11 British gifts to give Americans

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the 8 British gifts to get Americans (that I would never give to a Brit). Whoa! People went crazy for this post. It was the Strictly Come Dancing, the hit record of posts. Styles and tastes move on, so this year I’ve updated my (modestly) blockbuster post.

These days so many gifts are the same no matter where you are. Living in London, that means I’m exposed to a whole different range of gifts that really feel novel and different to my American giftees. Only the most patriotic of Brits would want these under the tree, but Americans love them.

1. Revels – These are on my brother’s Christmas list every year. I once forgot them and he pouted for half a day. British chocolate is different from the American kind. I think it’s something to do with the sweeteners and pasteurised milk. In the UK, it says, “I got three packets of these for £2.” But in America, a gift of Revels says, “Have a Merry Christmas with this treat you only get once a year.”


2. Beach hut artwork – These sweet/twee/pastel images on this side of the pond sometimes bring up uncomfortable observations about the people who buy eye-poppingly expensive ones and commute to them via their vintage style VW vans. Yet for the vast majority of Americans, they are incredibly exotic. In the U.S. you have mere beaches, but in the UK you have the seaside, which is full of charm, 99 Flakes and these little beach huts. Also for Americans, the idea of a tiny hut on the beach, sitting check by jowl with a bunch of nearly nude people is utterly incomprehensible. Especially if it sits on a beach where cold weather and rain is a given for most of the year. Only the British would do this kind of thing, and do it with aplomb. Images available in posters, trays, tea towels, bird houses and other things they’ll find absolutely essential.

beach hut box

Little beach hut boxes. What are they for? Nevermind, they’re cute!


3. British-style toiletries – There’s nothing quite so lovely on a dressing table or in a well-appointed bathroom than an elegant bottle or container with olde worlde style writing that harkens back to the heyday of the British Empire. For real hardcore lovers of the English image, I’d love to give Penhaligon’s Maduro Leaf Candle, which fills the home with “a scent reminiscent of a smoking room in an elegant gentlemen’s club… wood panelled walls, soft leather armchairs, a fire burning in the grate and the heady scent of cigars.” This kind of present would only suit a small number of Brits, but I’d give it to almost any American I know. That whiff of privilege, a country estate and old money are sold separately.

Penhaligons Maduro leaf candle

Mysteriously “British”: Soap in a wooden box, talcum powder and Maduro Leaf Candle


4. Calm and Carry On –The simple design and duo-chrome palette is ubiquitous over here – posters, tea towels, mugs, cringe-making versions that say Keep Calm and Carry On Shopping – it makes you want to invade Poland. But in the US, Keep Calm reacquires its stiff-upper-lip charm. The simple graphic design has widespread appeal. And these gifts come with an interesting backstory about how the slogan was mostly unknown until recently rediscovered. It wasn’t until I moved here that I realised how much WWII continues to affect the British mentality. I like giving the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. Maybe I’ll wait til Easter to share my WWII Power Point.

5. Cath Kidston – Cath Kidston’s ominpresence has just expanded to a whopping big flagship store in Piccadilly this Christmas season. People were lined up down the street for a chance to buy flowery wash bags and sweet homewares that you can get without a wait, oh, just about everywhere else in the country. Cath *owns* us in a way, but sometimes you just need a retro Christmas jumper, dog-shaped salt & pepper shakers, or a classic rose-adorned satchel. Great for kids and a true homegrown brand. Resistance is futile.

6. Cookware by Nigella Lawson – So she’s been in the news lately, accused of drug-taking, out-of-control behaviour and testifying against her former assistants who spent more on flowers on their corporate card than we made all year. But her appeal holds steady and she remains our sexiest foodie export. Go for Nigella’s classic range with gorgeous colours and organic shapes. You’ll be able to give a salt pig with a straight face.

tunnocks tea cakes cushion

The throw cushion that’s good enough to eat

7. Tunnock’s Tea Cake cushions – I’ve written before about my deep and abiding love of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. I’ve never tasted marshmallow so soft, never experienced elsewhere the perfect proportions of biscuit and chocolate. Nobody in America knows what a teacake is — that’s how exotic they are. To emulate their pillowy deliciousness, I’d love to give these cushions that look like giant Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. If you’re feeling particularly generous, you can throw in a box of the real thing. Other “cookie” cushions sure to delight: the custard cream, the caramel wafer, and a motto that Brits live by.

8. Celebrity magazines – Joey Essex, the cast of TOWIE, even Jordan: these are exotic and unusual creatures that inspiration fascination among your American friends. Who ARE these people, they want to know, and why are they acting this way? Whenever I see girlfriends in the U.S. straight off the plane, they fall upon my collection of magazines: British Vogue, Grazia, OK!, even Heat. They don’t have to be avid star-gazers or fashionistas to enjoy a peek at our fashion and fascination with certain C list celebrities. Roll one up, tie with a bow and lovingly place in a stocking.

