HELP! There is an American in the front garden!

By: Erin Moran

It is the summer of 2009 and after leaving France I am spending a month living in England with my boyfriend’s mum and step-dad before heading back to America.

Today my boyfriend’s parents are at work and he has gone into town to get his hair cut, leaving me to my own devices. Although it is a beautiful day, I am inside, taking the opportunity to catch up on the dirty laundry that I have been neglecting since France. The only clean items I have left to wear are a pair of bikini bottoms and one of my old high school t-shirts.

While the washing machine is located in the house, the tumble-dryer is out in the garage. An arrangement I find peculiar, but the English seem to find this normal. I grab a pile of clean, wet clothes, pull on a pair of neon green wellies, and do a double take to ensure none of the neighbours are out.

With the coast clear I dash across the front lawn and put my clothes into the tumbler. It is around this time that a slight breeze picks up and I hear the slam of a door. With my task complete, I dash back to the front door only to discover that the slamming I heard was our door and I am now completely and utterly locked out.

I jiggle the door handle in the vain hope that it will magically unlock while the dog stares at me through the bay window with her tail wagging. It appears my only option, other than sitting on the front lawn in bikini bottoms, old high school t-shirt, and wellies, is to climb over the garden wall and get in through the open back door.

I go into the garage to grab a ladder, but am foiled again. It appears they either do not own a ladder or do not keep it in the garage. It appears I will be hopping this fence the old fashioned way. The problem is, it isn’t a fence so much as a massive door (that is also locked might I add) that goes just past the height of the garage.

With nothing to stand on, I have one leg on the wall of the house and the other on the wall of the garage effectively in a full splits (haven’t done one of these since my dancing days) and am trying to shimmy up the walls.

A car comes into the cul-de-sac, clearly one of the neighbours has returned home. I have been in England for a matter of days and have not yet been introduced to any of the neighbours. A point I find completely normal, but apparently not so normal to the English. So far, the only thing I know about these neighbours is that my boyfriend’s parents are the youngest by about thirty years.

Should I continue to try and climb over the Mt. Everest of garden fences or should I try and see if this poor pensioner has a ladder I can borrow? I jump down from the wall and head over to meet the acquaintance of the elderly man now bent over his car boot pulling out shopping, while at the same time trying to pull my t-shirt over my bottom.

“Excuse me? I’m sorry I normally don’t look like this, I’m Luke’s girlfriend from next door and I’ve locked myself out. Do you have a ladder I could borrow?”

The man jumps when he sees me and begins looking wildly around, with his eyes landing anywhere but actually at me. “No ladder, no ladder!” he shouts, dropping his shopping back into the boot and heading to the house.

“Well do you know who might…”

The door slams in my face before I can ask any more questions. The man does not return even though his boot is still open and he took none of his shopping in. I look down and realise even more than before that I truly am dressed like a mad woman, so much for a good first impression. Disheartened, I go back to my Everest and begin again.

“Not locked out are you my dear?”

Only two feet up this time, I turn around to spy an elderly woman dressed in a flowery pink dress clutching a fat ginger cat in her arms and promptly jump down.

“Yes I am.”

“I knew you must be when I saw you go over to Adrian’s,” (Mental note: remember to apologise to Adrian for giving him a fright, or at least make sure he sees me wearing normal clothes) “You’re that American aren’t you?” she says staring at me with a kind smile.

“Yes, I’m Luke’s girlfriend,” I say quite pathetically as she clearly knows exactly who I am, “I wanted to see if he had a ladder.” I add trying to seem more normal.

“We’ve been waiting for you to arrive you know. Come over we have a spare key,” she turns and starts heading towards the house across the way as I follow finding it peculiar that a neighbour would be entrusted with a spare key. Sure this woman is perfectly harmless, I can see that, but I don’t know my neighbours in America’s first names let alone trust them with a key to my house.

“I’m sorry I’m dressed this way, I’m usually not but I was doing laundry…” before I can finish my protests, she cuts across me.

“Oh never mind all that dear, you are American of course.”

I nod as if I agree with this sentiment, before realising that she thinks dressing like this must be normal for an American.

“Norman, you were right! She was locked out!” she says to the elderly man standing in the doorway grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

I like these people. They are kind and appear to take my state of unusual dress and behaviour well, or at least better than Adrian.

