Cold, of course, is relative. One person may be bundled up while the person next to him or her is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Cold and heat bother us, but the absolute temperature does not bother us as much as our expectations. One winter, my parents took us down to St. Augustine Beach, Florida for a winter vacation. We expected a warm, sunny beach, and we got it. Temperatures were in the low 70’s F (21 or 22 C), but all summer we had been swimming in Wisconsin on days that were not much warmer. While we frolicked in the sand and water wearing swimming suits, the locals were wearing, heavy winter jackets.
This morning it was 20 degrees (-7 C) when we woke up, normal winter weather for Wisconsin where I grew up. That would be a balmy December morning up in The Pas, Manitoba, Canada where I once spent a week on a consulting job. Here in New Mexico, that is very cold. The natives are shivering and don’t know what to do about their frozen pipes. I will have to admit my old bones hope the weather will return to our normal temperatures, but I am comfortable with an extra sweatshirt. I also thank the Lord that we live in a comfortable house with a relatively new furnace. Many dwellings around here are not built for these low temperatures.
As I observe people, it is interesting to watch what they do to accommodate for their expectations in the face of reality. Many of our teens head to school wearing only a t-shirt in any weather. A few are smart enough to put on a jacket, but few of them zip the jacket up. Of course they are cold, even at 50 degrees (10 C). They hug their shoulders and shiver. They would like the temperature higher, but consider style more important than comfort.
How often have you seen a mature man wearing a suit and tie with a long sieve shirt in hot weather? How often have we seen mature women shivering in fashionable dresses that expose a lot of skin? It is a matter of allowing social convention to trump comfort. Often we are expected to dress to certain standards for social occasions. When I teach Sunday school at our church, I am obligated to wear a coat and tie. It is respectful to wear a coat and tie to funerals. When I worked in Manhattan (New York City), I was expected to report to work wearing a suit and tie. Nevertheless, Once can satisfy social and style conventions without being completely uncomfortable. Sensible women can put on a sweater, or throw a shawl over their bare shoulders. I may have been obligated to wear a suit to work, but I did not have to wear my heavy blue wool suit in the summer. In fact, when the weather warmed up, I switched to short sleeve shirts. Then I purchased a tan-colored light weight cotton suit that kept me looking formal in the office and kept me cool as well.
As an engineer, I am familiar with how thermostats work. Most home thermostats turn on the furnace (or air conditioner) that adds (or removes) heat at a constant rate until the room temperature reaches the setting. If the thermostat is set at 65 and your expectation is a 70 degree room, you need to set the thermostat to 70. The furnace will pour out heat until the temperature is 70, yet how often do you see a person walk into a cool room and turn the thermostat to a very high temperature? Apparently they hope the room will warm more quickly. In fact, it will not warm any faster, but their expectation for the furnace to give them comfort causes them to set the thermostat too high. A few of them than complain when later the room becomes too warm as the furnace tries to reach the higher setting.
Our response to the temperature of our environment is one of our character traits. When we write fiction, we can exploit such character traits as a student who arrives at school cold because he or she will not zip up their coat or refuses to wear a hat. We can paint a picture of a character’s personality by describing him as a man who does not remove his blue suit coat even when he is speaking on a stage in bright sunlight on a hot August afternoon. This can tell your reader many subtle things about his personality. In fact, the writer can, make a contrast by having the next speaker shed his coat, perhaps with an apology to the audience.
Members of our church are so used to leaving the front door of the church open in warm weather as a gesture of welcome, that some do the same during winter weather while the church’s gas-fired boiler is working hard to keep the building warm. Then they complain if the building is cold, and they complain when gas bill is over budget. I ascribe this to them living most of the year in a warm climate.
If one wants to identify a character as belonging to a region, one might add habits such as opening or closing doors or windows. A character having grown up in the cold North, would not dream of leaving a front door open in the winter. They would step on the porch and close the door before saying good-by to the guest who is leaving. In the same situation, a character having grown up in the warm South, would step out on the porch to say good-by while leaving the front door open.
If you ever model a character after me, I am the type of guy who dressed for the weather. During our cold weather snap, I run in the afternoon when the temperature gets up to 40 (4 C) and I bundle up, but I do not dress nearly as warm as I dressed when I went running in northern Manitoba at -30 C (-22 F).
I have noticed an international following to this blog and also to my website so I have given conversions between Farenheit and Celsius.
Keep warm. You might want to snuggle up with one of my books. Check them out on Amazon or on my website, ReynoldConger.com.