Culture Shock

Monday, 22 April 2013
Expat Interviews
Expats Blog is running a series of fortnightly writing contests for the next eight weeks based around our different expat life themes. There are four prizes per contest totaling in $350 in Amazon Vouchers! 

Here is an excerpt of my entry 'HELP! There is an American in the front garden!' on the subject of culture shock:

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. 

To read the full entry, please visit Expats Blog website and be sure to check out some of the other entries while you're there! Remember to leave a comment on your favourite post as the judges will be taking them into account for one of the prizes!

Erin x

A Visit to Woburn Abbey

Sunday, 21 April 2013
It has been a long time coming but it appears that Spring has finally sprung in England.  One thing I admire about the English is how when the sun is shining they really take advantage of it. Sometimes to the extreme, really there is no need for you to walk around without a shirt on, it's not that hot! There seems to be some unspoken set of rules for how one should take advantage of good weather in England.
  1. Have a BBQ (Pimm's and Lemonade must be present)
  2. Drive to the beach
  3. Go to a garden centre
  4. Visit the gardens of a stately home

Living in Milton Keynes, we have great access to a number of England's finest houses including Woburn Abbey - home of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years.

Woburn Abbey

A Brief History

  • Woburn Abbey was built in 1145 as a Cistercian Monastery
  • In 1538, Henry VII dissolves the monastery
  • Henry VII gives Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, the Abbey in 1547
  • In 1619 the 4th Earl moves family into the Abbey
  • The 5th Earl's eldest son, William, is executed in 1683 for his alleged role in the Rye House Plot to assassinate Charles II
  • In 1694 the 5th Earl gained the title Duke of Bedford as means of apology for the wrongful execution
  • The 6th Duke commissioned in 1805 the famous landscape gardener Humphry Repton to create designs to enhance the Gardens and Deer Park
  • In 1816 ecological experiments in the Abbey Gardens will influence Darwin
  • In the 1830's the quintessentially English tradition of Afternoon Tea is said to have been started by Duchess Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke
  • Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit Woburn Abbey in 1841
  • Woburn Abbey was turned into a military hospital in 1914 by 11th Duke
  • 1939-1945 Abbey serves as lodging for Wrens from Bletchley Park
  • In 1955 the Abbey opens to public visitors

The Abbey has grown with the times and while many grand houses now serve as little more than museums, Woburn is so much more than that. Not only do the 15th Duke and Duchess still live there but the grounds also hold a Michelin-starred restaurant, antiques centre, and safari park.

Dear at Woburn Abbey

As you drive up to the house you will drive through hundreds if not thousands of nine different species of deer. It is quite an impressive sight to watch these beautiful creatures, especially when they are running. There is something so majestic about deer; I can understand why they are used on various coats of arms.

Afternoon Tea at Woburn Abbey
We spent most of our Saturday afternoon in a table outside of Duchess' Tea Room drinking Woburn's special blend of tea, eating scones topped with cream and jam, and talking about our upcoming trip to Pau in July.

Finished with our tea we went for a stroll around the gardens. During the turn of the century, and perhaps even earlier than that, it was considered fashionable to go out for a walk at the weekends. You weren't anybody unless you were seen walking through one of the parks. I think they had the right idea, who wouldn't want to be seen out enjoying the sun and beautiful landscape.

After we soaked up our daily quotient of Vitamin D, we went for a little snoop around Woburn Abbey Antiques Centre.  I don't watch the Antiques Road Show or anything, but I do enjoy antiques. Luke and I both agree when we have some more excess cash we would love to get some pieces. This antique centre had pieces for 200 BC that were going for as little as £65! I can't be the only one who finds this amazing.

I also had a bit of a moment when I was in one of the antique rooms. We walked in, and I immediately felt cold like there was a draft. I felt like someone was running their fingers ever so gently up and down my spine and I kept getting a shiver. It was slightly unnerving and I don't know how to explain it other than to say I felt a prescence.

Woburn Abbey Antiques Centre

All in all, it was a lovely and perfectly civialised way to spend the afternoon, even with the ghostly prescence. Woburn is approximately an hour from London, Birmingham, Oxford, and Cambridge, it is really worth a look in! For more photos from our trip to Woburn Abbey, check out Quintessentially English's Facebook page.

Erin x

If you would like to know more about Woburn Abbey, such as opening times, please visit

Moranthology - A Review

Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Caitlin Moran has been "writing the fuck out of shit since 1992", including not one but three award-winning columns for The Times. She also shares my last name and has a Twitter addiction that surpasses my own. Basically she is amazing and an all-around badass.

Caitlin Moran Moranthology
©  Casa Bevron Ltd 2012
This past weekend, I finished reading Moranthology - a collection of her writings from The Times ranging from serious political pieces to downright bizarre encounters. Usually I'm not one for anthology books because I find them difficult to keep my interest. Not Moranthology, I couldn't put it down! Once I was finished one article I was eager to start the next!

