One of my favorite topics of discussion with my German friends has to be the difference between perception of temperature and whether a person gets cold easily. I don’t know whether it is due to the fact that many Americans come from climates where there is extreme weather, or if we are used to wearing less clothing and just plain like our shorts, but many a time have I had to defend my clothing choices to those around me, whether it be old ladies on the street, neighbors or colleagues. This problem only got worse when it comes to my kids.
When kids start nursery school here, or Kindergarten, parents are given a list of the things they need to have on hand at the school. For a parent new to the country, this list can be quite overwhelming. What are Matschhosen? Well yes, those are rubber pants that you wear over your other pants when you go outside. Of course, here kids go outside in all sorts of weather, so they are useful. You wear those with your Gummstiefel (rubber boots). And of course, you need a raincoat, and an extra set of pants, underwear, T-shirt, sweater, socks and the ever-present Hausschuhe (house shoes). I remember having to wear plastic bags inside my winter boots in elementary school for whatever reason, perhaps to keep our feet from getting wet. Here the kids leave warmish slipper-like shoes at Kindergarten and put them on as soon as they get there in the morning. I think this is actually a good idea, because it keeps floors cleaner. But the problem we had was, the kids were expected to wear a hat, gloves, scarf and snow pants even when it wasn’t that cold in our eyes. My second daughter was constantly complaining of being “boiling hot” and removing bits of her outdoor clothing when the sun was shining. Of course, as soon as I came to pick her up, the teachers would lecture me on the need for hats and gloves and coats in the spring time. One might get a cold if one were not dressed warmly enough. My kids would surely get sick, and then, heaven forbid, I would not be able to go to work!
After three years of German kindergarten, the teachers gave up lecturing me or my kids on the need for warm clothing because they noticed they my kids were rarely cold and were rarely sick! I have to laugh, because this need for warm clothing starts very early. Babies have tights on year-round (and this also applies to boys over the age of three, and hats, and little funny bandanna things around their necks, and extra socks). So what happens as these babies grow up? They turn into adults who are always cold! My babies always have way less clothing on than those of my German friends. My German mother-in-law is always asking if they are cold and feeling their feet, hands, noses for signs of impending illness.
At the first sign of a cold, most of the Germans I know break out some sort of scarf and wrap it around their necks. This scarf is not just for outside, it’s for inside, at work, at home, everywhere. You know when someone has a cold when they are wearing a scarf. This happens in all seasons! My husband also subscribes to this approach to cold prevention. He has a lovely item called a Vitalschal. This is a black soft piece of neck wear with Velcro closures that is supposed to make his cold go away faster. He wears it 24 hours a day until he feels better. It is only removed for showers.
So beware when you go out in your shorts in the springtime or forget to put a hat on your baby! Be ready for lectures from old ladies on the street. “Aren’t you cold?” You can spot an American from 500 meters, not only by their white shoes and white socks, but also by their khaki shorts and T-shirts when it is a mere 15°C outside. And you can spot a German by the scarves around their necks when it is a balmy 15°C.