First Snowfall, Ottawa, November 2014
First Snowfall, Ottawa, November 2014

On the evening of November 16, we noticed a few snowflakes dancing in the wind. I shrugged it off—meh, just a cold night.

On Monday, it snowed all day. Not a lot, by Canadian standards, but enough to coat the roads and the sidewalks.

On Tuesday, I splurged on a new pair of Cougar boots, the kind that keeps your feet warm by -30 °C (or so it says on the tag) with a polar plush lining. My feet were getting cold with my usual sneakers, and my “sexy boots” with heels aren’t very practical to navigate icy sidewalks.

On Wednesday, I bought a new pair of gloves. My cheap Old Navy pair wasn’t cutting it.

On Thursday, I bought a hat. It was very cold and windy, and even though I haven’t had a haircut in a few months and I have a lot of hair, my ears were frozen. Mark immediately stole it—good to know that, apparently, I have the hat size of a two-year-old.

On Friday, I realized the doormat was already full of salt.

On Saturday, I apply a thick layer of Vaseline on my cracked heels.

Winter has started, I guess.

Just a few years ago, on the first snowfall of the season, I would have taken dozens of pictures. I briefly considered snapping shots of yellow leaves on snow and bare trees in black and white but I couldn’t bring myself to, mostly because the article I had in mind would have contained way too many expletives to describe my feelings about early winter.

I can’t stand winter. And I live in Canada. It’s a bit of a problem, I know.

Winter landscapes are lovely—on TV. As a kid in France, I always envied American families who always seemed to celebrate Christmas by looking out the window to see snow falling. I’m not a Grinch. I don’t mind snow on Christmas Day. But can it be just that one day and not five months of misery?

Some people rejoice when winter comes because they can go skiing, skating, snowboarding because the hockey season is in full swing because they enjoy sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace, the holiday season, comfy sweaters and sweet treats. I understand that not everyone likes hot and humid weather like I do—Feng is miserable when temperatures hover around 40 °C.

I hate winter because I see this season as a major inconvenience.

I remember very clearly the first time winter inconvenienced me. It was in 2004. I had just received my working holiday visa and I had found a two-month contract in a call centre. This was my very first job in Canada, the very first time I was legally allowed to work in this country. Needless to say, I was desperate for money around the holiday season and I was looking forward to cashing my first paycheck.

On payday, I walked across the street to the communal mailbox. I inserted the key in the keyhole, turned it clockwise and… nothing. The lock was stuck, completely frozen.

“The mailbox is frozen!” I complained to Feng, who laughed at my very French outrage. “Don’t just stand there,” I begged. “Do something, my cheque is in there! Can you… throw some hot water on the mailbox? Pee on it, even?”

There was nothing to do, I learned, but wait for a warmer day.

Fuck winter.

In winter, everything is more complicated, every task is more tedious, and every move involves more planning.

Getting around by car or by bus is less reliable when it snows or when the roads are icy. You’d think Canadian drivers are used to severe weather conditions and that for public transport systems, it’s business as usual. Well, think again. If the roads aren’t cleared, you’re not going anywhere.

Walking is hazardous, as you have to step on ice and snow. My thighs hurt right now because you use different muscles to keep your balance and avoid slips and falls.

Being outside can be painful. Even with gloves, your fingertips get uncomfortably numb and your skin is burning. My hands and my feet are very dry, and you need a very moisturizing face cream and lip balm if you don’t want to look like Freddy Krueger.

You get in the car and you’re cold. By the time you reach your destination, it’s nice and warm in the vehicle, but you freeze again during the short walk from the car to wherever you were heading to. And then back in the car, no longer warm. Rinse and repeat.

You have to carry around a bunch of much-needed accessories, such as a hat, gloves and a scarf. You feel clumsy in a thick winter jacket that you don’t know where to put whenever you’re stepping inside a store or a mall.

Laundry duty is due more often, as the washing machine fills up fast with our thick sweaters and jeans. I miss summer when I could just hand wash my tank tops.

The list goes on and on…

Born-and-raised Canadians are sometimes offended when you admit how much you hate winter, much like the French get annoyed when visitors don’t appreciate their gastronomy or the Chinese laugh at vegetarians. They take it personally. “Winter defines Canada,” they argue. “If you don’t like the weather, why are you here, then?”

There are hundreds of things I love in this country.

But sorry, winter isn’t one of them. Eh.

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  1. Shannon December 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    I’m with you. I hate winter. Absolutely hate it. Growing up on the US side of Lake Erie, we had cold winters and many snow storms (damn you lake-effect snow!), and the only thing good about it was when school closed when I was little.

    Luckily, we don’t get much snow here in Lille. Though when it does, even the smallest amount will shut down everything which just makes me laugh. I know what real snow looks like. However, the winters here are cold and damp (unlike the cold and dry I normally had back home). It just seems like the cold seeps into your borns. Add onto that the fact that I’m outside more here and my legs are normally my form of transportation. I’m not looking forward to this winter when I’ll be adding cobblestones to the mix. I have a hard enough time walking on them as it is!

