10 Swedish tips for not freezing to death

This weekend we had our first snow of the season in NYC. And this time, it's personal.

As a rebellious teen, I used to wear big German army coats in “winter”, like those ones in Wim Wenders films. Bear in mind, I grew up in Brisbane, Australia. Wearing said army coat generally meant I was uncomfortably shiny-faced and frizzy-haired (or at least, more so than usual) by mid-morning. Since then I have lived in Stockholm, and while I spent my first winter there getting by wearing knee-high football socks under my jeans and my feet freezing in Converse, now I understand the wisdom of an old Swedish saying, which goes “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” This winter thing just got real.

In New York City, the cold is a different kind to Stockholm - it’s slightly more bone chilling. The snow doesn’t stay crispy and white here, more ... slushy and brown. Treks in New York City winter are more treacherous than Stockholm, possibly due to the risk that the beautiful pile of snow sparkling in the pale winter sun actually conceals three weeks’ worth of rotting trash bags. 

So, for the benefit of my fellow New Yorkers, or my Australian friends venturing to NYC for a winter wonderland/slushfest, here are some tips I learnt from our Nordic friends to make winter that much more bearable.

1. Layers

The first piece of advice I was given in Sweden was “wear a lot of thin layers, preferably wool”. This makes particular sense in NYC - especially if you need to strip off a few layers in the subway, which feels like a sauna stuffed with sardines, or if you are subject to the utterly and entirely random fluctuations of New York heating. (This year I also discovered fleece-lined opaque tights. Game changer.)

2. Proper shoes - and fleece inserts

Speaking from embarrassing experience, wearing cowboy boots in Stockholm means you will inevitably end up with a wet butt and an ungainly slide across the street. Why was I wearing cowboy boots? Don’t ask. Proper shoes means waterproof, warm, and most importantly with a grip that can keep you upright no matter how any overpriced drinks you consume - handily applicable to both NYC and Stockholm. Alternatively, get fleece or shearling liners you can put inside your regular boots, but watch out for what looks like a shallow puddle and is actually a thigh-high ice bath temporarily resident in one of NYC’s well-established potholes (lookin’ at you Brooklyn).

3. A decent coat

In NYC, abandon all sense of fashion pride ye who enter here. It's okay to wear a puffy coat. It took me a very long time to get my head around this. (The good thing is, you CAN get decent ones for an ok price. I just got this one from Everlane and it's great, and bonus it's not down so it's machine washable and won't have your vegan friends giving you the side-eye.) The most important thing to ensure, at least in NYC, is that the wind can’t get through your coat.  Preferably also have a hood to keep the surprisingly violent horizontal snowflakes out of your eyes. 

4. Keep your head covered

There’s a myth that you lose most of your body heat out of your head. Apparently this is because they only measured the heat being lost from one’s head. Science! Having said that, there’s really nothing more awkward than when your hair freezes across your face, or you are pretending to hear someone's conversation while your ears slowly go uncomfortably numb, so a warm hat that covers your ears is a must. (Hipster Swedes roll theirs up above their ears, but they have had years of practice. Don't try that at home).

5. Mittens are warmer than gloves

This was a pro tip from my best friend in Sweden. Mittens keep your fingers together and in theory that maximizes the chance your body heat can help keep your fingers from succumbing to frostbite and falling off. I've noticed that food delivery guys in NYC use plastic bags as well. Ingenious, but probably not going to make the cover of Vogue (unless Derelicte is finally launched). I recently got some genius leather and cashmere mittens that zip open so you can use your phone, but since my phone keeps dying as it's so cold, Apple may have rendered this example of Swedish innovation entirely useless.

6. Don’t leave your coat on inside

This might be a psychological thing, but apparently if you leave your coat on while inside, you will feel colder when you go back out. I'm sure there's some scientific explanation, but my Scottish ex-boyfriend also told me this, so I’m convinced. If it’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

7. Make your home "mys"

There’s all this hype about the Danish “hygge”, but Swedes have their own version: “mys”. When it’s dark at 3pm (or up North, pretty much always), it makes such a difference to have candles, Christmas star-lights, advent lights and fairy lights inside. Even on your office desk (Swedes are grown-ups so they’re trusted with actual fire in their offices. Not sure you could pull that off here without setting off strobe lights and unintelligible emergency announcements). Baking, house parties and chilling around ceramic fireplaces in unbearably chic monochrome apartments is encouraged.

8. Booze

When all else fails: booze. Glögg is essentially mulled wine. It’s amazing. If you buy the alcohol-free version, add alcohol. Trust me. 

9. Coffee

There's a reason Northern Europeans drink more coffee than anyone else on earth. It’s hot and it helps keep you awake despite the gloom of the endless Scandinavian night. Win win. Do a David Lynch and embrace the power of caffeine.

10. And last but not least... military-standard skin balm

Every self-respecting Swede has some Swedish military skin balm. Not only does it work on chapped lips, greasing weapons, shining shoes (!)  and even frostbite, the story goes that in a pinch you can melt it and cook with it, apparently. I haven’t gone that far, but I have applied it to cuticles and heels. I'm surprised it's not sold on every Brooklyn street corner, but stock up next time you're in Sweden or now you can buy it for twice the price online! Personally, the fact the Swedish military cared about lipbalm makes me love Sweden even more.

So ... stay warm! And feel free to leave me any other survival tips. Winter is coming.