Preparing for the snowy season
When you relocate to North America from a warmer part of the globe (even if that is admittedly gloomy and rainy England!) there is one thing you can never prepare yourself for enough and that is the harshness of the sub-zero climes. It’s one thing to be delighted to see a token snowfall for a few days every couple of years in parts of Europe, despite the entire transport infrastructure shutting down and countries virtually grinding to a halt, but another altogether to be facing the stark realities of months on end of serious minus Celsius readings. It really is no laughing matter, weather and clothing naivety makes for a painful and miserable six months - if you believe there are only two seasons in North America.
When I was relocating to Canada a Quebecoise friend-of-a-friend kindly proffered some suggestions. “Don’t mess around with jackets, a Canada Goose will set you up for life, and Sorel boots may be quite unattractive but they are essential, reliable and the best.” Urgh my heart sank, a word I detest to be associated with shoes – ‘practical’, what woman wants to spend her hard earned cash on practical shoes?! However I heeded the advice, as we arrived late in the season I couldn’t locate said Sorel’s in my size but I did manage to find some relatively aesthetically pleasing Pajar boots. We also practically took out a mortgage to buy the advised jacket, which although it weighs a ton it is like wearing your duvet outside so I’m not complaining. I’ve merrily carted myself about in it for weeks on end, wind protected and all.
Having survived (and I choose that word wisely) my first winter, here are my top tips:
1) Buy your winter shoes early - like as soon as they arrive in the store! All the bigger sizes get snapped up before you can click your fingers and you will be kicking yourself if you have to march around in some totally hideous footwear for the next six months. It’s already tragic enough to have to wear some giant waterproof clodhoppers, resign yourself to the fact all the options are quite ugly. Plus pay attention to the product description, they do what they say on the tin. My husband had to shell out for a second pair of boots as he couldn’t feel his toes in the first ones he bought when temperatures dropped below -20.
2) Invest in a balaclava – this sounds utterly ridiculous and that is how you will indeed look, but when you’re waddling around like a polar bear and it’s THAT cold, you don’t care if you resemble an elite squad law enforcer. I can verify without that your whole face goes numb due to the Baltic-like high winds.
3) Shell out for the good clothing gear – it may be a small fortune, but it will stand the test of time. Remember anything bought outside of North America probably isn’t actually suitable for here even if it’s marketed as ‘ultra-lined’. Plus never leave the house without your gloves if you don’t want to see your fingers going blue.
4) Layers, layers, layers – you can never have enough of them. Tights, thermal leggings and skinny jeans ladies - really it’s is possible, you just have to want it enough! I’m still eulogising about the thermal attire from Uniqlo (apparently there is a flagship store in NY), I thought I’d gone a bit overboard in buying out most of the range in London, but I wore it to death. You will wear such items out too.
5) Don’t rely on your phone – I had a heart stopping moment where one week into my relocation to Montreal my new iphone turned itself off due to the freezing conditions and google maps was no longer an option. When you realise you don’t know the name of the street you’re going to or anyone’s number in your new continent of residence it’s a sign you’re too dependent on your phone and you need to go back to the Stone Age and write things down (like your husband’s new mobile number!).
6) Don’t be afraid to say hello – when you move to a new city it takes time to integrate and make new friends, don’t be timid to say hi when you’re in the supermarket or grabbing a drink, you need as many acquaintances as possible to see you through the baron Winter. Although such friendly banter may be alien to some Brits, I’ve found the Canadians are much more receptive and welcoming to random chit chat approaches and I’ve made some pals from people unexpectedly coming up and talking to me.
7) Don’t be embarrassed – everyone looks just as awful as you do. When it’s so cold, warmth does become more important than fashion. Desperate times, desperate measures….
8) Explore your neighbourhood – you’ll spend A LOT of time drinking tea and coffee (and probably eating cake) so make sure you’re familiar with your best local hotspots so you don’t have to traipse around too much in the midst of a snow storm. Also maybe factor in a trip to Costco to avoid having to lug your shopping around constantly, that way you’re certainly fully stocked up for any eventuality, even not leaving the house for a few days.
9) Look up – It’s not all bad, I’ve never seen such beautiful blue skies, radiant sunshine and breathtaking landscapes despite it being the depths of February. It will cheer you up no end. The glorious sun rays will make it just about bearable and there’s always the incredible Canadian nature to observe. There’s nothing like a quick stroll in the crisp air to awaken the soul.
10) Rejoice, transportation still works – the buses still run, as do the trains, people can still drive everywhere as the major roads are gritted daily and the planes operate. It really is quite revolutionary and impressive for a Brit to witness that, I’m still in shock.
Admittedly half the time in Winter everywhere looks like a ghost-town and people are literally going to work and hibernating, but stoke toasty fires and invite folks to your home to share a hearty meal, staying in is the new going out. Rest assured, come Spring the cities transform themselves and you will have stashed up oodles of cash to enjoy long balmy terrace evenings and BBQs galore.