9. 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 adopted by the fashion establishment, they are celebrated across the US as the classic Scottish-based solution to rain, mud and fashion dilemmas in advance of pheasant shooting. All your British friends have a pair already; the Americans are just learning.

The Lost Art of Having Funn book of games10. The Union Jack – On a recent trip to Williamsburg — the epicentre of New York cool — I came across a fantastic home shop run by a Brit. I knew from the street it was British because the Union Jack was in abundance. And why not? It looks cool. Design-wise, it sure beats, say, the flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon or Delaware. Many of the things decorated with the British flag these days are a bit naff. In America, a Union Jack scatter cushion references Blow-up, RP, the BBC, not the £11 version found on the gifts aisle at Tesco.

11. Old-style parlour games – The British are particularly good at games, what with all those house parties and weekends with time to fill between fox-hunting and sherry-drinking. The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends is one of the best sources of fantastic classic games for car, with kids, and, ahem, drunken evenings. Still need convincing? It’s written by a former MP and founder of the National Scrabble Championship and his daughter, named Saethryd, who come from a long line of fun seekers. Anyone up for a game of Parson’s Cat?



I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+



  1. December 12, 2013 / 10:52 am

    I love this list! Tunnocks teacakes are my favourite to have with a cup of tea. 🙂

    • December 12, 2013 / 12:08 pm

      I could eat a whole box of them, with or without the cup of tea!

  2. December 12, 2013 / 3:38 pm

    I love this! Tunnocks teacakes are fantastic, but I can’t say I’d ever thought they were exotic (same definitely goes for Revels – and I am apparently the only person who likes the coffee ones). Every time we go to the US we take several kilos of Cadbury’s for everyone, though it definitely doesn’t work the same way with Hershey’s…

    It definitely works outside Christmas too. For a wedding present for two US friends, we got a huge teapot and selection of tea from Whittards (another wouldn’t buy for friends as they’ve either got or only want PG Tips).

    For some new baby Americans, the gift box includes a few offerings from Mothercare (which I admit I wouldn’t give as a present in the UK)

    • December 19, 2013 / 8:14 am

      MummyTravels, I love the idea of giving a teapot and tea for a wedding gift. There is so much variety in them here because, well, we love tea.

  3. December 13, 2013 / 11:29 am

    This is brilliant, thanks Jen. I now know exactly what to give my New Yorker friends when I see them

    • December 19, 2013 / 8:15 am

      Added bonus, chocolate and magazines can be acquired at the aeroport!

  4. December 13, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    I never thought of the beach huts! I found this list really interesting and USEFUL! I am forever trying to think of something to bring home that they don’t already have. For a while it was Molton Brown, now the department stores have that. Liberty print anything was a failsafe until Target started selling it. Emma Bridgewater is still good, and Cath Kidston, yes, that’s a winner as ‘it looks so British’ people say (a long queue for a new shop, seriously?). My dad loves Hobnobs and my mom loves crunchie candy bars, so they’re easy. My male relatives love T-shirts with union jacks or football teams on them.

    I shall bookmmark this post for future reference! x

    • December 13, 2013 / 11:37 pm

      Ooooh I’d forgotten about Emma Bridgewater. That is definitely quintessentially British. I agree about Hobnobs. They are among my favourite biscuits. I can’t believe America — a country which has raised the practice of creating something sweet and adding chocolate (and sometimes, cheese-stuffed crust) to an art form — hasn’t come up with a homegrown version. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Alison Sosa
    December 14, 2013 / 6:00 pm

    Hey! Why have I never received any of that good chocolate, sis?

    • December 19, 2013 / 8:13 am

      Added to the list. I’ll suss out some different versions for you.

  6. December 19, 2013 / 3:39 am

    Brilliant list, so many things I miss about the UK 🙂 I’d actually forgotten about Revels, going to have to get some the next time I’m back! #MMWBH

    • December 19, 2013 / 8:13 am

      Thanks, Sara. I can’t wait for Christmas as I’m hoping to find some teacakes under the tree for me…and I LIVE here!

  7. January 5, 2014 / 4:06 pm

    I wish I’d seen this list before Christmas! We returned to the US for s short break and all I had to share as gifts were scarves…something my friends and family could easily have picked out themselves at any store. I love the idea of the British toiletries. Everything looks fancier written in old English script!

    I’m going to have to differ with you on the Keep Calm And {Insert Any Phrase Here} I think it’s overdone now in the US, too. It’s time to find a new slogan!

    • January 5, 2014 / 7:40 pm

      Sarah, good tip about “Keep Calm and…” being overdone in the U.S. too. But I agree with you about toiletries in particular. My mom loves one of the moisturisers from the Simple range, which I can pick up at Boots in the aeroport. Easy.

  8. Adrian Barker
    April 27, 2017 / 12:32 pm

    When I visit New Orleans Smint goes down really well, and they also loved shortbread.

    • April 27, 2017 / 3:00 pm

      Ooh yes shortbread! That’s a great piece of advice.

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