I’ve updated this post with new ideas and links. Go read it here.
In an era when every shopping mall and high street plays host to the same set of shops, one of the exciting things about living in a different country from your family is that you can actually give them gifts that surprise, astonish and delight – things that they would never buy themselves because they couldn’t.
This year I’ll be spending Christmas in my hometown, which means lugging over two changes of socks, three changes of underwear and 22.95kg of gifts in my suitcase – all of them carefully chosen to delight my American giftees. It’s just as well that I’m exporting these presents from the UK – because these are things that I could never put under the tree here in England.
1. Revels – My brother loves these. I pack-mule in bags when I visit. And as everyone knows, British chocolate is very different from the American kind. Don’t ask me how. Ok, I’ll tell you – it’s better. I could transport some Green&Black’s or other high-end choccies. But he loves the variety of Revels. He totally gets the Deer Hunter commercial. In America, a gift of Revels say, “Have a Merry Christmas with this treat you only get once a year.” In the UK, it says, “I did my holiday shopping at the petrol station.”
2. Keep Calm and Carry On –The simple design and duo-chrome palette is stylish even if it was never officially used during wartime. This slogan has become so ubiquitous here – posters, tea towels, mugs, cringe-making versions that say Keep Calm and Carry On Shopping – it makes you want to bomb Dresden. But in the US, Keep Calm reacquires its stiff-upper-lip charm. I’ll eventually buy one for myself…when I move back to America. Until then, I’ll be going historical and giving the poster.
3. Cookware by Nigella Lawson – The hues in Nigella’s classic range are all so gorge – but I have a mother-in-law who’s a professional cook and a husband who can whip up dinner using only two sticks and a couple of rusty nails. So Nigella’s designer cookware cuts no ice in the kitchens I visit, which are stocked with professional quality mixers and industrial-size rolls of tinfoil. Americans have heard of Nigella and still clamour for her finger-lickin’ goodness. Plus admirers of Georgia O’Keefe’s work will adore her “little man in a boat” citrus squeezer.
4. Cath Kidston – My god, she’s everywhere, isn’t she? Everything’s coming up roses in certain quarters of the country, but the thing about Cath is that it’s become a social signifier indicating buy-in to a whole host of bourgeois aspirations. Yet even my jaded male journalist friend acknowledges, “Some of the stuff is really cute, especially for little girls.” Resistance is futile.
5. Tunnock’s Tea Cake cushions – Regular chocolate-covered marshmallow biscuits would have to do heavy post-grad work to be as amazing as Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. Often their pillowy mounds get mercilessly crushed in carry-ons. That’s why I’d love to give these cushions that are screen-printed with the retro packaging (pictured) or a bag with similar. This side of the pond, I’d rather eat the real thing.
6. Celebrity magazines – It’s a tradition in our family to roll up magazines and stuff one into everyone’s stocking, for lazy afternoon holiday reading. By importing UK magazines that the rest of us read principally in the dentist’s office, I’ll be providing them with a valuable anthropological education. What is “Essex style”? Which “celebrities” dare to show up in public with sweaty pits? Who are the Coronation Street stars and what the hell are they up to? With a copy of Heat magazine in hand, these answers need no longer be a mystery.
7. Hunter Wellies – A few years ago these were all the rage in New York City, where everyone takes a taxi when it rains. Having been rubberstamped by the fashion establishment, they are welcomed across the US as the classic Scottish-based solution to precipitation, mud and fashion dilemmas in advance of pheasant shooting. And let’s face it, all your British friends have a pair already.
8. The Union Jack – Vivienne Westwood made the Union Jack fashionable. Then other designers woke up to the possibilities over the intervening years. You can find good versions today – My friend Sophie used to make some fabulous stonewashed flag tablemats. But the majority of things decorated with the British flag these days are a bit naff (you might need to look up that word). In America, a Union Jack scatter cushion references the Empire, wood-panelled libraries and manor houses, not the £11 version found on the gifts aisle at Tesco. Still, if Santa wanted to bring me one of Viv’s versions, that would be a very Merry (British) Christmas indeed.