We had a string of sunny, frosty mornings in late November and early December—the kind of morning where we all greet each other by saying either how beautiful or how cold it is.
British law mandates that whichever statement you hear, you agree with it. Or if possible, amplify it.
When we first moved here, fools that we were, we’d sometimes play the Minnesota macho card. The front of the card is a scene of snow piled up past a car’s roof and the back is a list of wind-chill factors and absolute temperatures in International Falls, Minnesota, which (ignoring Alaska, where it gets colder) calls itself the icebox of the nation.
International Falls is right across the Rainy River from Fort Frances, Ontario, and I’ve never been there. I lived in Minneapolis, which is 294.2 miles away. Pay attention to that .2, because it won’t come up again. Most of those miles run north/south, so weatherwise (and in many other ways) living in Minneapolis is not the same as living in International Falls. According to the great googlemaster, they’re a four hour and thirty-eight minute drive apart. If you don’t stop for coffee and pie. Or a hot beef sandwich.
Is anything more American than a hot beef sandwich?
But just because I’ve never been in International Falls, is that any reason not to claim its weather as my own? We shared a state. Mi temperature es su temperature, as people who know almost no Spanish occasionally say apropos of not very damn much, leaving me wondering what I’m supposed to say back, although they’re never talking about temperatures, they’re talking about casas.
When I explain where I used to live (because no one knows where Minnesota is, even when they think it’s rude to admit it), I usually say it’s in the middle of the U.S., right up on the Canadian border, and as I hear myself talk I think what a liar I am, although what I’m saying is both true and not true. Minnesota is on the Canadian border. Unfortunately, that’s not the same as me being on the Canadian border, although when that wind blew down off the Canadian prairies it felt like I was.
From this distance, though, 294 miles doesn’t seem like much. Minneapolis got cold enough to frost my eyelashes if I drove the warm air upwards by covering my nose and mouth with a scarf, which I usually did. (People who object to the niqab, take note, please.) The first time that happened, I had no idea why my lashes were clinging to each other when I blinked, and once I figured it out I was afraid they’d freeze together and I’d never see again.
That story’s an example of what Minnesota macho is not. Minnesota macho insists that in temperatures like those there’s no reason to wear a hat. Or gloves. Or to wear a jacket. Minnesota macho says it’s beautiful out, let’s go walk five miles because weather like this makes us who we are.
Weather like that did make me who I was: I was a failure as a Minnesotan. In January, I was just a small heap of clothes struggling to get back indoors as fast as I could. The only glimpse of human being you saw under all that cloth was my eyes with their frosted lashes.
When we first moved to Cornwall, though, it was hard not to turn ourselves into later-day Paul Bunyans.
“Cold?” we’d say. “In Minnesota, it’s like this in June.”
“Minnesota only has two seasons,” we’d say. “Winter followed by a week of bad sledding.”
“It got so cold,” we’d say, “that on a clear day the moisture would condense out and freeze so the air sparkled.”
That last statement is true. It was beautiful, in a horrifying sort of way.
J.’s still so traumatized by our bluster that she prefaces any complaint about the cold by saying, “I know you two are Minnesotans, but—.”
It’s a wonder she still talks to us.
Eventually we learned: Shut up about Minnesota. People are cold. Hearing that it’s colder in a state they never heard of before they met us won’t make them any warmer. And we were being invited to participate in the essential British bonding ritual, which is complaining about the weather. We should have been thrilled. What could be a more authentically British experience?
On Dec. 3, the Guardian wrote about weather alerts and “severe cold weather.” How bad was it expected to get? Why, below freezing.
So I’m going to play by the rules here and swear it’s been terrible. In fact, it got so cold the other day that I took my gloves out of my pockets. Then I put them on my hands.
All you Minnesotans, stop laughing.