How Not To Be Cold: Canadian State Secrets Revealed

"It is cold."
"I am cold."

There is a fundamental difference between these two sentences, and I would bet that every language in the world can explicitly express the difference. The first one isn't a matter of choice, unless you are Bill Gates and have the money to travel anywhere, anywhen (I know it's not a word, but it should be). The second is, for most people [especially the few (Hi, mom!) that actually read this], more a matter of choice. It depends on what you wear. Contrary to hot weather, when even if you remove all your clothes you'll still be hot, cold weather offers you the opportunity to protect yourself from its unpleasantness (even Canadians don't like to BE cold).

Interestingly enough, here in Japan I've often been the coldest inside a building, which makes you wonder why in a country with 4 seasons (and five temperatures: cold, cool, warm, hot and the-pop-corn-popped-in-the-jar hot, as opposed to Canada's hot, warm, cool, cold and the-tip-my-nose-fell-off cold) it took them so long to come up with the idea of building insulation, when comic books for grown-ups (and I'm not necessarily taking about the gross ones) have been around for so long. But I digress.

Yes, there are cold temperatures, and here are a few serious rules about how to deal with it. Telling non-Canucks about it makes me a traitor and subject to be court-martialed; think of me as the Bradley Manning of cold weather. So without further ado, here are the basics of "How not to be cold", applicable when doing sports OR not.

First and foremost, you have to make the choice between function and style. For some this is the easiest step; for others the hardest. Last winter I saw a young woman wearing mini-shorts (midly NSFW), a blouse and open jacket complain about the cold... No matter wether you bought it at Uniqlo or at Chanel, down jackets will keep you warm, with the side effect of making you look like Bibendum or Stay Puft Marshmallow Man: they were ugly when they came out, and no matter how talented the designer, they are still ugly today. BUT, they do keep you warm, if you wear them properly.

Second step is to keep your extremities covered: head, hands and feet. We lose most of our body heat from the head. Natural since the brain is the body's biggest energy consumer. Considering how little hair I have, this is much of a concern for me, but even lucky people with more gracious manes need to think about it. Warm gloves and footwear will also go the distance, especially when immobile. Sandals and high heel shoes dot fit in this category.

The final step, found in "The Perfect Canadian Compendium" given to children upon entering elementary school and all new citizens, is the 3-layer system. It is very basic, and it works wonderfully. When putting on clothes which you actually want to keep you warm, dress accordingly. First layer, which could be the most important, wear anything that wicks away moisture, i.e. NOT COTTON. Cotton is great in hot temperatures as when it gets wet (perspiration, rain, etc.), it cools down. This is NOT good when it's cold. In the past I have worn ice hockey jerseys [Canadiens represent! (represented would be more appropriate)], but recently when doing sports I usually opt for inexpensive 'dry' sport t-shirts, both 'warm' and 'cool' seemingly working equally well.

The second layer should preferably also wick away moisture, but mostly keep you warm. Think wool, fleece, down inner jackets, and so on, which do get cool when wet. The final layer should stop the wind and water (frozen or otherwise) from coming in, and preferably 'breathe' out moisture (think Gore-Tex, no bloody Texans here, and other fabrics work good too).

Use this system and you'll rarely be cold (although remember that to be 100% effective, it should be like this all over your body, not just your trunk). For instance today was pretty cold and quite windy in Osaka, so much so that I saw some flurries while riding my bicycle (nothing like this, though). And during my two 40-minute commute, except for a few moments at the beginning when the wind was cooling my feet faster than they were warming from the exercise, I was never cold (had a beanie under my helmet, snowboard gloves on my hands). This, even if I committed the crime of wearing cotton as my first layer.

Would Lady Gaga have called the fashion police had she spotted me? Perhaps, but only if she was indoors, because otherwise her fingers would have trembled too much to even dial 119 (this is Japan). But I really couldn't care less. I was warm and off to meet sensible people.

And cold weather isn't all that bad, isn't it? First, it allows a way to deal with it and still enjoy fun activities. Second, it makes some of the good things in life even better, like kotatsu tables, Japanese pot-au-feu, warmed sake and snuggling.

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