I decided to share five of my favourite articles from the book. I thought it would be easy, until I actually sat down to write this thing. I have little pencilled stars next to far more than five! How I narrowed it down in the end, I don't think I'll ever know but here they are:

  1. Sherlock Review 2: The Frumious Cumberbatch. Until reading Caitlin Moran I had not seen a single episode of BBC's Sherlock. This review and the one before it (Sherlock Review 1: Like a Jaguar in a Cello) made me realise what an amazing show I was missing. I debated which of these I felt encouraged my prompt decision to go out and buy it. Since watching Series One and re-reading them, I have decided it was definitely the second. The reason, she asks the question that is on all English minds, "Why GOD are there only three episodes of Sherlock per series?"
  2. We Only Had Two Transsexuals in Wolverhampton. Long story short, there was a bit of a kerfuffle after a ten-year-old boy returned from the school holidays as a girl. Parents were even going as far as saying that they should have been consulted before hand. Besides being consulted on all parenting matters, it appears the main goal of these parents was to keep their own children in the dark. A round of applause for these parents, putting a child that is already going through a difficult time under the public microscope. Yes, well done all of you. And you're the ones who you think should be consulted for parenting advice? Hmm. The message I took from this piece is anyone, not just children, should be allowed and encouraged to ask questions. Knowledge is power as Captain Planet would say!
  3. Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls. As a book lover I've always thought of libraries as something to be respected and cherished. The sad truth is libraries are having to fight to stay open. In this digital age, libraries are no longer seen as necessary. More students are using the internet to do research for the term papers. Reading for fun? Why bother when they'll make a film about it in a few years. (Excuse me while I pause to cringe at humanity) For Caitlin libraries are so much more then that, they were a place where she could escape to and she makes a strong case for their continued purpose in society! And please tell me I'm not the only one who while reading this pictured 'little girl' Caitlin a bit like Roald Dahl's Matilda.
  4. Unlike Most of the Coalition, I Was Raised on Benefits. This one might actually be my favourite of the entire book because it made me look at people on benefits in a different light. I try not to be too political on this blog, so I hope you can afford me a few sentences. I'll be honest, I looked at people on benefits with a bit of a sceptical eye. The image of council estates I had in my mind is just the tracksuit-wearing stereotype she described. When I saw 'chavs' (see glossary) with the latest gadget, all I could think about was that my hard-earned money had bought. And on top of all of this, I saw people on benefits as most likely fakers taking advantage of the system. This one made me realise that while some of those people are "dodgy, most of them are doing their best..." I'm not saying my entire outlook on the benefits system has changed because of this one article, but I won't be so quick to tar everyone on benefits with the shame brush.
  5. The Best Royal Wedding Ever. I love the royal family. I don't go CRAZY for them like some, but I do love them! As such, I loved this piece. Not just because it was about the royal family but it brought back memories of a great day. My greatest regret of the day after reading this, watching it on the BBC instead of ITV1. Yes, the BBC's coverage was to thoughtful, perhaps even a bit subdued but it appears that ITV was just more amusing. Zooming up on Chelsy Davy's (Prince Harry's then girlfriend) tango-coloured face. Describing the Westminster Abbey as "It's very... pretty". Why did I miss this?! Thankfully, Caitlin Moran was able to summarise all of the coverage, including Twitter, in one brilliant column! Thanks Caitlin!

While I've followed @CaitlinMoran on Twitter for a while and read a few of her columns in The Times, this book really made me a fan! I would recommend this book to pretty much everyone, especially writers! At times I woke my sleeping husband because I was laughing out loud! I find her personality and writing style to be inspirational! Maybe she isn't everyone's cup of tea but she's definitely mine!  I'll be adding How To Be A Woman (2011) to my Goodreads 'to read' list, if I haven't done so already!

If you haven't read Caitlin Moran's Moranthology, you can purchase it by going to Quintessentially English's Amazon Affiliate Store or by clicking below! More importantly, if you HAVE read Moranthology, what were some of your favourite columns. Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @essentialerin!


Erin x

Another Two Years

Thursday, 4 April 2013
Today I sent off my application for 'an extension of stay in the UK as the partner of a person present and settled in the UK and for a biometric immigration document'. Otherwise known as England you're stuck with me for another two years. That is if the UK Border Agency allows it!

The forty-six page application took me about five hours in total to complete. Including the time it took for a trip to the bank to collect bank statements (we're eco-friendly in our house, we do paperless billing) and queuing at the post office for twenty-minutes trying to send the damn thing off! I wish I could say the whole thing is an easy process, but I would be lying. It's a ball-ache (UK Border Agency  - if you're reading this I'm sorry, please let me stay I love your country!)

It is forty-six pages of having to repeatedly fill in your name, passport details, contact details, and details about your relationship. I wouldn't mind so much, except I filled in a massive visa application back in 2011 when I first applied to live permanently in the UK. I shouldn't have to fill my details in again. Come on, I'm the blonde American girl who was introduced to her husband in France by her host-mom, it's a really cute story! Surely the UK Border Agency remember mes? Since the number of people who applied for permission to stay permanently in the UK was 126,891* in 2012 alone, I'm thinking maybe not.

The hubby and I often joke that it would be so much easier if we had fallen in love with people from our own countries, but where would the fun in that be? Everyone needs a challenge in life, and managing a cross-cultural relationship is one of ours. I think that's part of the reason why the UK Border Agency made the application so mind-numbingly long, to test if your relationship is real or not. No one in their right mind would take the time to fill in that thing unless they were in love!

So for all of my complaining about this document, I'm glad I completed it. It means I get to stay in a country I love but more importantly I get to stay with the man I love!

Erin x

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