When I was in high school, I thought I was invincible. That’s the only explanation I can think of for my absurd cold-weather behaviour. I lived in Montreal, and Montreal in the winter is COLD – eye-wateringly, snow-crunchingly, snot-freezingly cold. And yet I wore neither hat nor scarf, and wouldn’t have ever dreamed of doing up my coat. Ever. I regularly stood at the bus stop with wet hair (which would freeze solid), and I have no recollection of ever wearing mittens. I was cool.
It’s astonishing I still possess ears, a nose, ten fingers, and ten toes. Perhaps I was kept alive by the size of my sheer stupidity. I have no idea. I get shivers just thinking about it.
When I moved back to Canada last September, I dug my meagre stash of winter clothes out of storage, and pondered them while cataloguing what I remembered of Canadian winters. Surely if I hadn’t succumbed to pneumonia as an idiotic teenager, I’d be fine wearing lots of layers, mittens, hats, and scarves. I would look like a homeless person but I’d be warm. Right?
As November became December, and the weather became cold, and then colder, I began to doubt my Canadian citizenship; I was freezing. Was I missing some crucial gene that made it possible to stand at the bus stop without hopping around like some crazed frog to stay warm? How did everyone just stand there, discussing the weather?
As a side note, Canadians love to talk about the weather. I’d forgotten how hilarious it is. I suppose every culture has its own conversation starter. Ours goes something like this:
“Morning. Cold today, eh?”
“Sure is. Think it will snow?” [Peer intently at the sky together.]
“Hard to say. Probably will though.”
As the winter progressed, I realized there were so many things about Canadian winters that I had forgotten. Or perhaps I had never learned them; I’ve only spent slightly over half my life living in Canada. I realized I was in trouble the day I managed to zip my hair and my scarf into my coat zipper. I had to get the kind stranger sitting next to me on the bus to help free me from my own coat.
It was time to re-learn how to be Canadian.
I needed to find out how to properly arrange my pants so that they fit comfortably into my boots. I learned quickly that while walking to the bus, snow blows into the folds of your pants, melts on the bus, and then freezes once you get off the bus. I discovered that if I put my hat and mittens on the seat beside me on the bus, they will stay there when I get off the bus.
I had to buy boots. It was like buying a car. I had no idea there were so many options! Did I want boots with linings made from wool, acrylic, polypropylene, or Zylex? (Zylex?) Did I want waterproof or water resistant? Arch support? Traction? Weight? Temperature rating? I wouldn’t have been surprised if the salesman had offered me voice-activated rear windows.
I learned the difference between frostbite and frostnip. Why do such painful things have such cute names?
I am still trying to learn how people don’t burst into flame on the bus. How can they wear a Canada goose parka with the hood up and not evaporate? How do you dress so that you’re warm at the bus stop where it’s -30C, and yet not melt on the bus where the heat is cranked so high there are hula dancers in the aisle?
I learned that bus stop benches are only for the summertime.
I learned the snowplow only comes after you’ve shovelled the driveway.