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The Sun Is Out Or The Perception of Hot and Cold Weather Across Europe

The sun lights up the facade of a church in Vicenza

For over a week now the sun has been blasting Vicenza with its most powerful early spring rays. All through the day the temperature is in the double digits. On occasion it even reaches the amazing 20 degrees Celsius. You would think that it is the perfect weather to unfurl your woollen scarf and toss your winter coat aside.

It doesn’t seem to work like this in Italy!

People keep themselves tightly wrapped in thick dark clothes, the puffa jackets on the streets are aplenty and long scarves are artfully knotted around necks that haven’t been touched by outside air since August.

No wonder I attract a glance or two in my short-sleeved top.

In this respect Italy seems to be a lot like home – Bulgaria – where people also dress in line with the name of the season, rather than the actual temperature. And it is very much unlike England where people disrobe at the first hint of a sun ray, even in deepest winter.

Hey, British newspapers even dedicate front page articles to heat waves, which is anything above 16 degrees Celsius. It could be November, March or July, as soon as the sun makes a motion to grace the grey British skies, the general populace is in its undies and sunning itself in Hyde Park.

In Bulgaria on the other hand every person owns two completely different wardrobes (as in ‘sets of clothes’, not the actual wooden thing). One with light tops, shorts and other flimsy clothes for the hot summer and another comprising jumpers, jackets and other warm-inducing garments for winter.

Come spring or autumn, people actually set some time aside in order to unpack the clothes for the respective hot or cold season ahead and place them in their closets, whilst removing the now redundant garments, wrapping them carefully with some mothballs and putting them away for the next six months or so.

To the best of my knowledge, no such thing takes place in England, where the seasons are so amalgamated that one may easily need to wear a jumper in a rainy and cold July and just a lighter jacket in a bright December when the pre-Christmas temperature might reach 10 degrees.

This used to puzzle me no end when I moved to London back in the year 2000. It was December and, following strict Bulgarian standard, I would layer on several pieces of clothing to keep me cosy and warm under my coat. I was first shocked and then intrigued to see that proper Londoners would prance around in thin jackets with not so much of a jumper underneath. And when going out at night, the rule seemed to be to leave one’s coat at home, so queues in front of nightclubs would be packed with girls dressed up to the nines, with short hems, bare legs and tiny tops.

Over the next few years in England it quickly dawned on me that in a country where the sun is so fickle, every chance that one gets to see it, must be maximised. Hence I joined the throngs of people to quickly drop my jumper and my coat as soon as there was not so much of a promise of a nice and sunny day.

The season didn’t matter. London could experience heat waves in March, only for April, May, June and July to turn up perfectly rainy and cold. So, any opportunity was grabbed.

At the same time, in Bulgaria winters were always super cold and summers – super hot, so people would stick to their established ritual of slowly layering on the clothes the closer they were getting to winter and then slowly peeling them off when summer was on its way.

The occasional hot day at the end of winter didn’t matter. People weren’t going to run crazy over a few hours of extra sun and simply drop their clothes off, considering there were still three months before actual summer began.

With amplitudes of 30-40 degrees between winter and summer, it seems in Bulgaria we need more time to adjust our internal thermometer and slowly get used to the external environment.

Well, it seems the same thing is happening here in Italy. With summers guaranteeing an average temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, no-one seems impressed with the current 15-16 (and even 20 degrees!) we currently enjoy.

What’s more, Italians keep looking unabashedly cool in their thick coats and scarves, even with the sun blasting down on them.

I have to be honest though and say that I really feel for the little kids I see here on a daily basis. They are always so warmly wrapped up, often one can glimpse only their eyes between the hat and the scarf.

I am sure any British midwife would have a fit seeing the many babies here who in this warm and sunny weather are taken out fully covered in a thick snowsuit with a blanket on top.

Still, considering my previous experience in England and how quickly I had to adapt to the local attitudes to weather there, give me another six months in Italy and I am afraid I may as well become one of those people who at 25 degrees Celsius can still feel a chill in the air and hence cover themselves with a little cardigan, so as not to catch a cold.

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