UK PM Theresa May to give Trump a quaich: What is it, and why?

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LONDON — What kind of gift do you get for a man who divides his time between the White House and a gold-plated skyscraper?

That was the question facing British Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of her visit this week to the U.S., where she will become the first world leader to meet with President Donald Trump since he took office.

Here's what the British came up with: a quaich.

For those who may not be up on their ancient Scottish drinking vessels, a quaich (pronounced "quake,"). It is a two-handed vessel— some types of which are also known as "loving cups" — that originated in the Scottish highlands, where clan chiefs prized them as tokens of hospitality.

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"They have been used across Scotland for centuries as a cup of friendship," May's office said in a press release. "Today it is rarely used as a drinking vessel, but rather it is a symbol of welcome and kinship. Its two handles signify trust, both on the part of the giver and the receiver."

The gift could well be a nod to the president's Scottish ancestry on his mother's side.

Gift-giving between British and American leaders has been something of a political minefield in recent years. In 2001, Prime Minister Tony Blair gave President George W. Bush a bust of World War II leader Winston Churchill. But President Obama removed it from the oval office, replacing it with one of Martin Luther King Jr.

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WASHINGTON DC - JULY 9: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) President Ford accepts a gift from Saudi Arabian Prince Abdallah Ibn Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud in the Cabinet Room July 9, 1976, in Washington, DC. Also attending are Secretary of State Kissinger; National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Abdul Azia Al Tuwayjiri, Deputy Commander of the National Guard; Ali Abdallah Alireza, Ambassador; and State Department interpreter Najib Najjar. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/ Getty Images)
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (right) presenting a Bicentennial gift to US President Gerald Ford, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington DC, June 21st 1976. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives a replica of the Russian Lunik from Premier Nikita Khrushchev during his state visit to the American capital. Vice President Richard Nixon (l) watches. (Photo by mary delaney cooke/Corbis via Getty Images)
President John F. Kennedy shows off some of the gifts, a beaded tie and a doll, that were presented to him today during a visit to the White House by members of the National Congress of American Indians. The Chief Executive, an honorary member of several Indian tribes, called for greater national efforts to provide better living for American Indians.
Members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives present President Kennedy with a pair of cuff links after he signed his first bill as president. The congressmen present are: (from left to right) Rep. Fred Cchewengel, Rep. Peter Mack Jr., Sen. Everett Dirksen, Sen. Vance Hartke, Rep. Winfield K. Denton, Sen. John Sherman Cooper, William B. Brasy, and Sen. Paul H. Douglas.
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(Original Caption) Two rival political figures, apparently the best of friends, arrive by Transatlantic Airliner. Both the donkey and elephant are destined for Republican homes. The donkey, the animal adopted by the Democrats as their symbol, is a gift to David Eisenhower, the President's grandson, from the Spanish Foreign Minister. The elephant was imported from Siam for use in the Republican national campaign.
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(Original Caption) Pacific Palisades, California: Presidential-elect Ronald Reagan has his hands full as a white horse, a gift from the President of Mexico, Jose Lopez Portillo, rears as it is presented to him at a park near his home. The horse, Alamain, is from Portillo's private stable. January 12, 1981.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gives a gift of an etched bowl filled with traditional shamrocks to U.S. President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
US President George W. Bush (C) holds up a gift during a Gowning and Investiture Ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Liberia, on February 21, 2008. Bush is capping off a five-country Africa trip promising lasting friendship with the continent. Bush became the first US leader in 30 years to visit Liberia, a nation settled in the 1820s by slaves freed by the United States and still the closest US ally in Africa, but battered by a bloody series of civil wars. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President George W. Bush receives a gift from United Arab Emirates' President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan at Al Mushref Palace in Abu Dhabi. The solid gold sash is studded by diamonds and gems. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
U.S. President Bill Clinton is presented a gift of shamrocks by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on St. Patrick's Day at the White House, March 17. Clinton is continuing talks today with Irish leaders for peace in Northern Ireland. MT/JP
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U.S. President George W. Bush receives a bowl of Shamrocks as a St. Patrick's Day gift from Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 17, 2005. At right is first lady, Laura Bush. REUTERS/Larry Downing LSD/HB
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President Ronald Reagan standing next to horse named El Amamein, which was given to him as a gift from Mexican President, on ranch. (Photo by Pete Souza/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
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The removal sparked outrage in Britain's tabloid press and prompted then-London Mayor (and now Foreign Secretary) Boris Johnson to decry what he claimed was an "ancestral dislike of the British empire" on the part of the "part-Kenyan" president.

Likewise, Britain felt snubbed in 2009, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave Obama a wooden pen holder made from the timbers of a Victorian anti-slave ship. In return, Obama gave Brown 25 DVDs of classic American movies.

May's gift to Trump can be seen as an attempt to highlight both his personal ties to Britain as well as the long-standing alliance between the two countries. The Prime Minister has an economic motive to emphasize the positive aspects of Britain's relationship with the U.S.

Last week, May outlined her vision for Britain's departure from the European Union, which, to the dismay of many business groups, included withdrawal from the bloc's single market and customs union.

That will make the health of the British economy contingent on the ability of May's government to secure free-trade deals with other nations — in particular the U.S., which is the largest single-country export destination for Britain, accounting for over 15 percent of the country's exports, according to Britain's Revenue and Customs department.

Related: Will Trump, Theresa May Revive 'Special Relationship' at Meeting?

British lawmakers, and May herself, were also highly critical of some of Trump's rhetoric and behavior as a candidate. In January 2016, British lawmakers debated banning Trump from entering the country in response to a public petition that garnered enough support to trigger a parliamentary response. During the debate, lawmakers brand Trump a "fool," a "demagogue" and a "wazzock" — British slang for an irritating person.

In addition, May told a British TV host that she found Trump's comments, in which he bragged about sexually groping women, "unacceptable."

But for Britain at the moment, economic issues take precedence.

During her visit, which begins Thursday, May will address the annual Republican congressional retreat being held in Philadelphia. She will stress the importance of renewing the alliance between the U.S. and Britain, visit Arlington National Cemetery and then meet with Trump in the White House on Friday.

Whether the prime minister's gift of a quaich wins Trump's favor remains to be seen, but it could be a bumpy road. After all, when you're giving a vessel traditionally used to serve alcohol to a teetotal president, what could possibly go wrong?

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