The Thick Skins Of New England

Enduring the cold in Connecticut and elsewhere

What does it take to make you feel overdressed in winter? Seeing another pedestrian walking around in shorts.

This was what I saw during a recent walk into town in the early evening. The sun was down, but it had been a mild day and the temperature was probably only in the 30s. I was wearing my winter coat and probably some gloves and a hat.

And then I saw a young man, maybe wearing a long-sleeved shirt or some other thin bulwark against the winter but otherwise clad like it was early summer instead of midwinter. Since he was carrying a bag from a convenience store or pharmacy, the closest of which was several blocks away, he'd clearly been out in this getup for some time.

And I thought, How hardy are New Englanders, that we consider above freezing temperatures to be shorts weather?

A few days later, I noticed that the temperature in my building was awfully low. There are no thermostats in the apartments, just a central control with a prominent “Do Not Adjust” label. I concluded that the thermostat probably lowered the temperature during the day to save on heating costs and that it would warm up again in the evening. I put on a sweatshirt, but otherwise it was business as usual.

It was only when I ran into the building’s handyman later on that I learned the heating system had gone on the blink. He had only discovered this by a chance visit. I exchanged remarks with a few neighbors about the cold, but apparently everyone else solved the issue with a few extra layers as well. None of the dozen or so tenants bothered to complain to the landlord.

I’m sure we’ve all cursed the winter before, after a slip on the ice or a particularly high oil bill or getting stuck on some snowy road. It can be a hassle. But it makes us that much better at adapting to the weather or difficult situations in general.

Those in the really far northern latitudes are even better at it. Places like Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula no doubt have their share of snowbirds fleeing for warmer climes each winter, but somehow it always seemed like there were fewer of them. With temperatures there that sometimes seem to be trying to flash-freeze any piece of exposed skin, Canadians and other northerners probably see New England folk as a bunch of weaklings.

And granted, sometimes we can act like it. People blow a gasket over the plow piling up some snow alongside their car, or stay huddled up inside because we don’t feel like clearing off the windshield or negotiating the slightly messy roads, or—perhaps the most egregious—express annoyance and outrage that Mother Nature dared to bring snow of all things, in December.

But for the most part, we just roll with the punches. We’ll have snowball fights or go skiing or otherwise turn the weather to our advantage. We always have.

And even those of us who complain the loudest about the snow will probably feel like wearing shorts, or at least short sleeves, once it’s a steady 40 degrees out there.

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