Advice | January 11, 2021 8:09 am

In Defense of Being a Smug Jerk About Winter

The secret to surviving frigid temperatures is to insist they're not that bad

skiers in swimsuits
"Balmy weather we've got here today!"
Alan Band/Keystone Features/Getty

You’ve no doubt heard of “Midwest nice,” and while I both originally hail from that region of the country and generally consider myself to be a friendly person, I have to admit there’s some sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing that takes hold of me every year between the months of December and February and makes me insufferable. I am, unfortunately, that smug friend of yours who loves to brag about how she can handle winter while you’re freezing your ass off.

I wasn’t always this way. It started about 10 years ago, when I moved from my hometown of Chicago to Atlanta — where, of course, if they get flurries once a year, it’s a rare fluke — and was shocked and a little amused to discover that most people there had no idea what a harsh winter looks like. If it dipped below 40 degrees, it was frigid to them, and I’d laugh and shake my head and remind them the high was nine degrees in Chicago that day. The few times it did snow (again, we’re talking flurries), the entire city would rush out and buy up all the milk and bread from the grocery store in a panic, and I’d smirk about it to my friends who would politely indulge me.

When the infamous “Snowpocalypse” happened in 2014 and two inches (two inches!) of snow brought the city to its knees for days, I didn’t laugh, because I’d been living there long enough to understand how woefully underprepared for such a thing the city was. (Of course all the roads are going to ice over and become dangerous when you’ve got maybe two salt trucks in the entire metropolitan area.) But I did spend the whole time offering unsolicited advice about the proper way to dig out your car to anyone who would listen.

Eventually, I missed real snowstorms too much (among other things) and moved back up north — this time to New York City, where I was surprised how much milder the winters were compared to where I grew up. I remain extremely obnoxious about it to this day.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t just bragging; it’s a survival tactic. Chicagoans wear winter as a badge of honor — a challenge to be conquered, proof of their hardiness and grit. We tough it out by faking it till we make it — telling ourselves this isn’t that bad, we’re not that cold, this is nothing compared to that blizzard a few years ago — and eventually we start to believe it. We understand that harsh winters, like death and taxes, are an inevitable part of life, and rather than complain about them, we spin them into a point of pride. (This is, at its core, what it is to be a Chicagoan. We love to embrace things the rest of the country sees as objectively bad — subzero temperatures, the Cubs, malort — insist they’re great and brag about them to anyone who’ll listen because they’re ours.)

And that self-congratulatory attitude can rub people the wrong way if they didn’t grow up watching their neighbors put plastic lawn furniture in the street to call “dibs” on the parking space they just shoveled out. But surviving winter is a team sport, and it’s always been my experience that the same people who rely on the dibs system (hey, fair is fair) will happily shovel your walk for you without asking or help push your car out if you get stuck in a snowdrift. We know that winter is tough, but we fancy ourselves to be tough too, and so we take pride in things like knowing you have to brush the snow off the top of your car (not just the windshield and windows) so it doesn’t slide down and blind you while you’re driving. We march outside in the middle of a snowstorm to sporadically shovel even though it seems counterintuitive, because we know waiting until there’s a foot on the ground and attempting to lift it all at once is a good way to give yourself a heart attack. We remind each other to pull up our wipers on our parked cars before the snow starts to prevent them from freezing to the windshield, and we understand that helping a little kid out of their snowsuit so they can go to the bathroom requires the same speed, precision and nerves of steel one needs to dismantle a ticking bomb. We band together to defeat our common enemy, the cold, and yeah, we like to pat ourselves on the back for it. Is that so bad?

The rest of the country could stand to follow suit. The secret to surviving winter is to see it as something to be conquered. It’s a puzzle you know how to solve, a game you know how to play, and getting through it just makes spring feel that much sweeter when it finally rolls around — like you earned it. You’d be amazed how effective a cliché like “mind over matter” actually is. Next time you’re shivering as you wait for the subway, just tell yourself you’re not that cold; you can handle this. Let your competitive edge warm you. Remind yourself that however cold it is now, it’s even chillier somewhere else. This is nothing.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for you become one of those guys who walks around in shorts year round or gives himself frostbite because he’s too macho to put on a pair of gloves. Conquering winter isn’t about defiance; you have to respect its power and understand that you’re going to need all the appropriate gear to safely get through it. (Besides, knowing what all that entails is another thing you get to brag about — you’re an expert.) And while the “fake it till you make it” approach works for life’s regular inconveniences like blizzards or even more broadly as a way to overcome shyness or imposter syndrome, it’s not the way to cope with more serious issues like mental illness or addiction. There are things in life we can’t just grin and bear, and there’s never anything wrong with asking for help when you need it.

But winter is temporary, and it’s nothing more than a minor annoyance if you handle it with the right attitude. So button up that heavy coat (but not too early — you want to save your warmest one until it gets really cold so you still have something to level up to), make sure you’ve got at least one really good ice scraper you keep in your car at all times, and remind yourself that you’re not that cold and, especially with everything else going on these days, this is nothing. Spring’ll be here before you know it.