Weather. We all talk about it in very banal terms, often as a placeholder for other, more meaningful conversations or a way of breaking bread with other people given a better idea, but we never usually take the time to really realize what an undue influence it has on our thoughts, behavior, and lives. I think about it even less than other people do; while the weather is always on the tip of other’s people’s tongues, it’s always at the base of mine. (Weird and creepy metaphors for 100!) That has not been the case since I arrived here in Copenhagen.
Background: I’m always the one that is under-dressed or dressed incorrectly for the weather, often because I don’t know what I’m doing with life but also because I desperately want to convince myself that weather doesn’t affect me in the same way that it does other people. (Ask anybody that knows me and common sense isn’t always my strong suit.) I’m always the person that is asked “OH, you’re just wearing that?” or “Do you want my jacket? I’m sure it would make you a lot more comfortable.” Firstly, no I don’t, so please stop asking me! But I’m incredibly stubborn as well, so sometimes I do and I’m just putting on a show. (Maybe.) I always prefer comfort to being over-dressed, and this has made me, to some extent, more tolerant of the weather but also less interested in it and less able to notice the small temperature differences that others seem to. Maybe a little arrogant, too.
I do tend to do a lot better in the cold than in the heat. Part of this is how silly and ridiculous I look in shorts (can’t be just me), but I always prefer to warm up rather than cool down. Maybe it has to do with me, at my core, being an introvert who prefers the comfort of cooler climes to the excitement of nice weather and crazy beach days, but I prefer cooler weather and have always tended to like places where the temperatures skew on the cooler side of temperate than the hotter side of temperate. For some who know me, this might seem counterintuitive given my love of going barefoot, but I would always prefer temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (9-10 degrees Celsius) and sunny to the type of weather that forces me into shorts every day. Extreme weather in the cold direction tends to be fine for me so long as it is not accompanied by extreme winds, complete and total cloud hour, and rapidly diminishing daylight hours.
So, while I am indeed an idiot, this idea of me “willing something into existence” is to some extent true in this case. Years of being improperly dressed has forced me into a tolerance for cold that seems to be much higher than that of a lot of other people, even those from a similar climate. Perhaps I do have a better system for regulating my internal management of temperature difference, but, really, I have kind of willed myself into an attitude for weather that seems more like “We’ll get through this” than other people, for whom it predominates the conversation. All that has gone out the window since I’ve been here in Copenhagen, where I constantly talk and think about the weather.
After an unusually nice September in the city (which, as I was reminded many times, was very unusual and I should be grateful for it), October has slowly begun to kick my ass. Despite going to Ireland for a semester — where I was struck by the constant rain — I was not ready. Denmark seems committed at every level to reminding you of the fact that it is a flat, grey little country and you can either accept it with all its introverted, fun-loving eccentricity and rules or get the hell out. I do respect that, and I do not mind the cold, but after your 10th straight day of cloud cover, the one hour where the winds slow down and you see a beam of light from the sky seems to, quite literally, be sent from the heavens. Seriously, it rains more than half of the week and I’m constantly looking for signs of light, not to mention almost getting knocked off my bike by wind half the days I cycle into the university.
Aside from that, though, it’s lovely. I swear. #WelcomeToScandinavia
All of this reminds me, though, that one of the most interesting things to me about traveling is going to cities and towns and talking to locals, and realizing that each area really does have its own personality. This personality can, in turn, be directly related to the weather. Not indirectly, mind you, but directly; correlation does in fact equal causation in this case., and the patterns of weather are very much emblematic of the types of people toy will find.
With some of our own limited knowledge of weather systems, some of it doesn’t make intuitive sense: like why, given the latitude, I experience much sharper extremes of cold in New England but don’t have all the grey, existential doom-and-gloom of flat and insular little Denmark. You can easily see the weather reflected in the people that live here. In Denmark, everything is very eccentric, precise, homogenous, shy, and orderly,; though, unlike the Swedes it seems they are not afraid to have fun. (Already picking up on local stereotypes. Ahem.) You can find evidence of this as a reaction to the weather: like in their day-to-day life, everybody puts their nose down to get through life most of the year, but then the times when it is sunny they really know how to enjoy themselves. In all of it, they seem to very much be themselves and, like the weather, you can take it or leave it. The personality suits me, I just wish it had some of the inconsistency of weather in New England, which serves to remind you that there is still a a world beyond the clouds.
One of the side-effects of the nice/crappy weather divide is, of course, the attendant change that you notice in your social life. Being new to a place, it is especially pronounced. The first month here, it seemed like every night we would just drink beer by the river, or every day we could sit outside in between or after classes and just be happy to be in a new place. I actively enjoyed my bike rides and wasn’t at all taken back by the acuteness of the wind gusts or randomness of the rain. As with any change to Fall or Winter, I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, but the shift was definitely more sudden than I was used to. After four weeks of mostly sun and sometimes nice temperatures, the weather very abruptly gave up and said see you in April.
This isn’t a bad thing, but it has meant thinking more about my days in advance. All of my friends here are still people that I’ve met in Global Development, and with the the nice weather has gone the lack of planning which made it easy to go from one thing to the next and meet new people. Now that the weather is, uh, shite, and the days are darker and colder, it makes me look back with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses (already) at the romantic, fun-loving first month of yore. I’m already beginning to understand what the Danes talk about when they talk about hygge, because when it’s cold and getting darker by several minutes per day, it seems like the only option to preserve your sanity in between endless amounts of reading and trying to get settled and develop a routine in a new location. I was almost there, and then the weather happened.
On a serious note, I am grateful for how easy my life has been here in terms of meeting new people and developing connections. After just seven weeks I feel like I’ve developed such great rapport with people I didn’t even know two months ago. The small, structured, and focused nature of my program is conducive to that; we’re all studying the exact same things and have the same course load and schedule. It’s easy and natural, even if it doesn’t feel earned because we’re all forced into the same conditions and structure and use Facebook to mediate every social encounter. I’m still looking to meet more people locally, but in terms of the people I’ve met I’m grateful that the growth of a social life was easy and fast, if uneven. Hopefully that will continue on unabetted, despite the weather’s insistence to the contrary. (And perhaps dating is a thing I should look into as well.)
So, in order to escape my existential dread about the weather (and the price of living, I might add) and meet new people, I will be escaping to the (probably not much warmer) climes of Berlin and Prague this week. We have a week’s break from school for lord knows what reason, and I will be using it to maximum effect. I’m looking forward to good beer, castles, museums, and, just maybe, a little bit of sun.
Stay tuned for more stories about experiencing your own culture from the outside.