    1. Zhu December 3, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      Lille is cold, by French standards… but yes, probably not as bad as Lake Erie. We get the weather forecast for this area (US channels) and it looks as bad as in Canada, plus windchill and lots of snow!

  2. Klaus December 3, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    I hear ya… and I was laughing my ass off when I read the Freddy Krueger remark, haha.
    Anyhow, yeah, winter in the city sucks. I try not to complain about it too much since it was my very own decision to live in Canada. Now that I live in the middle of nowhere (after almost two years in Toronto) I actually enjoy getting up in the morning and seeing that everything is covered in snow. Time to put some more wood into the wood stove and to feed the stray cat that chose our patio as his new “home”. After a good cup of hot tea I feel prepared for the day.
    On a side note, I believe when it comes to the citizenship test, it shouldn’t matter if you can name all the provinces and territories or if you know the anthem. Instead, if you go outside in a t-shirt to pick up your mail while it’s freezing, if you can say “eh” without an audible accent and if you’re wearing a moose costume for Canada day, then they should just give us a passport. If you choose to endure the Canadian winters, you’re obviously serious about living here, eh?

  3. Martin Penwald December 3, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I was coming back from Houston, Texas, last week heading to Edmonton, when my dispatch call me and tell me to drop the trailer in the yard, pick a trombone-trailer and pick-up a load in Sicamous, BC. The very day 50 cm of snow were announced on Banff and Jasper. Yoohoo !
    I stop in Valemount after 500km done in more than 7 hours.
    Here is a tip for cold car : turn on the bunk heater a few hours before starting it. My cab was already warm when I start monday morning (hu hu hu ! ).

  4. Amy December 5, 2014 at 3:12 am

    Oh my god… so soon ? I had no idea since the weather out here is still pretty cool by MY standards (granted, I’m in Brittany right now but grew up in Grenoble, right in the middle of the Alps mountains. Belledonne, Vercors, Chartreuse… you name it).

    Funny, I was recently debating with my husband about the best time to finally settle for good in Canada (we’ve been landed immigrants since mi-2013 but have been traveling back and forth between Europe and North America ever since and plan on coming in a few months).

    My take : “summer is best, so we get plenty of time to adjust to the cold”, his : “in the middle of the winter, that way we jump into the worst while knowing the best is yet to come”.

    We’ll see !

    PS : Our family is going to Nantes this weekend, I read your posts about the humidity but I’m soooooo excited !

    1. Zhu December 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      Well, I’m excited that you’re going to Nantes! 😆 It’s a really cool place to visit, I hope you will like it!

      I’d say the best time to settle is fall. First, it’s a beautiful season, then you get to ease into winter slowly.

  5. Lynn December 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Word to this. Sometimes I really wonder why on earth we live here, in Ottawa, of all places, when I hate the cold and the snow and the layers and the endless cups of tea. Maybe it’s so we can really appreciate summer?

    At least there’s no bugs. One plus.

    1. Zhu December 5, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Well, Ottawa isn’t bad when you consider other Canadian cities way way way up North… I would love to visit to see what they look like but I can’t imagine living close to the Arctic!

  6. Bee Ean December 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    I hear you, in winter I have to start a load of laundry before I even have time to fold the previous one.
    Well, I complained when temperature turned from 15°C to 8°C. I don’t know how people survive at -30°C.

    1. Zhu December 5, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      It’s a different kind of cold, it’s dry to it doesn’t get to your bones like a wet Nantes winter.

      Still… it’s cold.

  7. petite yaye December 7, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Et bien à te lire l’hiver ne me manque soudainement absolument plus !!! Je crois que j’idéalisais mais tu m’as remis sur le bon chemin : vive le printemps qui dure 3 saisons !

    1. Zhu December 7, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      L’hiver c’est sympa… un jour ou deux 😆

  8. Holly December 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Me too!! I hate winter. I have to admit, I am enjoying it more this year than I did last year, now I am not having to catch four buses a day. And I love Christmas so much. But I will be ready for spring by New Years Day!

    1. Zhu December 14, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      I enjoy your blog for that, your enthusiasm for Christmas is contagious! When are you coming to Ottawa BTW?

      1. Holly Hollyson December 16, 2014 at 9:35 am

        Next week!! Very excited indeed!

        1. Zhu December 16, 2014 at 12:01 pm

          I’ll be around, please get in touch and we can meet! Do you have my cell number?

  9. Gagan December 25, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Since I started reading your blog it was about 6°C and now it has risen to about 7°C; moreover I am sitting next to an ineffective heater, nevertheless.

    I’m shivering just thinking about it.

    1. Zhu December 26, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      Well, on the plus side, like I was saying in the other comment, it’s nice and warm indoors here, and power is relatively cheap 🙂

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