For most of my life, I lived in Florida. Sure, I was born in New Jersey, but my family moved South when I was roughly six weeks old. Aside from a few years in Germany and my more recent translocation to Virginia, all the rest of my days were lived in Florida.
It’s for this reason that my brain is broken in a really peculiar way. The only time I’ve ever lived in a place with actual winter, the metric system was in play. The result? I don’t really understand cold temperatures in Fahrenheit. When the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, my brain short circuits and I have no frame of reference for what that feels like.
Unless you tell me it’s 16 degrees Celsius. Then I understand it completely.
Warm temperatures I completely get in Fahrenheit, but cold temps I only grok in Celsius. I have no idea how to dress for 32F, but I’m ready to go when it’s 0C outside. Intellectually I know it’s the exact same thing, but… my brain still doesn’t make that association.
Twelve degrees celcius on a sunny day is a gorgeous, perfect day in my brain, but if you tell me that it’s also 53F, I’m bound to think it’s colder than it really is.
As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time flipping the weather app on my phone between Fahrenheit and Celsius whenever I leave the apartment. I’m trying to forge new associations in my brain about what each of those numbers actually feels like. I think that in time, I can rehabilitate my brain to properly understand cold weather in Fahrenheit.
One thing that is definitely different from living in Florida is having actual seasons. In Florida, we have eleven and a half months of summer and two weeks of winter each February.
Here, the leaves change and there’s a clear distinction between our seven months of winter, five minutes of spring, and two months of blazing hot summer, leading into a pleasant fall where the trees change colors and whatnot.
This week, I made a pretty big mistake. On Monday, I bought this:
It had been a very warm pair of weeks- at one point, the temperature hit 35 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, which for you Americans is about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Since my apartment and my office are both entirely bereft of air conditioning, I was wholly unprepared for this. One evening last week, it was so warm and sticky that I couldn’t sleep until 2:30 in the morning when a thunderstorm kicked up and started to cool things down slightly.
The portable air conditioner was something that I’d been thinking about on and off for months. At just under three hundred Euros, it seemed like a reasonable sacrifice. I have a fan in the apartment which does great things for making it seem cooler, but it does little to actually cool down the ambient temperature of the apartment. Plus when you hit the power button, those little shark gill looking flaps in the front open automatically, which is really neat. I’m a big sucker for “neat!”
Enlisting the help of Jenny and her car, I got the thing on Monday after work. It took both of us to muscle the thing up into my apartment- it’s big and awkward so even though I could lift it, carrying it for more than a few feet becomes a logistical impossibility. Once it’s out of the box, it has nice little wheels to move it from room to room, though. Once it was unboxed, I set it up in the bedroom, closed the window and the door, and turned it on. And waited. Then I waited some more.
After it had been running for about forty minutes, I went into the bedroom to check on it, and I found that two feet directly in front of it were nice and cool, but the rest of the room was pretty much the same temperature.
The reason for this, as anyone who knows air conditioners will tell you, is because I hadn’t put on the exhaust hose and routed the displaced warm air somewhere else. The exhaust hose that came with this device (not pictured) is wide enough to roll a small honeydew melon through, and this made it difficult to vent the thing properly. If tried running the exhaust hose out of a doorway first, then a window. The hose is so wide that in order to vent the hot air, I have to keep the window open so much that it entirely negates the point of having an air conditioner in the first place. Jenny’s boyfriend Robert suggested duct taping the hose into the window, but that would make it impossible to ever open the window again.
Yesterday, Jenny helped me return the AC to the store. (She’s a very patient friend who is regularly amused by the inability of someone from Florida to cope with the heat.) I had the thing for less than five days, and by the fourth day, the average temperature had dropped about twenty degrees anyway. The weather here just isn’t usually all that hot. I think that’s why this image is so funny:
I think when we hit our hottest days next summer, I’m just going to try putting ice cubes in my underwear or something.
One of the questions that my friends and family back home have asked me frequently is “Steven, how are you doing with the cold?” To my friends in Chicago, New York, New Hampshire- this is a silly question, because I haven’t seen temperatures here that are colder than what they’re used to seeing.
However, it is important to remember that I’ve lived in South Florida for my entire life until now. Here’s a helpful comparison: Right now, it’s 37 degrees fahrenheit and sunny (yes, sunny!) in Regensburg. Back in my former home of Delray Beach, it’s 66 degrees. For South Florida, 66 degrees is chilly. When I left, it was closer to 80 degrees there.
