn your friend that some contain meat products. Rice-a-Roni. Kraft Mac-and-Cheese. (Yeah, American classics that can go in the post tend towards the 'junk' end of the scale.)

Distinctive cans of coffee: Cafe du Monde, Chock Full o'Nuts, Bustelo, Pilon. Needs a bigger package, but they're the kind of semi-retro product design that people want to keep around for pen storage or similar. On similar lines, Old Bay seasoning, or restaurant sauce packets: A1, Heinz 57, KC Masterpiece etc. Barbecue spice rubs.

Not American, but distinctive: Mexican hot chocolate blocks (Moctezuma if you can get it; Ibarra or Abuelita if not). Chile spices: even the cheap grocery store chile kits are better than anything in the UK. Hot sauce.

Amish stuff? Preserves, small craft pieces, etc?
posted by holgate at 9:32 PM on February 17, 2008

If you haven't you could try bagels, but they may not stand shipping.
posted by sien at 9:39 PM on February 17, 2008

There are some great US shows that don't make it to Europe- typically if it's not a huge mega-hit or on HBO it isn't distributed. Arrested Development, Rescue Me, The Wire... that kind of thing.
posted by fshgrl at 9:50 PM on February 17, 2008

Oh, more thoughts: 'pudding' mix. Those ubiquitous peanut butter cracker things (again, if you wrap them well). nthing maple syrup, though that might be tricky. Also, pancake mix, Jiffy biscuit / muffin mix. Sawmill gravy mix. Instant grits in sachets. Kool-Aid. Graham crackers.

Non-food: Carmex, in the little round pot. Bag Balm, in the little cube. Burt's Bees stuff: the little samplers are easy gifts I've taken or sent home. Teen Spirit deodorant: put a product to the song title. And I'll stop there, but do think 'retro packaging'.
posted by holgate at 9:51 PM on February 17, 2008

One more: if she's Finn-glish, she's probably been doused in licorice her entire life: Red Vines or Good & Plenty (Hershey) are the American take.
posted by holgate at 10:02 PM on February 17, 2008

You don't say where in Europe your friend lives but I'm going to assume England because she sends you British comedy shows. Anyway, this is a list of suggestions from this thread I'm pretty sure she could easily get herself pretty much anywhere in Europe:

- Hershey bars
- Jack Daniels
- A Phillies baseball cap
- The movie Superbad
- Wild rice
- Good maple syrup (expensive, though)
- Bagels
- The TV show Arrested Development (I'm not sure about the other ones that were suggested but do make sure your friend can play region 1 DVDs before sending her any!)

holgate's answers are really good as I don't even know what a lot of that stuff is.
posted by sveskemus at 10:16 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sent this to someone in Australia once. It went over well.

Our grocery stores sell so much bizarre shit you can't get anywhere else. Be careful, though. Australian customs confiscated my Marshmallow Fluff.
posted by 1 at 10:26 PM on February 17, 2008

(Also, I don't like the movie Superbad. So now you (sort of) know someone who thinks it's a bad movie, hal.)
posted by 1 at 10:33 PM on February 17, 2008

I heard they don't have Magnum/XL condoms in most contries you could send those.
but I don't know if thats true or not.
posted by JustAGuy at 10:34 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are sunflower seeds as specifically American as they are in my head? Those would be nice.
posted by lauranesson at 10:54 PM on February 17, 2008

Are sunflower seeds as specifically American as they are in my head?

No, but chew-and-spitting them is, as are dill pickle flavoured ones, I'd imagine.
posted by holgate at 10:59 PM on February 17, 2008

I've sent some Major Dickason's blend from Peet's Coffee before to friends in Europe (per their request). I'm not sure if you have Peet's in Philly. You might have to order it online yourself and try it out.
posted by gt2 at 11:02 PM on February 17, 2008

You're in PA--scrapple mix.
posted by brujita at 11:03 PM on February 17, 2008

Okay, former third culture kid here - just for the record, while Hershey's bars and licorice may not be bad ideas for the novelty value, I have never met a European who likes American chocolate or American licorice (okay, maybe one or two..). In comparison to the European stuff it comes off as diluted and overly sugared. So, just a caveat, since you mentioned you were worried about the relative quality/non-junkiness of your mailings.

