I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.
Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.
Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.
Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.
That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.
Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?
Dear friends from afar,
Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.
Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.
Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid. The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.
You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts. The points that matter are:
1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)
2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)
3. It’s snowing.
The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.
Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.