I had a very interesting conversation with an overseas student during Freshers Week this year, about how English people perceive the cold. You often don’t realise things about your own culture unless someone from outside the culture points them out to you. A few things came to light:

1. The English see it as a contest as to how long they can wait before putting the heating on. Presumably because we have a reputation for being thrifty – fuel costs are high as a percentage of income, but compared to the rest of Europe, our unit fuel costs are lower.

2. No matter how cold it is, if it’s a traditionally ‘warm’ month, like April, the heating’s not going on until it’s a month deemed more deserving of burning fuel.  It’s like we have no regard for our own internal thermometer.  There might be icicles indoors, but that heating’s not going on until 1st October.

3. You can never have too many jumpers. If it’s literally freezing in your house, just jumper up some more. My current home is well-insulated and has a decent heating system (which I’m not afraid to use!), but in my parents’ home, we used to wear a ridiculous number of woollen layers, all to cut down on fuel bills.

4. Which contradicts the fact that English people tend to dress for the month, rather than the actual weather conditions.  It’s July? Bikini time! But it’s snowing? That cannot be. Bikini time! The number of people I see in ‘summer’ braving the icy cold in shorts and sandals just because it’s supposed to be hot runs into the hundreds, easily. This is the most creative piece of wishful thinking I have encountered, as I’m pretty sure that putting on a summer dress isn’t actually going to make the sun come out, no matter how much you want this to be true.

5. And as a result, the British (because let’s face it, there are parts of the UK that are colder than England) are sometimes perceived as being quite resistant to the cold. Are we really? Or are we just resistant to common sense?

Given how variable the British weather is, and how frequently we talk about it (like, All The Time – we’re not good with small talk but mention the outdoors and we can go on for hours), you’d have thought we’d have figured it out by now. But the truth is, each morning I cannot decide on the most appropriate outfit, and so I just guess / select something that looks / feels “right” and hope I don’t end up too uncomfortable.

Number 4 might happen because we don’t really have well-defined seasons. On the whole, winter is cold and summer is warm, but there is a lot of variation from day-to-day, and because the temperature doesn’t vary by more than about 15°C across the year, it’s difficult to define what a day in the British Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter might be like.

Where I live, in the North of England, you could go outside and (devoid of all other knowledge, uh, like what the date is), you wouldn’t be able to tell what month it was. It’s weird, and strangely predictable and unpredictable at the same time.

And most of the time, I pretend it’s warm and sunny and end up freezing my butt off.  Maybe I should put on an extra jumper…

Leave a Comment