HELP! I’m From a Warm Country!

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So, you’ve decided to move from a warm climate to a cold one, congratulations!

Now that you’re here, the real impact of your decision is dawning……..you have traded perpetual sunshine for sunsets that begin at 4pm in the afternoon, and  layers of sunscreen for layers of thermal clothing. If more than once the thought “what have I done?” has crossed your mind, take a breath and try to relax, as I do my best to convince you that winter in Switzerland isn’t all bad.

If you can truly wrap your head around the fact that in Switzerland, winter is not a season, it’s an occupation, you’re half way there! Although nothing quite prepares you for your first sub-zero experience, like the first time your eyelashes freeze together or the first time you spend an hour digging your car out of mountain snow. As one parent told me – “ I have been bitten by leeches, but it wasn’t as painful as shovelling snow!”

Sure, your instinct might be to bundle up and hibernate under a cocoon of blankets, but try to get outside, otherwise you’ll be doing yourself a disservice – not only is that a sure route to depression, you will also be missing out on the host of fun things that there are to do here in cold weather.  The faster you learn to love being outdoors in the cold, the easier your transition will be.  I can’t say this enough, go outside! If needs be, drive up the mountain, break through the clouds, and get into the sun as much as you can, to soak up that all-important vitamin D.

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Photo credit: Benjamin Lehman

Having pets will make life more interesting.  Nothing illustrates this more than carrying your 10kg dog home because his feet have become too cold and he refuses point blank to walk another step – remember, he might be missing his days of perpetual sunshine too.

Winter may be a cruel mistress, but if you prepare for it, you’ll most likely survive and may even enjoy it. This doesn’t mean going snowboarding or skiing every weekend.  Try snow-shoeing, sledding, ice skating, making snow angels, building a snowman (heads up, much harder than it looks), having a snowball fight or just plain stomping around in the snow.  It doesn’t have to be torture out there!

The first thing to remember is that snow is COLD and WET – not this soft white fluffy stuff that falls at the end of cute romcom! Along with that, it’s best to understand that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.  The secret to dressing for the cold is in the layers.  I like to call it the 3-layer rule:

  • The first layer is the Base layer which includes thermal socks and a full set of thermal underwear (I wear the latter everyday, and you probably will too.)
  • The second layer is the Insulating layer which includes a good pair of jeans and a good wool or fleece sweater.
  • The third layer is the Shell layer which is a good puffy jacket or waterproof soft shell.  There is an abundance of styles out there that will keep you looking good while feeling warm.

Keep in mind that this list is an everyday clothing list and that you will need to buy a whole different set of “shell” clothing when going up into the mountains to do snow-based activities! I also suggest that you only buy your cold weather clothing AFTER you move. The clothing I bought as winter clothing in my hot home country just doesn’t cut it here.

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Photo credit: Victoria Borodinova

If you can, warm yourself first with a hot drink – it’s easier to change your body temperature than room temperature, not to mention more eco-friendly.  Instead of turning up the heat, put on another layer of clothing.  And don’t forget your extremities – be kind to those delicate parts which are super susceptible to cold; your hands, feet, neck, ears and FACE (and yes, I might go so far as to suggest a balaclava). Snoods are probably better for children than trailing scraves, as are waterproof thermal mittens rather than gloves. It’s also smart to invest in some good snow boots. They’re built for this kind of weather, and even if they’re not super-pretty to look at, hey, there’s snow on the ground – everyone will be wearing them!

The length of time it takes to get out of the front door fully dressed for the cold weather will be in direct proportion to how young your children are, as you wrestle with them in the ‘Layer Battle’, and try to brush hair which generates enough static electricity to power a small town in your home country!  To add insult to injury, their subsequent squeals of delight while throwing snowballs at each other and having fun romping in the snow, can wear a bit thin while you shovel to clear the driveway so that you can get the car out!

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Ah, but after a long fun day in the snow, when the little angels are tucked up in bed, is there anything better than snuggle time, and what better to complete the picture than a softly covered hot water bottle?   So, as you prepare for a new day as the snow softly falls outside, try not to fret about the fact that when you wake up in the morning you might not even be able to see where the road is as absolutely everything is covered in a soft and sparkling blanket of white snow and that you will have to wait for the snow plough to clear a path before you can even think of driving to school.  Make yourself a cup of something warm to drink and relax into your favourite chair, curled up with a good book and do your best to ignore the niggling and disturbing thought that you might not have ordered enough of the petrol that runs the central heating system that keeps your house warm through the winter – back in your home country, you call that the SUN! Tomorrow is another day and you will survive; the Swiss are ultra-efficient and there will always be someone to call to come and check your gauges if needs be.  Now, all you have to do is learn how to speak French overnight and you’re sorted!

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By Barbara-Anne Puren.  

Thanks to the Moms and Dads from warmer countries who happily shared their experiences with me.  Bronwyn from Durban South Africa, Anu from Mumbai India, Maryam from Dubai, Leena from Bangalore and Abu Dhabi, Johnny from Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Featured photo credit: Malcolm Garret

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