“I’m Marion, this is my husband Norm, and this is Sophie,” Marion says shuffling the cat.

“Erin,” I say smiling back at them and grimacing at the cat.

Before I can enquire about the key I am ushered into the house and sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea in my hand. The English really have an uncanny knack for making tea. I swear they must have tea-making super powers where all they have to do is twitch their noses and a brew appears.

I sit on the sofa awkwardly sipping boiling hot tea. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a neighbour’s house while living in America, or at least I haven’t in a while. Marion and Norm stare at me like I’m some exotic being and ask me questions about America and my life in France. Having a relative stranger in their home seems perfectly normal to them.

When my cup of tea is finished and with an invitation to come over any time, I head back with a key to unlock the front door that caused me so much trouble.

Marion and Norm wave to me from across the street until I’m safely in the house.

I have spent a full forty-five minutes locked out, including the twenty minutes having tea with my saviours, but I haven’t been inside for more than two minutes when Luke arrives.

I tell him my tale to which he responds, “It’s a beautiful day outside, why were you using the tumble-dryer?”

About the author

Expat Blog ListingErin Moran is an American expat living in England. Blog description: An American expat from Las Vegas living in England. Trying to learn about the customs, habits and cultural differences of the English.
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Contest Comments » There are 17 comments

Jen Brown wrote 10 years ago:

This is such a pitch-perfect and funny description of the English (down to their tepid relationship with tumble dryers!). And I love that (of course) they invited you in for tea. Well done!

Annie wrote 10 years ago:

I love imagining the sight of coming home to one of my neighbors mountain climbing the fence in their skivvies, how you make time to have a cup of tea BEFORE you head back to get dressed, AND how your boyfriend was more concerned about the practicality of your laundry method. Hilarious.

Emma Kaufmann wrote 10 years ago:

Ha ha very funny. And so wierd isn't it in UK people often hang washing out although it is always pelting down while in USA they should hand stuff out but mostly don't!

Erin Moran wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks everybody for your fantastic comments! I'm glad I had the opportunity to share my awkward experience and make people laugh. I enjoyed writing about it!

Lindsay wrote 10 years ago:

So funny Erin and brilliantly told. By far the most exciting thing to happen in this corner of rural England for decades! Lindsay ( Luke's mum)

Lori wrote 10 years ago:

Lovely story. Made me smile thinking of you sipping tea in your unusual outfit.

Ellie B wrote 10 years ago:

The imagery is excellent...and the humor made me chuckle...well done! It's all SO English and dignified.

Holly Nelson wrote 10 years ago:

I loved this post so much, i had a good old chuckle over it! It reminded me of something out of Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives or something! many thanks fir providing me with a few smiles!

Nadia Wood wrote 10 years ago:

A brilliantly humorous & engaging post! I love how your American spirit shines through & makes an otherwise awkward moment seem natural. I couldn’t stop laughing & felt like I was a neighbour in your story, watching it all unveil in front of my eyes.

Mira wrote 10 years ago:

Actually hilarious! Just when I thought it couldn't get any more awkward for you, something else would happen. I feel like I personally know Marion and Norm. Made my day!

Tony Chaplin wrote 10 years ago:

Great story and one I can identify with, as an English person married to an American. Written with good humour - or is that humor???

Donna Russell wrote 10 years ago:

Such a funny story! Brilliant writing - poor Adrian - hope he recovered from the traumatic experience meeting the crazy American! :D

Tania Quast wrote 10 years ago:

A great story that had me smiling. I never used to drink tea until I moved here!

Joni wrote 10 years ago:

Love your story Erin. I laughed visualizing you sharing a cup of tea in your undies.

Lisa wrote 10 years ago:

Hilarious and so well written. Loved the bit about the neighbour that ran for cover to his house leaving an open boot full of shopping!!

Elaine wrote 10 years ago:

Ha ha! Thank you! Please post more! P.S What happened with Adrian? Did you ever meet him 'properly'?

Erin Moran wrote 10 years ago:

Well I have met Adrian properly, but I don't think he's ever gotten over the initial shock. He still can't look at me in the eye. Be sure to visit my blog to see more of my writing!

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