California human experiences first Dutch Winter. Doing great.

by Janelle Hanchett

Good news. I have figured out how boilers work. Is that even what they’re called? I don’t know. Those metal flat things attached to walls that run water through them, getting warm but not hot enough to burn your house down if your kid leaves a stuffed animal on it (not that I checked this five times a day for the first month we used the fucker).

You know, the heating system everywhere in Europe built in approximately 1743? Those.

Anyway, the way they work is this: When you are cold, so cold, like ice melting across your wordless soul, you turn the thermostat up one degree Celsius.

Seventeen minutes later you are so sauna-hot you go outside, into Dutch Siberia (which is the whole country), on purpose, to cool off. Then, about two hours later, you start the process over again.

It’s a wet cold here in Holland. Humans I wanted to punch in the face used to tell me that the 110 degrees in California I experienced wasn’t really that hot because it’s a “dry heat,” and yes, I get it, humidity is a special hell, but can we all just fucking agree that 110 is like living in Satan’s ball sack no matter what the conditions? You can’t breathe in hot humid you can’t breathe in not humid hot.

Oh, hot sounds nice.

My toes will never be warm again. Jeans do not cut the wind. My socks are 12% effective. People say I should wear two pair made of merino wool. They are clearly not taking into account my laziness here. Two socks.

Fun fact, it’s not even full winter yet.

This has all been perhaps a grave mistake.

I burn 3-7 candles at all times in my house. George says I “have a problem.” I say, “I AM TRYING TO CREATE SOME COZY SO I DON’T DROWN MYSELF IN A MOTHERFUCKING CANAL.” I say this with my brain not my mouth because saying that word to your kid even as apt modifier is frowned upon.

The Dutch word here is “gezellig.” It means “cozy” but more than cozy. It’s like comfortable, lived in, warm, general togetherness, friendly. For example, when a Dutch neighbor came over and I did the standard apology for kid shit all over the floor, she said, “No, I like it. It’s gezellig. It means children live here and are comfortable to play here.”

And then I cried and cradled her in my arms for a good ten minutes. I didn’t. The Dutch would hate that. Niet gezellig to force affection on acquaintances.

I got a heated blanket because I’m elderly and also I take a lot of baths in our giant tub. God gave us a long, deep, massive (that’s what she said) tub because he knows I used to think closed-toed shoes meant “winter.” And this is definitely how god works, an act of divine providence as opposed to just, like, luck, since this is the only house that would rent to us.

I’m really into the really good tea from the tea shop in the center of town. I also like the way I bundle up to go outside then SWEAT CONSTANTLY once I get inside where I’m going because gezellig and boilers.

Did I mention it’s going to get colder and rain like this and be gray and get dark at noon even though the sun rises at 10am for the next four months?

No need to look at the weather app. IT’S ALL GRAY ALL DAY ASSHOLES.

It hails occasionally. That’s fun. But no snow. Snow is too pleasant. Too bright. Whoever said white is the absence of color has clearly never lived through a Dutch winter. Sea of Gray, a love song. If it snowed, maybe the moon that peaks out the clouds for 3 minutes every tenth night would reflect off it, almost giving the impression of light. And we don’t do “light” in Dutch winter.

Okay fine. I’m exaggerating. The sun comes out for at least ten minutes over the course of a week.

Meanwhile, Dutch families ride their bikes in this shit, all day, shaming with their toughness and stoic “what’s your problem” attitudes. Some of them even smile. They aren’t like positive about it, they just don’t seem to care. I feel personally attacked. They cart 2-3 kids on those bikes, in the fucking rain, with or without ponchos or gloves.

They’ve obviously given up on life.

Or embraced it. Your call.

Yes, I am aware that It is nowhere near as cold here as Chicago or Minnesota or Canada or wherever else people put kids in snowsuits and have tears freeze to their cheeks. My friend Antonia said that happened to her here, so that’s a nice thought.

But, where I lived in California we had two seasons: Hot as Fuck and Orgasm-Level Perfect.

Mixed in there between December and January would be a week or two of “Guess I shouldn’t wear Birkenstocks today” AKA “Where’s my coat?” AKA “Do I own a coat?” AKA “WHY CAN NONE OF US DRIVE IN THE FUCKING RAIN?”.

One thing I have learned about “actual winter,” though, is that one always complains about actual winter. Every year. Just like I complained about the one-hundredth 90+ degree day in a row, people with winters complain about winters. Unless you’re Dutch, in which case you get all gezellig and shit, throw some flowers in your bike basket and say things like “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

I FUCKING DISAGREE DUDE BUT SURE LET’S DO IT YOUR WAY (sorry for yelling please don’t kick me out).

In conclusion, apparently Mac wears scarves now.



Hey friends I’m running three writing workshops in the beginning of 2020.

Check them out.

FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, for the writer ready to write her story (January)

RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get lots of actual words written (January)

WRITE ANYWAY, where we gain a new relationship to our fears of writing (March)

A FOCUS ON CRAFT, um, where we work on becoming better writers (only more fun than that I swear) (April)

I found this a year after I named my workshop “write anyway,” which basically means I am Junot Diaz.