Editor’s note: I’m talking about the temperature in Farenheit instead of Celcius because nearly of my readers are back in the United States.
Since I arrived, it has been pretty comfortable- the temperature has only rarely dropped below freezing. We’ve had some days that are considered unseasonably warm by the locals with temperatures climbing up into the forties. Although I’ve seen some snow here, it’s never been on the ground. I’ve needed an umbrella more often than I expected for November and December. The Internet says that the weather is pretty moderate here, with temperatures seldom dropping below freezing when the sun is up. Last year was a bad winter, the locals all say, and there was a great deal of snow.
The record lows here in the past have gone to twenty or thirty below 0, but those are extremes. The averages are much more moderate- although it will drop below freezing here, it probably won’t drop below 0 on the fahrenheit scale.
For this former Florida resident, adjusting to the November and December temperatures has been largely about changing what I think of as “cold.” Before I left for Germany, I tried to outfit myself with a sort of Florida Resident Cold Weather Starter Kit. I went to Burlington Coat Factory and got a big heavy jacket with an inner shell that was removable, one that was moisture and wind resistant. I went to a ski store (after the shock of learning that there was a ski store in Florida) and got some smartwool socks, a scarf, a pair of heavy gloves, and a pair of boots that are designed for snow. I also picked up some thermal inner layers, high tech stuff that wicks moisture and so forth.
What I am learning is that most of the time, I don’t need the high tech polyester stuff on my torso- a regular long sleeved t-shirt handles the heavy lifting of layering for warmth quite nicely. The Hot & Chilly’s will come in handy when it gets colder, I imagine, but for now they’re not completely needed because it’s not that much colder here than it was in my Boca Raton office, which is always freezing.
After a full month here, I’ve finally sorted out that the whole point of a scarf is to keep your neck warm. I thought it was just to keep wind off the back of your neck, and I started out wearing it draped over the neck with the ends dangling. After watching how other people used them, I started to wrap it around my neck, which led to a few days where I looked truly silly. In the last few days, I finally realized that the closer the scarf is to my skin, the warmer my entire body feels. Don’t understimate the power of the wind to make you feel cold.
I’ve also noticed a lot of people here wear Converse. I decided to try my beloved Chuck Taylors today, and I can now say with certainty that they’re not ideal for this climate. I’ve worn them in New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and many points in between, and they’re just not a cold weather shoe. This fully explains the fur-lined Converse I saw in the shoe store- I thought it was overkill, but I bet it really helps to keep the cold from creeping up into the soles of your feet.
The one thing that I wish I had packed more of before I left the US is long-sleeved cotton t-shirs. I have a half dozen of them, mostly with designs on them. I have a couple of simple cotton long-sleeved t-shirts though, and they’re worth their weight in gold for layering to handle movement between the office and the bus stop, and for walking in and out of buildings when the temperature is hovering around two degrees Celcius.
The weather report (well, one of the weather reports; they don’t all agree) says it’s going to be unseasonably warm tomorrow, and I don’t think I should believe it. The weather has been hovering pretty close to 0C, sometimes just above it and sometimes just below it. It’s been cold and wet and foggy and just generally not sunny for most of the time I’ve been here.
Here, to illustrate my point, is an Ikea. No, really, there’s an entire Ikea store in this picture! A giant enormous Ikea! Just up the hill there:
That picture was taken on my first Monday here. I have since seen the building a little bit more clearly, but never with the sun shining on it. The sun shone a little bit my first Saturday, and a lot on my first Sunday, and then only once since then. It’s just been misty and foggy and generally gloomy.
When I’m taking the bus into work in the morning, I rarely have a good distance view of the countryside. The basketball hoop pictured to the right? I’m not entirely certain that there’s not an entire high school basketball team back there, hidden just out of view in the fog.
The days here are incredibly short right now, and I find myself looking forward to a month from now, when the planet turns just slightly and the days start to get just a little bit longer, day by day.
But first, and more importantly, I badly need to find an apartment. I’ve been looking since I got here, but it’s been difficult. For one thing, I don’t speak enough German (yet) to navigate this without help. I’ve been relying pretty heavily on the people in my office to help me make sense of everything. They’ve been helping me by finding listings, making phone calls for me, and even going with me to look at flats when I can arrange to meet the Immobilien (basically a realtor for those of you back home.) I’m approaching the end of my second week in the hotel, and I’m starting to get a little stir crazy. Eating out every night is only fun when it’s a choice and not a necessity. I want my pasta boat, damn it.