Nthing maple sugar - missed that SO much while in Europe. Apple butter or pumpkin butter if the weight is okay. Rather than just sending mixes, how about recipes for brownies, banana bread, and other American classics? That way, if she likes them, she can actually make them again. You could also hit an Asian food store, since she may not have one (or it could be much more expensive) where she's at. Pocky or japanese fruit gummies are near-universal hits.

Books are hellishly expensive in the UK, so if you know what her tastes are, maybe you could pick out a couple of titles that she might like? Or, something quintessentially American that she couldn't find easily there? If you read any comic books, those are pretty American.

Mix CDs are hard to do wrong.
posted by bettafish at 11:24 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

We used to put together "American food boxes" as birthday gifts for my mom's friend who lived on a houseboat, and we'd pretty much just go crazy buying weird things at Trader Joe's to send off. We also often got her See's candy, but that might be a "you want this because you miss California" thing.

Major Dickason's blend would be a great choice. I never knew coffee could be so good.

Also, one thing that occurred to me was Girl Scout cookies, since cookie season is...well, either coming soon or going on or recently over (not really in tune with Girl Scouting rhythms anymore). Since the cookies aren't even the same all over America, I'm sure they're not the same anywhere else. Heck, I don't even know if Girl Scouts/Guides overseas sell cookies.
posted by crinklebat at 12:01 AM on February 18, 2008

Don't send her Hershey anything. American chocolate makes Europeans LOL, it's so terrible. (Scharffen-Berger excepted)

Local-interest books would be a great gift, along with any interesting local crafty items or art--stuff she could never find there.

Letterpress cards, t-shirts with wacky and fun English written on them, and hot sauce--all things she might think are really interesting, at the very least. Also try indie comic books, clothing with local shop logos on it, and any free branded promo items you get.
posted by LGCNo6 at 12:07 AM on February 18, 2008

Does your friend like beer? A lot of Europeans don't think that Americans can brew beer; they think it's all like Budweiser. One time I sent a friend in Europe a 6-pack of Anchor Porter, and he was extremely impressed by it.
posted by Class Goat at 12:09 AM on February 18, 2008

(Oh; each individual bottle wrapped in bubble wrap. Documentation said "root beer"; got through fine.)
posted by Class Goat at 12:11 AM on February 18, 2008

Kraft Mac and Cheese, real sour dill pickles (most in UK are sweet), a box of real sourdough pretzels and fresh NY style bagels (maybe you could buy a dozen and freeze them for shipment).
posted by gfrobe at 12:21 AM on February 18, 2008

American chocolate is bad, don't send it. Europeans know about Jack Daniels, you don't need to send it. They've seen Superbad and many of them don't like it, so don't send that. And Americans truly cannot brew beer, so I wouldn't send that either. Don't send wine; American wines that are good are available in Europe and much cheaper in my experience.

A can of New England clam chowder might be appreciated -- when you start explaining what the soup is (seafood, milk, bacon...) they retch, but then when they try it they like it. I think Trader Joe's has good clam chowder. Also lobster bisque. My parents have sent me cans of it pretty regularly. If she can make pancakes or waffles or French toast on her own then definitely by all means send her good maple syrup. My parents also send me cornbread mix, but it's a little difficult to make have to find cup and half-cup measures (they're not typical) or convert them, convert the oven temperature, etc. Class Goat also gave me a good idea: I'm pretty sure I've never seen root beer here (in Germany) and I've definitely never seen cream soda, though I'm not sure how well you can send those. Salt-water taffy is also a great suggestion. A 40 of malt liquor would be a good idea as a cultural artifact, not as a serious representation of our cuisine.

More practically, electronics are really expensive over here (in Germany at least).

Also random five-and-dime shit, anything gaudy and useless, will probably amuse her.
posted by creasy boy at 12:39 AM on February 18, 2008

A cowboy hat and boots.It's all about the wild, wild west.
posted by Acacia at 1:22 AM on February 18, 2008

If PA's anything like Indiana, go to amish country and get some Amish-made apple butter (not that smucker's crap). Rather heavy, but it's what I crave from the US.
posted by Jhoosier at 2:55 AM on February 18, 2008

Speaking as a southerner here, my British friends love the cornbread mix and biscuit mix (preferably with a sausage gravy mix too) that my family sends over. None of my British friends had tried either and most loved both. We also get cases of BBQ sauce sent over from my favourite restaurant so i can make pulled-pork sandwiches.