31 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | November 14, 2019
  • Jennifer Wolfe

    Ugh. I don’t know what to say except it’s cold enough at home right now to wear closed toed shoes…in the mornings.

    • Sandra Deden

      The thing about cold is that it requires more stuff–nuanced layers, so that can be a big pain in butt, especially if you are trying not to accumulate stuff and have 5 people to outfit! It’s hard to find a coat that will do everything you need it to in all the types of winter weather, so you have to get a few different kinds, different layers, and waterproof/windproof abilities. I live in New England and would love to have just one magical coat, instead of 3 coats, two fleece hoodies and 3 kinds of footwear!

  • Tara

    Yeah, cold is a shock to the system, even for those of us who ought to be accustomed to it. And feeling cold for a prolonged period is exhausting in a very particular way. I’m from Maine and we’re having a week of the kind of temps we usually see in January. Not that November is exactly balmy, but I usually don’t have to wait around in the fall for the temp to reach 20 degrees so I can take a slightly less bone chilling walk. Don’t throw things at me, but they are totally right about the merino socks. Although I don’t do two pairs. I have thicker ones for wearing at home, thinner to fit in my shoes. Plus, when it’s really cold it’s boiled wool house shoes all the way. But merino is your friend. It is worth investing in some merino base layers, top and bottom. They aren’t cheap, but they last forever and make winter so much more comfortable. This recent cold snap has even my teenagers asking for merino layers. I find good deals on Smartwool and Icebreaker on Amazon, Sierra and Zappos. But I’m sure there are great brands native to Europe. Extra sweaters lying around, blankets on all the couches, that how we rock it in Northern New England. And tea. Lots of tea. Plus cozy candles, which you’ve cleverly figured out already. I’ve been known to utter something like “No bad weather, just inappropriate attire,” once I get my merino layers squared away. Don’t hate me. Good luck. Sending you warm thoughts.

    BTW, just found you recently when, one desperate morning, I searched, “How to parent teenagers without losing your mind.” Thanks. I’m enjoying catching up on your writing.

  • Anneke Gaul

    You’ve reminded me of why I love spring. The scarf looks good and your writing is making me homesick. Thank you.

  • Kari

    Love this! Love winter…lol. I look great in sweaters and boots!

  • Cherrill van Egdom

    Damp cold is definitely worse. It gets right into your bones. Oh, but just wait until the Christmas markets start. They are so magical.

  • Laurie G.

    I grew up in the North Country of New York State, right on the St. Lawrence River, where winter came early and stayed late. When I was a kid, I just accepted that this was my world–rolling around in the snow with my friends, wearing five layers of clothes. My Halloween costumes were always extra large so they could fit over my snowsuit. As I got older it seemed insane to live in such a cold place with such short summers. I moved to the southern border of NYS at 35 and even that small change was a welcome relief. I’ve come to absolutely hate winter, though I cannot imagine moving to America’s undescended testicle, Florida. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD–a little spot-on acronym that still makes you feel like it’s all in your head). It’s not. SAD is a real thing. The bathtub (jealous!) sounds great but get yourself a light box and use that fucker. Light is a nutrient and if you have SAD, the lack of light can lead to serious depression. Some Vitamin D might help, too. (Taking off my amateur physicking hat and wishing you well.)

    P.S. Bright side: you’re not being subjected to the 24 hour-a-day shit show demonstrating our abandonment of the little democratic experiment called the United States of America, aka the impeachment trial.

  • Joanne

    I live in a little town in south-eastern Ontario right by the border to northern New York. It has been snowing almost non-stop since Monday and we got our third snowstorm watch of the week this morning. Yesterday it was -14 Celsius. I hate everything.

    • Jen

      I live in Wisconsin, and we’ve already had over 15” of snow this year and broken several records for cold/snow. We normally have 1” of snow now. I hate everything too. I understand

  • kelly lewis

    Yak wool products… anything/everything–> blankets socks long johns. Discovered them in the Himalayas and they saved our lives.

    p.s. it’s a gray chilly 67 degree day here in San Diego.

    • Lisa Landon

      I agree with Kelly. Layers, layers, layers. And if you can’t wear wool, try bamboo for the first 1-2 layers closest to your skin. And those water-circulating flat metal things attached to the wall are radiators. Boilers are in the basement and are behemoth scary monster machines but they do keep the house a lovely warmth ????????❤️

  • Anne

    Get thee a very long, very puffy coat. Put it on over your normal clothes that are comfortable inside, plus maybe one more layer that’s lightweight and warm and not cotton (e.g. wool). You’ll acclimate to the cold eventually. The gray is harder to deal with though. Indoor UV lamps are a thing, if vacations to the Spanish coast are out of reach, but I recommend getting away to sunny places if at all possible. You need that vitamin D, and to be reminded that the world will not be gray forever.

  • Cheryl S.

    Get a sun lamp. not a tanning thing, but it’s to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) Keep that Fcker on all winter.

