What is considered an appropriate gift in America?
There is no one gift that would always be considered appropriate. A gift is appropriate or not appropriate depending on the closeness of the relationship between the giver and the receiver of the gift and upon the seriousness of the occasion.
For example, a fairly small gift is appropriate from a boss to an administrative assistant on Administrative Professionals’ Day. A boss might give subordinates candy or a potted plant. These are gifts that are not particularly intimate and are also not very expensive. By contrast, if a subordinate were retiring, it would be appropriate to get a much more expensive gift like a nice watch or golf clubs because that would be a much more serious occasion.
Between people who are on more intimate terms, a more intimate gift or a more expensive gift can be appropriate. It would not be inappropriate for a husband to give a wife lingerie at Christmas because they are obviously on very intimate terms. It would also be appropriate for parents to give a child a computer for their high school graduation since they are close enough to give expensive gifts.
Thus, the appropriateness of a gift depends greatly on the relationship between giver and receiver and the nature of the occasion.