Last week, one of my clients invited me to a send-off party. I RSVPed promptly. As a freelancer, I felt honoured to be included in an internal event and I sometimes miss these office parties. Besides, I genuinely like the manager who was about to start a new job and this team in general.
That day, at noon, I took a seat at one of the two large tables booked in a busy downtown restaurant and I tried to match people to their email addresses—most of my assignments are sent by email and we rarely meet in person. After ten minutes of introductions and small talk, I asked the manager if she would ever consider moving back “home”, to Vancouver.
“I can’t”, she sighed. “My husband loves Ottawa. I don’t mind, the city is okay… except for winter months. I had winter, I hate the cold!”
And then, the entire table of respectable Canadian-born federal government employees started sharing winter misery stories punctuated by unbleeped expletives.
This blew my mind. I had always thought that there was a common agreement among Canadians, some fine print at the bottom of our birth or citizenship certificate, that states “thou shalt love winter—or at least pretend you do, convincingly. In fact, over the years, I met many Canadians who professed their love for snow, cold and crisp days and claimed they hated summer “because it’s too hot”. Madness, I know.
“It’s the wind!” a woman complained. “It’s awful!”
“Sure, Vancouver is rainy,” the manager acknowledged. “But you get wet, you dry! Good luck warming yourself up when it’s -20ºC!”
“I can deal with rain,” chimed another. “But snow… I fucking hate snow! Rain doesn’t pile up on the driveway, does it!”
Unfortunately, I had to leave early to go pick up Mark so I never got to hear how true Canadians felt about slush, freezing rain, blizzard or vertical wet snow.
But for all these years where I had felt like a fraud because I hate winter, I felt strangely validated. So you can be a true Canadian AND hate winter? Like you can be French AND not being able to tell the different between red and white wine?
Awesome. Cause I hate pretending. Like for instance, I will never pretend I’m a morning person. I can’t. I can get up and be on time wherever I need to be, but I’m more productive later in the day. That’s the way I’m wired and no, I’m not going to follow “ten tips to become a morning person” because frankly, I think I’m as productive as someone who hits the gym at 6 a.m.
So, if I can be completely honest… here are ten major and minor annoyances that make winter high on the misery index.
More weekly loads of laundry
During the warmer months, I can throw Mark’s clothes and mine together in one efficient load. Underwear, shorts and t-shirts don’t take much room and dry easily. Now I’m struggling to fit Mark’s muddy snowsuit in the tumbler and the washing machine fills up quickly with just jeans and sweaters.
The constant temperature shock
Not that I parade around the house naked, but occasionally, I have to take off my clothes to take a shower or go to bed and right away, I’m shivering. The entire day feels like a succession of hot/cold moments: step out, cold. Get in the car, warm up. Park and get out of the car, cold, Step inside a store, warm. Sometimes, different bodies parts have different temperatures: my hands are freezing but my body is warm and I still have ice in my hair.
Right now I’m looking at the digital thermometer and it’s 21.2ºC inside the house, but -10ºC outside. I ain’t getting the mail today. The lock is probably frozen, anyway.
Super cold water from the tap
I just want to wash my hands, not freeze them. So, I have to let the water run for a minute before it gets to an acceptable temperature, which is a complete waste of a precious resource. Same issue when I want a drink. Just water would be fine, I don’t need it to be ice cold. yet, Canadians keep on adding ice cubes to their drinks…
Ottawa is a slushy city in the winter and no matter how good your shoes are, at one point, muddy ice will get through them. Then your socks get wet and next thing you know, you have unhappy feet until you can change socks and dry your shoes.
I find my neck and shoulders are very tense from constantly bracing against the wind. And if it’s icy outside, I feel like I had a leg workout at the end of the day because you use a different set of muscles to improve your balance. Oh, and obviously, you get a sore butt after a slip-and-fall.
The destructive power of salt
No matter how diligent I am with my little remedies, including face cream, hand cream and lip balm, my skin is dry. Like, painfully dry. I get the odd zit on my chin because it rubs against my scarf. I have cracked heels and small cuts don’t heal as fast. Winter is painful.
Expensive (and not optional) winter gear
If you plan to get out of the house at all, you need to dress warmly. The bare minimum is a winter coat, gloves, a scarf, a hat and winter shoes. Note that you will likely need more than one pair of gloves throughout the winter because they tend to disappear whenever you need them the most.
You may also need winter tires, a snow shovel (unless you pay for a snow shoveling service), road salt for your driveway… oh, and don’t get a heart attack when you receive your first winter hydro bill.
Fighting the holy trilogy: wind, snow and cold temperatures.
My personal misery index goes like this: snow ≤ cold temperatures ≤ wind.
Wind is the worst offender. It can turn a relatively mild day with temperatures hoovering around 0ºC into a -20ºC frozen hell. There is no way to escape from the wind. I’ve seen people walking backwardto shield themselves from the North wind. Snow is okay as long as there is no wind and as long as it stops at one point—I’m not a big fan of major snowfalls because they turn the city into a giant white mess. Cold temperatures suck but if there is no wind, as long as you dress warmly, you can deal with the day.
Unfortunately, many days are a combination of wind, cold and snow. Sigh.
The challenge of getting around
Winter isn’t a one-day event and in Canada, it’s business as usual throughout the colder months. While you can probably avoid scheduling a meeting at 8 a.m. on an icy day (or at least have a legitimate excuse to be late), you still have to go to work, run errands and you know, live life.
However, Canada is on hard mode when sidewalks aren’t plowed, when buses are delayed and when a car sprays muddy slush as it speeds by. That’s when I miss summer the most, when it’s so easy and convenient to step out and go somewhere.
Yeah… I hate winter.