Thursday, 7 January 2010

Why don't Americans go out in the snow?

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.

28 comments:

Dumdad said...

Interesting. But I have no idea as to why!

Vinogirl said...

They're just daft!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Hmm intersting. Do you it's the same reason as they don't walk anywhere? Or am i stereo typing? I look forward to some American responses

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

How does anyone survive without taking small children outside to run off some excess energy? Especially boys (glad it isn't just mine by the way - and you are so right that indoor shopping centres are NOT the place to take them, nightmare from start to finish).

Let us know if you find out what they are actually doing. Some huge snow park hidden away somewhere maybe?

sian said...

The city parks are always filled with kids in the snow - maybe it's because you're in the suburbs? Central Park always has people sledding, skiing, etc. There were even families out at midnight during the blizzard on December 19th.

Iota said...

And when you get the answer, let me know, because this has puzzled me too. I think it's just a cultural thing. We Brits have a deep-seated feeling that fresh air is good for children, and that going outside at some point in the day is essential. The Americans don't. Simple as that.

Actually, I think it's a reflection of a deep cultural difference amongst adults. We Brits love our outdoors. We are a nation of gardeners. We like a sunny day because then we can be "out". If we go on holiday, we like to see the scenery of where we are. Our own countryside is sacrosanct.

It's just not the same here. I once tried to explain to a woman who asked me what I missed about the UK, that I missed walking down a street, walking the kids to school, going out and about at the week-ends... that it made me feel disconnected from the "real" world. I said "For example, you could easily live a life here where you literally NEVER went outside some kind of built environment. You could leave the house by car from your integral garage. You could always run your errands at drive-thrus. Everywhere here has convenient parking lots. You could live without ever seeing the outdoors except for the parking lots you walk across."

She looked at me as if I was on another planet, and said "What's wrong with that?"

My guess is that this is one reason why the fear of climate change tugs at the emotions of Brits more than Americans. We would really MIND if our countryside changed. For most people round here, it's a rather remote problem. If the planet warms up a little, why, you can just reset the air-conditioning. No big deal.

marla said...

I've lived in Wisconsin and Kentucky - two very different places when it comes to snow.... and kids play outside in the snow in both of them!!

nappy valley girl said...

Dumdad - stay tuned, I'm hoping the US commenters might explain!

Vinogirl - Perhaps. But I want to know their secret...

CTTF - I think this could have something to do with it - see Iota's comment below. But New Yorkers are a bit different- they do walk and do go out, in the summer anyway. And my town is made up of suburban New Yorkers...

Brit in Bosnia - ha perhaps you are right? After all they do like skiing.

Sian - I'm glad to hear it. Maybe it is a suburban thing then.....

Iota - I think you are very close to the answer. But then again, as Sian comments above, New Yorkers do like to get outside. Maybe once they defect to the suburbs it all changes?

Marla - Interesting. It's forecast to snow again tomorrow so I'll see what happens this time around...but we were the only people in the playground today (and it's sunny and 40F.)

Rhiannon said...

It is very similar in Connecticut. Playgrounds are deserted as soon as Labor Day comes around. Anyone you meet usually has an accent of sorts. Trying to get my (american) husband out for a walk - irrespective of the weather is like pulling teeth. Children on the otherhand are too small to leave home and get dragged around regardless - it is character building in nothing else.

Iota said...

I've just followed this with a blog post of my own...

Mwa said...

Americans are weird. If you keep trying to understand them, your head will explode. My guess is they're all indoors feeding their kids doughnuts and Coke.

Expat mum said...

I've just commented on Iota's but I think that the dangerously cold temps often play a role. In England it usually doesn't get too far below freezing, but here in Chicago we're usually in single digits (Farenheit) throughout the winter. You can't stay out in that for too long before worrying about frostbite.
They don't walk very far though, it has to be said.

Almost American said...

I definitely think that around here a lot of parents don't share the concept of some fresh air being good for the kids. The number of times outdoor recess is cancelled at one of the schools where I work simply because the air is a little damp, boggles my mind! Of course, when you're talking about wind chill factors that could lead to frostbite, that's another matter!

Overall there are fewer wet days here, so we don't feel the need to rush outside because the weather is good. Nor is snow a novelty that must be enjoyed before it disappears.

I do have neighbours who are somewhat English in their outlook and try to make sure their kids get outside every day. I laughed one day to see them playing outside in the rain - I'd kept mine inside, but then realized it wasn't actually cold, they weren't going to dissolve so I sent them out to play with their friends. They got soaked, but they had a blast.

Sunny and 40 degrees today? I think it hit 32 here today! The kids had outdoor recess at school :-)

Lorna Harris said...

We're on the West Coast so we don't the cold weather to keep everyone indoors.

However, as soon as the weather really warms up in the spring, we eat all our meals outside. I love it, can't stand being inside when it's so lovely outside. We're the only ones on our street who eat outside. Even in the middle of summer, our neighbours eat their meals inside their houses. We must look like tourists!

London City Mum said...

