In honor of the near end of winter, I shall address the freezitude that is a Santiago dwelling in the invernal months here. Sure, in general, it rarely dips below 0 C/ 32 F, which in your estimation is not really cold. Judging by the hits, a bunch of you live in London, in Sweden, in the northern parts of the states, in Canada in some chilly climes, and even in Iceland. There’s also a Quiteño who’s been dropping by, and experience dictates that the Ecuadorean capital does get quite cold, what with the altitude and all.
Fine. So you know cold. But let me ask you this: when you come in to your home and find it inhospitably chilly, do you press a button or turn a dial or somehow otherwise change the indoor temperature? And what do you wear in your home in the wintertime? Are we talking long pants and a long-sleeved shirt? What about when you sleep? Can you see your breath?
I was having a conversation with a woman who used to live in Switzerland the other day at the gym. And she complained about how cold it was. Hmmm, I thought. Interesting. Where were you cold, I asked? What to you mean, where, she asked? Everywhere. Waiting for the bus, walking outside, on my way to work.
What about inside? I asked. No, not inside, never inside. There’s heat.
Aha! Herein lies the problem. I am from a place (New York) where it is frequently cold in the winter. You bundle up, wrap a scarf around your face, double up on socks, and hotfoot it to where you need to be. Then you unbundle.
It’s never really that cold here in Santiago, but the problem is that as cold as it is outside is pretty much as cold as it is in the house as well. So my culture dictates that you come inside, take off a layer or two, and get comfy. Not so in Santiago in the winter. I once taught a class at one of the universities in the upper reaches of the city during which I took off my hat to be polite, but I kept my scarf and gloves on throughout the whole class. Sure, they supplied a heater, but it’s a propane jobby, which heats the 15 inches in front of it, and not much else, gives everyone a headache, and the heat dissipates as soon as you turn it off. I usually don’t bother.
I first heard about “dressing special” with regard to my friend Rebecca’s apartment. It didn’t get much light, so it never had a chance to warm up, and seemed to be built of breezes blocked by old plaster walls. On your way over you’d build up a little warmth, but once you got there, it would be sucked out of your body as though with a syringe.
I was reminded of this the other day curled in a ball on the couch at my friend Stephanie’s house, a giant, old wood-floored house in Manuel Montt with an amazing piece of land behind it (in fact, check out the blog about the organic garden (in Spanish) here). For this friendly visit, I had “dressed special.” I was wearing thick tights, courdoroy pants, wool socks, a silk long underwear top, wool sweater, fleece vest and all the accoutrements, but in the end I found myself pulling my down jacket over me as well. This is how cold it can be inside a home in Santiago. Though Stephanie’s icebox does seem to be among the coldest.
At any rate, it’s not really about the temperature, per se, but my expecations. This summer I camped in near-freezing weather, and I expected it to be cold (though I love my -7C sleeping bag with all my heart). I generally expect to be cold outside in the winter, or in the mountains. I do not expect to be cold in someone’s house. You’d think after four winters I’d be used to it, but you would be wrong. The only thing that will cure us all of our tendency to roll up like little beans and shuffle around the house in layer upon layer and the hot water bottle hugged to us is spring. Which thankfully is right around the corner.
It doesn’t matter how cold it is somewhere else: as you’ve written, cold is partly relative to the temperatures you are experienceing in a particular place, and extremely connected to the tools at your disposal to adjust to that temperature.
I had similar experiences when I worked in Japan, where central air conditioning is almost unknown. In fact, a friend of mine caught frostbite in her office while at work! (She was from Hawaii, and really suffered through the Hiroshima winters, poor thing.)
Japan has long adhered to the philosophy of “heat the person, not the room.” So, people wear hats and vests to bed in winter, and sip hot teas and spicy soups. (Japanese cuisine is held to be bland on an international scale, but in winter you sprinkle 7-spice powder in your soup and it really helps!)
Up here in the other half of the globe, we are sweating in a largely unairconditioned cafe in Brattleboro, Vermont, and looking forward to fall.
If I can figure out how to trade your a few degrees, you’ve got a deal!
Best wishes for the prompt arrival of spring,
I’m eagerly waiting for spring, mainly because the temperature in my boyfriend’s is usually lower than the temperature outside. As soon as I get inside his room, I grab a huge blanket and settle myself on his couch. The cold also makes leaving quite hard, because it means I have to move from my warm snuggly place.
We have central heating, but we rarely use it. Our neighbors keep the place warm for us 😛 (and really, really hate us for it)