I grew up in Ottawa. In Ottawa, it gets very very cold — like -30 cold. And it snows. A lot. And it does this for a long long time. Accordingly, for many months out of the year, everyone wears a big heavy “winter coat” — as I have always called it. While I was growing up, I had one winter coat for as long as it fit me. For spring, I had a “spring coat”. For the summer, I had no coat. For Fall, I probably wore the spring coat with a sweater. And the coat-cycle carried on year after year. One season, one coat. Maximum two coats owned at any one time. Period. That’s it, that’s all.
Then, I went to live in Auckland, New Zealand. In winter, they think it gets unbearably cold, if the temperature falls to nine degrees celsius at night. And it rains. It rains and rains and rains. And then it rains some more. Sometimes there are little breaks in the clouds and rain, and eventually the break lasts for a long time, and that’s what they call summer. It is tremendously beautiful for a couple of months, then the wind blows for three days, and it starts to rain and rain again. It never gets that cold but it is damp like you wouldn’t believe. Mould! My god, the mould.
To make matters worse, Kiwis consider niceties like central heating and the plugging of drafts to be, for some reason, an unnecessary creature comfort. So, when winter rolls in, everyone wears three layers all the time, they huddle around space heaters and / or drafty fireplaces, and leave windows wide open and never plug a draft. People actually still use hot water bottles! There is even an (urban?) legend about a bloke in Christchurch that removed his door so he could burn it in the fireplace for warmth.
As a result, with all the wet and drafts, I don’t think I’ve ever been colder in all my life and for such a consistently long time. Winter settles in and I was cold, damp, and covered in mould until summer decided to make a guest appearance. It is impossible to escape. At least in Ottawa, if you enter a shelter, it actually shelters you from the cold. In fact, my flat can get so warm in the winter that I can sit in my underwear and sweat. Yes, sitting and sweating; sweating and sitting. Even when it is -30 out. Actually, the colder it is, the hotter my flat becomes because the custodial staff who control the heating system crank it. I guess, that’s one reason Canada’s environmental footprint has such length and girth. It is also the reason we tend to take off our winter clothing whenever we can.
My first winter in Auckland, I learned the hard way that Kiwis and I had a very different attitudes to winter clothing. One particularly chilly morning, I threw on a sweater and a coat for the trek to school and the grad class I was auditing for kicks. Before heading to class, I exploited the privilege of having an office and took off and left behind all my “outdoor” clothing. It’s the Canadian way. Inside = disrobe. Off to the seminar room I went, wearing nothing but my snazzy red Bathing Ape T-shirt. And my pants, of course. Shoes socks, that sort of thing. You get the picture.
I’m not sure why I didn’t notice right away. Maybe, I was still warm from the walk but slowly and surely I realized that I was freezing to death. I was cold. Really cold. Like, dead body cold. Core-temperature-plummeting-type cold. I started to get a headache. Yes, I was so cold, I was getting brain freeze! And I was stuck because I didn’t want to disturb the seminar. I was trapped, approaching death, and the light at the end of the tunnel was not warm at all. If anyone ever tells you freezing to death is painless, you can be sure they are a lier. It was at this point, right around the time my shudder reflex had decided I was no longer worth trying to save, a woman got up and opened a window. Directly behind me. To let in more air. To cool the place off. Because she was hot. The draft that had been killing me was now a wind tunnel and it was then, as death cuddled into me, with her icy embrace, I noticed everyone in the seminar room was in fact wearing three or four layers of clothing. Fade to black.
I learned, I adapted, and I wore many layers of clothing in-doors from then on in, however, I continued with my one coat one season practice. In fact, because I only really needed one light water proof coat for the entire year, I actually only had one overcoat. Any time of the year, if the weather demanded it, this was my overcoat. I wore it with a sweater in the winter and without one any time else. Perfect.
Or, so I thought, until one day, in an unexpected outburst, one of the professors in the department, asked in exasperation, “do you wear that [Kiwi-expression for water proof coat I have since forgotten] all the time?” I matter of factly said, yes, of course, because I didn’t really understand the question. And since Kiwis are not prone to explaining themselves, that’s pretty much wear the conversation ended.
After that, I began to notice that most Kiwis have several different overcoats that they wear at different times. I don’t think anyone ever had an overcoat for each day, but they certainly had a few to choose from. I have always assumed this was a Kiwi vs. Canadian thing and, even now, I have only one winter coat that I wear regularly. I know I should probably buy a formal overcoat for dressy affairs but, other than that specific extra coat, I would never think to buy more than one “overcoat” per season. Is this a Canadian / Ottawa thing? Or is it a me / poor kid thing? I ask because it wasn’t until my late-twenties that I realized I no longer had any reason to buy shoes with a little extra toe room in them. Seriously.
So my question: How many winter coats so you have?