Seconding JHoosier's apple butter recommendation -- i love the stuff and miss it like crazy here in the UK. It's great with biscuits!
posted by ukdanae at 3:33 AM on February 18, 2008

My parents also send me cornbread mix, but it's a little difficult to make have to find cup and half-cup measures (they're not typical) or convert them, convert the oven temperature, etc.

That makes me think... if your friend likes to cook maybe send them some Imperial measuring cups and spoons? That way they can use any cooking site online that they find.
posted by Kellydamnit at 5:14 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Root beer is quintessentially American, but the problem is that you run the risk of your European friends (and I've seen this happen myself) complain that it tastes like toothpaste, probably due to the quintessentially American wintergreen notes therein.

A-Treat, if you're near Philadelphia, is a quintessentially southeast-Pennsylvanian sort of thing, too.

Seconding cornbread. I'll also say that when I was coming home from living in Japan, I told my brother to be at the airport with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for the love of god. Basically the only candy I missed.

Tito's hand-made vodka is from Texas and, if winning a double-gold medal in some vodka tasting contest or another ("gold" means an overall victory; "double gold" means the judges were unanimous) is any indication, it's the best vodka out there, bar none. Helps that it's under $20 for a fifth over at your local state store.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:05 AM on February 18, 2008

if your friend likes to cook maybe send them some Imperial measuring cups and spoons? That way they can use any cooking site online that they find.

This is an awesome idea.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:05 AM on February 18, 2008

Anything from Oprah's Favorite Things.
posted by drea at 6:20 AM on February 18, 2008

Well, as long as it fits your box & budget. Links:


The products might not be quintessentially American, but Oprah is (media-wise).
posted by drea at 6:24 AM on February 18, 2008

I don't know about the UK but when I was in Germany the pop/soda choices were always Cola, Light or Fanta. Mountain Dew, Sprite, anything but those three were unheard of.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2008

Oh, and since I read in another AskMeFi that the Onion's pretty hard to find in Europe, copies of those, or Mad Magazine or whatever might work.
posted by drea at 6:32 AM on February 18, 2008

Things I missed in the UK:

* Reese's peanut butter cups -- you could do a theme package with all the varieties and variations;

* mac n' cheese was $8 a box so you could send her that;

* English muffins -- Thomas' with English bacon and a pastured egg were lovely;

* maple syrup -- I brought my own so get her the real good stuff

* corn meal that is used in biscuits

* good Mexican food - Lord, it was bad in the UK;

I would suggest a box made up for the following theme -- "Cooking American"

* include American measuring cups and spoons;

* High quality American ingredients depending on the food theme. If the theme is American Chocolate chip cookies then by all means provide the chocolate chips which, are actually hard to acquire in the UK;

* Take a look at a book like America's Lost Recipes and pluck a few interesting ones as the theme or send her the whole book;

* Put together a collection of an item such as BBQ sauces. Go with a theme and then extreme it with variety and local lore;

You can have a lot of fun with these packages especially if you go with food.

On the non-food front --

Use a coherent theme. It can be as granular as "my block" to "my state" and encompass the things found there from the grand to the cheesy. She wants to know the variegated experience of being in the US so give her a taste of that in items. It is about identity so get her things that are comfortable in their identity such as, Amish goods. Throw in a book about the Amish in the box of goods showing their roots in Europe, their history in the US and exceptionalist role in US law not to mention their damn tasty food, arts and crafts.

So have a theme, provide a context and give various goods tied back to the theme.
posted by jadepearl at 7:11 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Duncan Hines Brownie Mix, Hellman's Mayo, Durkee's, Sudafed, Heinz Ketchup, Dr. Pepper, IBC Root Beer, American Cheese, Kraft Mac & Cheese, BBQ Sauce and slaw. Seconding salsa.

