Braving the Weather

This never gets old. If you, like my little family, have immigrated, or are planning to, brace yourself. Winter is coming, as are the questions about it.

Moving to a country with a radically different climate from your home country is always interesting. I say interesting, because there’s something magical but challenging about the whole thing.

Living in Europe for two years means our transition to Toronto isn’t as tricky as it could be for many other folks making the move, especially other South Africans.

Sure, we’re not used to this much snow, but we’re good to go where the climate is concerned. Four months into this move and I’m sticking to my initial assurances of it’s really not that cold here. Friends and family always kind of smile and wave when we say that, but it’s honestly true. We’ve adapted to colder climates.

Taking wind-chill and discomfort factors (read the constant winter drizzle) into account, Toronto’s cold isn’t all that different from Mülheim an der Ruhr’s. It doesn’t rain as much here as it did in Germany, which is awesome. We now see much more sunshine in the winter months. The biggest difference, of course, is snow. We lived in an area of Germany that had some snow, but usually not enough to settle on the ground. Especially when it contended with all the rain. As a result, our biggest problem was ice. When the snow did settle, it was rarely more than a few centimetres thick. If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ll know I got quite excited about these snow days (link, link and link).

As I said though, taking the windchill into account, the actual temperatures from our last residence to the current one are aligned pretty well. This is a fact that helps. Minus 16 is minus 16, whether in snow or rain. Some may even argue (me, me, pick me!) that the discomfort of always being a little damp from the drizzle makes the one worse than the other.

Still, I’m positive we’d be struggling more to adapt in this new climate if we were coming in from Jozi instead of Germany.

You see, Johannesburg has summer rainfall, and is also pretty famous for the Highveld thunderstorms (which, I’ve been told, are scary 🙂 ). The winter months are packed with sunshine, though the nights get pretty cold. But, and this is a big but, I’ve been colder in Jozi winters than I’ve been here in Canada, and many immigrants from my hometown will tell you the same.

The main reason is that the houses aren’t insulated. In Toronto, we sleep under a duvet, in short sleeves in the middle of the winter and we’re fine. And I know, because it’s the middle of the winter now. In Johannesburg, we slept in heavy winter’s pajamas, under at least three blankets, with the electric blanket on, huddled together for warmth.

As I’m typing this to you, I’m wearing short sleeves and sweatpants. In Jozi, I’d be bundled up in a blanket and overgrown hoodie, with the heater on even in the middle of the day. Outside in the sun, it’s warm. But inside the house? Eh.

We have to give the folks who settle in colder climates their dues – they’ve been living here for many generations now, and would all be icicles if they didn’t find ways to make living here possible. And comfortable. Because let’s face it, nobody would stay if they weren’t comfortable.

As for the outdoors, sure, it’s cold. Again though, the clothing and heavy boots make it possible to be outside in the snow, on the coldest of days. My winter jacket is down filled (please, you know I wouldn’t have bought it if the feathers hadn’t been ethically gathered) so I’m basically headed out the door with a comfy blanket draped around me. It’s toasty and wonderful.

This seems to be a Johannesburger thing – when it’s rainy or windy or whatever, folks tend to stay indoors. And why not? When all you have is sunshine in abundance, you don’t have to head out in the rain. Also, Highveld thunderstorms. You don’t go outside in those.

The mind-shift comes in when you suddenly have to do things in the weather, whatever that may be. For us, Germany was the greatest possible tutor of this lesson. If you were to wait for the rain to stop in North-Rhine Westphalia winters before you did something, you’d starve. It’s face the weather or be stranded in your apartment for weeks. Since we didn’t own a car, this meant getting out your trusty umbrella and waterproof coat, and head out the door.

If we’d moved here directly from Johannesburg, we wouldn’t know what to make of all the snow. It doesn’t snow in Johannesburg, folks. In the thirty years I lived there, we had snow twice. The snow we had in Germany was radically different from the snow we have in Toronto, because it was wetter and changed into ice more often than not. So even that didn’t fully prepare us for what we’d meet here.

When we arrived, shovelling snow was a foreign concept to us. We had to learn on the job, and we’re still learning as we go. We’ve never had to de-ice our driveway before, we had a service for that in Germany (a very efficient service, I must add). So now, we have to buy salt for the driveway and de-icing spray for the car, and salt-remover for our shoes.

Strange, but wonderful. This snowy landscape is mystically beautiful. Like tourists, we gape at the icicles reaching downward from the windowsills and gutters. We marvel at the way a thin layer of ice can form over powdery snow, to crackle under our heavy boots. We laugh when snowflakes get caught on our lashes and gasp in a combination of wonder and disgust when we accidentally inhale those snowflakes. ◄ Totally not a reference to the Ed Sheeran song. NOT THOSE KINDS OF SNOWFLAKES!!!

We have a wise cousin here in Canada, who advised us to embrace the winter, otherwise it’ll become way too long. Even though I don’t really need to curl up under the blanket while the heating is on, I think of her each time I do. There’s something comforting about a soft blanky, a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a good book.

All in all, moving to any country where the climate is different from what you’re used to will have its challenges. The choice is up to you though. Embrace it, or it will become one of the longest seasons of your life.

I struggled with this concept in German winters, where the sun hides for months on end and the landscape is grey and dreary. And grey is my favourite colour, so it says a lot that I suffered from seasonal depression there. However, seeing the sun again more than made up for the hide and seek session in the winter. There’s nothing like that feeling when the last rain of the season has fallen, and the landscape shifts from grey to green. You’ll have rain after that, for sure, in the form of falling petals from millions of blossoms.

So, even if you suffer after your immigration, like me, let’s cling to the hope that the spring will come. Because it will, eventually.



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