  • Gailen Anna

    Winter sucks ! It isn’t even Winter yet here.
    It is fucking dark in the morning and dark at 4:30.
    And mostly gray and rain. And I am allergic to wool.
    Wool socks itch , wool itches, everything about Winter sucks.
    But, you are free of Trumplandia, greed, school shootings, snow, and when summer hits girlfriend it is light until 11pm.
    Until summer, i will be in hiding under a light box, and blankets, daring bravely to go outside!
    Be well.

  • Denise D

    It’s fucking 74 in Sacramento right now. I’d love to wear a scarf. I’m still wearing my Oofos, I don’t know when I’m going to a closed toe, but when I do, I won’t have a pair of matched socks. I know, you’re not impressed because you’re cold. I’m excited to read when you learn all the cool-kid tricks and get cozy over there and now I’ve read comments about Christmas markets? I can’t wait to live vicariously through you as you experience all these new things. Good adventures.

  • Liz

    People who enjoy winter and cold obviously have great circulation. For the rest of us, all we have left is complaining. My first winter back in Massachusetts after 4 years in LA I just cried on the couch under a quilt, so don’t worry, it’s not just you.

    • Susan Barstow

      Hahahahahaha. This is perfect. So,so funny. But Mac looks great in a scarf. And I bet you do, too. Go light some more candles.

  • Norita

    Look at Mac Van Gogh !

    Love this educational post – teaching us dutch n’ shit ????

  • Megan

    Shout out to Canada! I’m in Toronto, and I feel very personally offended by all the snow and cold so far this year. I mean, I’m personally offended by it every year, because why can’t summer last forever. But this year it’s extra snowy and extra cold, and much earlier than usual! Therefore, I am much whinier about it than usual.

  • Kirstie

    I moved from Auckland (New Zealand) to London in my 20s. Got there during a heatwave, loved life. Winter came. It snowed and I was stuck at work. I slipped over. I was so so cold all the time. I complained constantly “how do you people live like this! It’s winter for 9 months!”. Second winter and surprisingly it didn’t bother me.
    Maybe our blood slowly freezes?
    Good luck! Enjoy the cosy. It’s pretty nice to have central heating!

    • Judy A Taylor

      I live in northern Canada. I feel your pain. Lucky me, I live with dry cold, which means chapped lips, dry skin, and static electricity that’ll knock you sideways. I went to Scotland a couple years ago in April. It was a very wet 3°C and people had babies in strollers with no hats or coats or mittens. I’m thinking Europeans are born tough.

  • Dalithie

    Far out you make me laugh and feel…
    I feel every emotion and temperature and mood change.
    Dress for comfort and get the warmest/windproof/rainproof BIG coat.
    One that is easy and fast to rip off when inside.
    Also bamboo leggings for under pants.
    Jeans are cold! Time for corduroy ????
    Either way, personally I find whining about the weather very therapeutic

  • Dorothy Gale

    I hate to tell you this, but you’re going to want undershirts for you and the kids. They’re like a tank top, but you wear them under your shirt. And then a sweater over that. Very cozy for November to February.

    And long johns, but only in January. Or if there’s actual snow or if the canals freeze.

  • Gaynor Evans

    Another Brit here of 50 plus years and I’ve got nothing hopeful to tell you – it’s not so much the damp cold seeping into your bones as the unremitting gray. Just bury your head, eat solely carbs and pray for an early spring, when you will take off all your clothes and declare it too hot at 17 degrees. Then you will truly know what happiness is. Stick in there.

  • Deborah Stothert

    I was meant to live in California. Sadly I live in the UK and it is the same weather as The Netherlands more or less and it sucks. I fucking hate autumn.

  • Frankie M

    Email me your address. I live in Canberra, Australia. We have The Cold in Winter. I will send you The Socks.

    You got this ????????

  • Jennie Caminada

    Yes so I’m from Holland and even I was always fucking cold and never really got used to it. Now I live in London which is marginally warmer (we have lots of buildings and also hills, nothing stops that Siberian wind in Holland!) and I’m still cold as anything right now. I love the UK but my god I can’t bear to be this cold for months on end for the rest of my life…But Holland is a cool place albeit not chaotic or creative enough for me!!

  • anne-cathrine nyberg

    “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Ha! We say that in Norway as well, particularly in Bergen which is called the rainiest city on Earth – it rains 240 days per year!

    You need to buy merino wool under garments! We live by it here. It is great because, not only does it keep you warm, it also keeps you dry since it breaths.

  • Laura Waller

    Ahhh gezellig – my favourite Dutch word. Overdose on the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD, and go find that new appreciation for Spring. As a Dutch/English person living in LA – I’m jealous!!!!

  • Fujolan

    Greets from the even smaller country next door. You’ll make it. Merino Shirts , fleece, gloves and a buff.
    Try the cycling, it’ll keep you sane (for a given value of…)

    And enjoy NL the country where bike garages at the station beat everything you’ve ever seen.

  • Jenn

    SO MUCH GREY. Different shades of grey, but still grey. The dampness is the worst. But I had to laugh as I’m a Canadian transplant and other than the grey, I’m finding Dutch winter to be almost tropical. I will welcome sunshine and spring though…