Regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from an occasional contributor, Kym Hamer, whose thoughts on the topic immediately drifted to the ten winters she has spent in her adopted home of London. Hmm…is that because her native Melbourne now has highs of 8°C, or 46°F (and overnight lows of -1°C, or 30°F)?
As an Australian who moved to the UK in 2004 and who continues to make London her home almost ten years on, I can’t really afford to have any quarrel with the weather.
It is one of the quintessential British-isms, this obsession with weather, and it is the question I find myself in the midst of most debate about—always at the first meeting and often well into several years of cross-cultural friendship.
The stereotype of Australia’s big blue skies, fresh-faced outdoorsy-ness and neighbourly games of cul-de-sac cricket prevails so strongly in the British psyche, that any suggestion that all is not what it appears Down Under comes across as churlish, un-conversational and bordering on arrogant ungraciousness.
It’s not worth arguing: the Brits like to be right about this.
But what has struck me most about these conversations is that they usually occur in overheated pubs, lounge-rooms, Tube carriages and lifts with the protagonists sitting or standing around in their shirtsleeves complaining about the cold.
I have never met a nation so unwilling to put a jumper on.
(Which reminds me of a rather bad joke: what do you get when you cross a kangaroo and a sheep? A woolly jumper!)
Wrap up warm, but not too warm
I’ve been caught out myself, rugging up [putting on lots of clothes in anticipation of going somewhere bl**dy freezing] upon leaving the house on a chilly morning. Silently congratulating myself on my toasty (sometimes even thermal) attire, I find myself wishing I could dispense with three quarters of it half an hour later.
And let me tell you, it’s a royal pain to carry around a heavy winter coat and quite embarrassing to sit sweating profusely in a job interview because everything you could have possibly taken off—and still remain decent, let alone remotely “put together”—has been shed.
So I’ve learnt to avoid the thermal underwear and to dress in layers. More or less like a pass the parcel parcel.
Tuning into the daily weather forecast on the radio as I open one sleepy eye each morning, I’ve learnt that it pays to double check that the light spring coat hanging at the ready should not be replaced by something more…or less.
But the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is this: it’s the extremities that matter and the right hat, scarf and gloves can make all the difference.
As the temperature and wind chill factor pas de deux through London during any given month, the right “weight” of this essential triumvirate can have me either swanning about in a state of slightly disheveled fabulous-ness or looking as though I’ve been dragged through a damp hedge backwards.
As such I have acquired:
- several right “hats”
- a range of pashminas—from warm woolly to just to keep the chill off on a “summer” evening
- many suitable scarves (they are defined by being more slender in shape than a pashmina)
- not one but two perfect pairs of gloves—a heavy-duty, super-warm pair and a lightweight purple leather set.
Which reminds me how hacked off I was to lose one of the heavy duty duo in January—and must make a note to myself to buy the perfect replacement pair. I’ve learnt that’s harder than it sounds. Who knew such things would become so important to me?
And then there’s the bag. My handbag grew exponentially into a “tote” during my first few years in London, becoming big enough to stuff in one or any combination of this trio as I climbed up/down Tube escalators, entered offices and interview rooms, got on and off buses and hugged friends in the doorways of their toasty digs.
Thank goodness other essentials—phones, umbrellas, (e)books—have gotten smaller.
“Bring something warm—if it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside!”
But when I am at home and the climate is just my own again, slippers and cozy throws abound, whether I’m curled up on the couch in the lounge room, cooking up a frenzy in the kitchen or tucked under the duvet in my bedroom. The heating does get turned on but only when a jumper just isn’t enough.
I am famous (or infamous?) for invitations tagged with “bring something warm—if it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside.” Guests laugh knowingly and remark about taking the girl out of Australia and all of that.
But baby, when it’s cold outside, quite frankly you should already know the drill:
Put a bl**dy jumper on!
* * *
Thanks, Kym, for that impassioned account of what it’s like for an Aussie to live in the midst of limeys who’d prefer to moan about the cold instead of taking practical measures. And speaking of whingeing limeys, you’ve given us Yanks yet another reason to feel pleased that we declared our independence from Britain on this day 237 years ago!
Born and raised in Melbourne, Kym Hamer has worked in London in sales and marketing for nearly ten years. She writes the popular blog Gidday from the UK. Also follow Kym on Twitter: @giddayfromtheuk.
STAY TUNED for next week’s series of posts—and a Happy 4th of July Weekend, meanwhile, to US-based readers!
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Img: Photo of Kym Hamer entertaining outdoors, glass of wine in hand, in honor of Australia Day (January 26).
Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile
Thanks for the opportunity to ‘have a whinge’ TDN…hmmmm maybe I’ve picked up a few British-isms myself!
Any time! Kate, Anthony and Andy may not agree, but I think it’s fine to whinge about the Brits, and rather therapeutic if you’re living there (which none of them is). It’s especially okay to whinge about them on July 4th!
As to your having picked up some British-isms, it’s interesting to me, in this debate about new vs. “olde” worlds, to see where Australia belongs — it seems to come smack in the middle, between the US and the UK.
Americans feel the cold so will dress without calibrating to the temperature on a particular day, sometimes even donning a down coat on the odd winter day when it’s 60 degrees. Is that b/c of a strictly defined sense of a “winter wardrobe,” a refusal to acknowledge global warming, or an attention span not long enough to take in the weather forecast? It’s been a source of mystery to me since my repatriation. So they’re practical but not nearly as practical as you Aussies.
They’re also not nearly as hardy as the English, who will venture out in their shirtsleeves despite the temperature. My husband and I have the habit of eating breakfast outside in winter if it’s above freezing (we know a place with outdoor seating that’s in a sun trap) — something my compatriots find a little strange.
But you Aussies have a mix of our New World practicality and the Brits’ Old World stoicism — I must say, I’m inspired by the sight of you wrapped up well and enjoying a glass of wine on your balcony in January! You ought to try bottling that up and selling it, methinks!