One comment (condensed):

Outdoors = fresh air = good health = happiness

Oh, and it also helps in the fight against obesity, or is that pretty obvious unless you simply drive everywhere (I do not have my own car btw, it's bikes or feet for us)?

LCM x

nappy valley girl said...

Rhiannon -it's quite true. In the autumn the playgrounds became noticably more deserted too. Maybe people assume it's too cold, when actually it's perfectly acceptable?

Iota - thanks, and see my comments on yours.

Mwa - That might true in some places, but we live in New York and they are all fitness fanatics and foodies. Or so I'm told....

Expat Mum - I wouldn't go out either, if it was single digits, frostbite type weather. But I'm talking about temperatures in the 30s(F)which is more common here...

Almost American - our preschool cancels outside recess if the temp drops below 34F. Personally I still take the boys out even when is freezing; you just have to wrap up warm!.

Lorna - we ate outside a lot in the summer here too; the only problem is the mosquitoes, which were fairly unacceptable...

LondonCityMum - of course you are right. And Americans do walk, in cities. But not having a car out here would be considered mad. I am one of the only people I know who walks around with her kids in town!

A Modern Mother said...

Not sure. I grew up in California and we would go skiing every year and spend lots of time in the snow when we finally got there after four hours in the car. We'd make snowmen, snow icecream, snow shoeing, etc. And of course skiing and sledding (not g).

Metropolitan Mum said...

Maybe the Brits are just a bit more extreme in their reactions to the weather. In summer (i.e. starting in April with the first days over 10 degree C) you'll see girls sporting boob tubes, sunbathing on the little green spot in between two main roads in the middle of the city. And in winter, as soon as two snow flakes have hit the ground, the country comes to a halt and people are wearing Siberian fur hats. That's living life to the fullest! :-)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

It has been a bit cold here and I managed to get the children out for a long walk. It sure gets them to bed and to sleep earlier - so I'm all for it! :)

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

From what my mum's been telling me, it's like one long festival in the UK at the mo. School's closed, rds cosed, things cacnelled, everyone tobogganing & our enjoying the snow. My mum says it's quite a carnival atmosphere. A s long a s you don't actually have to get anywhere or do anythign! Not that that's relevant to yr post, I just thought I'd throw in ho w much the brits are enjoying their biggest snowfall in 30yrs!

Fourdownmumtogo said...

You will be glad to know we haven't been letting the side down, my boys have been tobogganing and snowman building while the schools have been closed.

Pippa said...

Sounds ideal though, all that fresh snow to jump in without everyone else trying to do it too!

john said...

Your observation is interesting! I never thought of any reason as to why. When we were young, we were allowed to plat in the snow. They are probably more cautious, that's why.
wood baby crib

nappy valley girl said...

Susanna - I guess Californians are probably more like Brits - snow is a treat?

Met Mum - you are so right about that. Brits do strip off at the first sign of sun - unlike Hong Kong, where I grew up, where women wear tights and jerseys when it's 21 celsius, just because it's December.....

Hadriana - a walk in sub zero temperatures is definitely good for tiring them out. Although with my two, the effects only seem to last about 10 minutes....

PLIT - absolutely it's relevant. The Brits are revelling in it.

Fourdownmumtogo - Glad to hear you are having fun!

Pippa - well from that point of view, yes it is fantastic. We walked in some woods at the weekend in absolutely virgin snow....

John - Yes, I'm sure that is part of it too.

Mary said...

I'm an American and my mother sent me outside to play for an hour or two in Minnesota where it gets to -20°F. She sent me out to play in weather that was well below zero, bundled up, but my fingers and goes went completely numb, and later warmed up.

Anyway, most suburban children have their own yards to play in, so they would never go to a park. Many parks are viewed as unsafe for children due to vagrants hanging around (especially if not accompanied by adults), and perhaps the adults do not want the trouble of going out in the big cities, especially if having to walk or drive to a place.

As children, we were never allowed to go to parks because our parents feared the kinds of (homeless) people who would be sleeping there and hanging around there.

Mary Mimouna, Expat Abroad
expat21.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

That is the answer. They go to thwir own garden.

nappy valley girl said...

Mary - interesting answer. I am sure that is true of some parks, but not the ones round here, which are very child friendly and full of people come the summer. I am sure some people play in their own backyard, but I can't say I've noticed people outside in their yards when I'm driving around the streets....

Anonymous - see above. Interestingly today was a milder day and there were a few people at the park - and neighbours outside in their yeards. But a few weeks ago? Not a soul....

Lolly said...

i live in indiana, and while i think you're do have a point, americans tend to stay indoors in the winter, in the neighborhood i live now i almost wish it was that way! the neighborhood children are always running around playing and yelling... snow, rain, or shine. while i know it's good to not be cooped up all the time, i can't help but wish they'd go hibernate sometimes, especially when i'm trying to study.

however, i don't think it has always been this way. we didn't used to be so squeamish about the weather. my mother's recesses were rarely canceled, even in the dead of winter, and there's many pictures of her and her brothers playing outside in the snow.