One of my Italian friends goes crazy for brownie mix. The entire family goes to their house in Ostia for the making of the brownies. She burned one of the batches and it damn near destroyed the family with all the fighting it caused.
posted by charlesv at 7:46 AM on February 18, 2008

The US stuff my family in Sweden likes and can't get:

- Cornbread flour and mixes, all kinds
- Pudding and Jello mixes
- Frosting and Icing with weird coloring
[I sent my cousin some Icing Coloring once. She didn't know what to do with it, so she used it to color ice cubes since it said "icing" on it...]
- Any strange cake or pre-packaged food mixes, things like brownies, turkey stuffing, and mac and cheese
- Neat craft kits, like a sock monkey kit or similar. (I bought a tiedye egg coloring kit for Easter once, which was a huge hit and has become a staple gift for spring trips.)
- Scrapbooking supplies, which is uniquely American I think. Perhaps you could make her a scrapbook of your daily life - that would be a nice thing to get from a friend.
- Mexican Day of the Dead items, which is something they didn't know anything about
- Over-the-top Christmas ornaments and other super gaudy holiday knickknacks (for Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, etc.)
posted by gemmy at 8:56 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I think of things Americans really do well, two things come to mind (my mind at least): junk food and indie music.

Don't settle for just Snickers or Peanut Butter Cups (which they've definitely seen). Go to some total white bread place (like Wal-Mart) and take a stroll through the candy aisle, especially at Halloween. Did you know they put M&Ms in peanut butter cups now? Also, I was surprised by how many variations of hard candy that you lick and then dip in sugar there are. Are Jolly Ranchers available overseas? Chocolate. Dipped. Oreos. Peanut butter flavored Oreos.

Also, I would make a mix CD of local indie bands or get them something unique, not available from Itunes, maybe one of KEXP's compilations?

Those are my two additions. I think local foods are good too. I have never had the apple butter but in Seattle, I would choose something like Rainier cherrys, smoked salmon, or ship one of those 10 pound King crab legs on ice.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:11 AM on February 18, 2008

This is what I bring back from the US when I go home to visit:

- grits
- cornbread mix
- peanut butter/cinnamon/grape flavoured sweets...these don't really exist in the UK
- flavoured coffee and coffee creamers
- Lucky Charms or other really sugary marshmallow cereals
- PopTarts (only two or three varieties available here)
- macaroni and cheese
- good sourdough pretzles
-cajun and mexican seasonings and mixes
- deodorant (the stuff here is horrible)
- Crest whitestrips

things i *wish* i could bring back: dill pickles. pumpernickle bread. monterey jack cheese. oh, i could go on and on and on...

pancake mix, syrup, gelatin, cake mixes, root beer, cream soda and bagels are all readily available here, even if they're not exactly like the ones back home (or really expensive).

the trader joe's recommendation is a good one - that's the first shop i hit up when i get stateside.
posted by wayward vagabond at 9:35 AM on February 18, 2008

I sent a CD of This American Life to my English pal and he loved it. He also loves the refrigerated biscuits (like Pillsbury Grands) but we've not figured how to send them to him yet.
posted by bayliss at 9:38 AM on February 18, 2008

Can you send American bacon? No comparison, it's so much better than the hammy British stuff. Or, ooh, jerky! Fancy jerky.
posted by sweetkid at 10:49 AM on February 18, 2008

Try pop tarts and beef jerky, which very expensive outside the US. If you want to get fancy, get her some alligator, venison and ostrich jerky as well.
posted by ye#ara at 11:12 AM on February 18, 2008

I'm in England and I can get Jack Daniel's, Reese's PB cups, Oreos, english muffins (crumpets) and peanut butter here without much effort (i.e. they're sold in normal shops), though they are good ideas if they're something you think your friend would like.

Lots of good suggestins here and I will agree with/add the following:

- good BBQ sauce, very hard to find here

- If you're interested in teaching your friend about buffalo chicken, Frank's hot sauce is a good idea - better send bleu cheese dressing as well then as you can't get it here

- Cornbread mix is a good idea as well, I get mine here at Selfridges and it's EXPENSIVE.

- good bagels - there are bagels here, but they are basically just bagel-shaped bread, not proper bagels. Also they don't have flavored bagels, like salt, garlic, blueberry etc.

- Root beer, Dr Pepper and especially Mountain Dew!

- I don't drink so I may be missing it but I never seem to see premium vodkas here - like Grey Goose, Belvedere, Stoli etc.

- Baseball caps are a good idea. My husband loves his Twins cap and it's hard to find good quality caps here.

- Twinkies and pudding packs. Something that a lot of people only see in movies.

