Since winter has descended here, there is one thing I have noticed. It is fairly puzzling.
When it's cold, snowy or even just a little bit chilly, Americans don't appear to take their children outside. At all. Even when the sun is shining.
Now I am not a fan of the cold; like many females I suffer from poor circulation in the hands and feet, and sub-zero temperatures tend to make my nose drip. But I simply cannot stay in the house all day long with the Littleboys. There is only so much Lego-building, DVD watching and Thomas the Tank Engine play-acting they can do before they start going stir crazy. They need exercise, prererably outdoors, otherwise they hurtle about like wild animals crashing into furniture by an hour before bedtime. It is a very rare day when we do not venture outside at all; last Sunday was one (because it was minus 7, windy and grey and everyone was tired) and it is not to be repeated if I can help it.
In London, if I went up to Clapham Common on a cold day, there would be plenty of other people with small children about; drinking hot chocolate by the bandstand or pushing their kids on the swings. On a snow day, the place would be packed out.
But here it is a different story. If we go to the playground on a cold day, we will be the only people there. Guaranteed.
When we had a deep snowfall, just before Christmas, we took the boys out for a snowy walk the next morning. No-one else had taken their small children outside to build snowmen or play in the snow. No-one. There were a few teenagers sledging, but that was it. Our neighbours did not emerge from the house all day, except to clear their driveways.
Another day, when my sister was here, the sun was shining hard although the snow was still on the ground. We went to one of the local beaches, where there is a small playground on the sand. It was cold but the snow-covered beach was beautiful; no-one else had been there and the four children delighted in making footprints in the virgin snow. We stayed there an hour before we finally got too cold and retreated; we were the only people there. My sister pointed out that had this been the UK, the place would have been awash with families playing in the sun and snow.
My German friend (the one person who also likes to meet up on the beach or at the playground in winter) recounted an amusing story.. The first winter they were here, she had bought a snowsuit for her son in Germany and got him all dressed up the first time it snowed. They took him out for a walk. There was no-one about; certainly no small children. She wondered where they all were. Then they saw another family coming towards them. Aha, she thought, so Americans do go out in the cold after all. Then she noticed that the child was wearing the same snowsuit.......they turned out to be fellow Germans.
So what is the difference between us Europeans and Americans? Is it just that Americans are so much more used to snow that it is not fun for them (although young children will not have seen it before, or remember that they have, so presumably they would still enjoy playing in it?) Are they just wusses about the cold (unlikely, because they are so much more accustomed to it?) Are they going to indoor places such as malls with their children (fine with a baby, but with two small boys runing up and down escalators? No way, Jose). Are their houses so chockfull of entertaining toys and media for the kids that they have no need to go out, and can go into a kind of hibernation?
Answers, please, on a snow-encrusted postcard.