Here are things my English friends like me to bring back for them:

- Jolly Ranchers make me the most popular person at work

- Fruit Loops

- Almost anything Abercrombie and Fitch

- Butterfinger bars (which are kind of sickly but a novelty here)

- Crest Whitestrips

Other things that might be interesting to your friend is Native American stuff - I once gave an English friend a dream-catcher - and anything cowboy/rodeo/dude ranch themed. Lots of English people like to visit the states to experience this kind of thing. Also, I sometimes encounter a fascination with cheerleaders, which is a fairly American thing.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:13 AM on February 18, 2008

An Irish friend of mine who lived in California for a year is always desperate for good quality dried chiles. Now, he's a chef and a hot food nut, so that might explain his passion for them. That said, he got spoiled by the sheer variety of chiles (ancho, new mexican, pasilla, chipotle, mulatto, cascabel, guarillo, habanero, etc.) he could get here that were either very hard to find or very expensive in the UK.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:39 AM on February 18, 2008

My British friends have requested, at various times: Lucky Charms, Mountain Dew, Tide bleach pens (for decorating t-shirts and stuff), Hershey's Oreo bars, gum (I think it was Doublemint), Abercrombie & Fitch clothing (they browsed on the website and I got it from the store), any bite-size candies for sharing, a cowboy hat (as I'm in Texas). Nthing everyone who's said that they hate US chocolates.

As gifts, I bring coffees like Texas Pecan or seasonal stuff like Pumpkin Spice. Local-themed items will always be good, because the sheer geographical scale of the US is a novelty to people who have lived their whole lives with other countries in close proximity. Also holidays that are unique to the US are always popular.

I think kitschy stuff would go over well too, so salsas and hot sauces, maybe? There are a lot of funny names and labels. Snowglobes or keychains from Disneyland or Graceland? Since I'm in Dallas I'd consider stuff related to the JFK assassination/grassy knoll.

Other thoughts:
Items related to Mardi Gras and/or New Orleans.

Things from Mexico or Canada, if you can get 'em, although dual-language labels aren't really unusual in Europe. (I love Day of the Dead stuff, though.)

If you're inclined to poke fun at yourself, you can try to locate some hysterical/culturally ignorant/uber patriotic/just plain bizarre literature or items. For example, I'm pretty sure I've seen at least one ad for a figurine of the Pope on a motorcycle...probably a Harley. Crazy local laws or newspaper clippings about someone's collection of toilet lid art (seriously) are sure winners.
posted by lhall at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like the grits idea, but only if you know or suspect your friend likes grits. I sent some to a friend in Scotland and it went over well, but he was already a fan.
posted by johnofjack at 7:50 PM on February 18, 2008

I've heard that jars of peanut butter are (or maybe were) considered strange in the UK and difficult to find. If your friend is adventurous with food, maybe throw in some packs of various dried chiles from your local Latin American food market. Also there is a brand of Mexican hot sauce (Valentina) that is my favoritest thing ever and is extremely cheap (~$1/bottle).

Grits and corn meal are also good suggestions, but I find that people who aren't familiar with the cuisine don't know how to make good versions of corn bread and grits because they don't know what they're aiming for. Instant grits might be ok.
posted by Tehanu at 8:52 PM on February 18, 2008

Wintergreen is a very American flavouring, and wintergreen candies are rare outside the US

If you send WintOGreen life savers, be sure to tell her to try biting some in a dark room with a mirror for cool sparking effect. See Why do Wint-O-Green Life Savers spark in the dark?
posted by marsha56 at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2008

I've always wanted to try marshmallows.... can't be bought over here :(
posted by leigh1 at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the AMAZING ideas! I have sent some of the more basic things like Hershey bars, which of course can't compare to European chocolate, but she was interested in sampling them for the sheer novelty. That was alright for a package or two, but I didn't want to send more of the same inferior chocolate. Many of your ideas never even crossed my mind, so my next package will be a lot more varied! I had thought of pumpkin butter especially because she had never tasted anything pumpkin, but apparently there are rules about sending anything that contains 'plant matter'.. I guess preserves fall under that category. I guess that's only an issue if the packages are opened! As far as DVDs, I don't have a DVD burner, but I did send video tapes of Arrested Development (when it was still on tv), and.. I don't know that she liked it, actually! Also, jadepearl, I LOVE the idea of themed packages! That'll require a lot more thought, but it will be so much more special, I think! Oh, and thanks especially to the people who told me which American goods are and are not available abroad!
posted by Mael Oui at 11:24 PM on February 19, 2008

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