I Am Joe’s Blog:

August 23, 2007 • 6:58 PM

On the meaning of “It’s a nice day”

If you were to ask most Parisians what the weather has been like this summer, they’d say it’s been awful. Not me—I’ve found July and August to be delightful: mostly cool and overcast. It’s raining as I type this, and I concede that the rain has been a bit more frequent than I’d prefer. But on the whole, I’m very happy with the weather. A day without much sun is a nice day in my book; hot, bright, cloudless days are in fact my least favorite of all. So if you tell me it’s a nice day because it’s sunny, and I reply along the lines of “Sure, if you like that sort of thing,” don’t think I’m making a joke.

I’ve said from time to time that I like sunshine well enough, as long as I can enjoy it from the comfort of a cool, shady room. I like the look of sunshine; I just don’t like being out in it. People seem to think this is an extremely odd preference, and when I mentioned this a few weeks ago in my Interesting Thing of the Day article on Paris Plages, one reader worried that I might get so little sunlight that I was in danger of suffering a Vitamin D deficit! I assure you that I’m not a troll or a vampire, and I do spend plenty of time outdoors during the day. However…

  • I don’t like the heat. I was a bit concerned that we might arrive in France in the middle of another heat wave, like the deadly one here a few years ago. Notwithstanding the fact that I often go on vacations to warm places, I just don’t deal well with heat, and I particularly dislike being drenched in sweat. It was a relief to find that summer has been cool here, especially since air conditioning is uncommon in France.

  • I don’t like bright light. Maybe my eyes are overly sensitive to light, I don’t know. But even on a cloudy day I seem to end up squinting a lot, or else wearing sunglasses. It’s a bother.

  • I don’t like getting sunburned. I burn fairly easily, and as I remarked in my Truffles for Breakfast post Sun, sand, Seine, I had a rather severe sunburn when I was in high school, which has made me extra cautious ever since. Applying sunscreen is a pain, especially since my limbs are hairy, and it’s not something I care to do multiple times every day. On the other hand, if I keep covered up with clothing, that just makes me hotter. A better solution, for me, is not to be in the sun in the first place.

  • I like clouds. I’m happy to see blue sky, but equally happy to see big fluffy clouds filling it up. And even a completely overcast sky is perfectly OK.

  • I actually like the nighttime better. I’ve always been a night owl—stay up late, get up late. I’m happy that way. I don’t think I could ever become completely nocturnal; that would just make life way too inconvenient. But I almost always prefer to be out at night rather than during the day.

Rain is another matter. During the first six months or so that I was living in Vancouver (this would have been late 1998, early 1999), it rained at least a little bit almost every single day. I have to say, that was kind of depressing. It’s not that I mind being wet as such, but dealing with the extra apparatus (umbrella, raincoat, whatever) to keep my clothes and belongings dry is an inconvenience. (On the other hand, I’m quite fond of fog—always have been.)

Likewise, cool is great and chilly is fine, but severely cold is unpleasant. I do enjoy spending a week or two every year in the snow, but frostbite isn’t really preferable to sunburn, and once again, I don’t like all the extra layers and gear required to keep oneself warm when it’s extremely cold outside.

Context, however, does make a difference. For example, back in 1993–1994 I was living in Pittsburgh. That winter was especially brutal, and I remember reading at the time that Pittsburgh was the nation’s least sunny city, with an average of only 59 days of sunshine per year. Even for me, that was too much; weather was an important factor in deciding to move from there to San Diego, rather than to Buffalo, which had been the other leading contender. But then, other things about my situation in Pittsburgh were less than satisfactory, and in different circumstances I might have been more content with the weather there. As for San Diego, it was pretty sunny, but at least it wasn’t too hot—and, happily, there was plenty of fog too.

Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks about the weather this way, can I? There must be other people who don’t equate “hot and sunny” with “nice.” Don’t be embarrassed to say so. You’re entitled to your meteorological preferences.

In any case, yes, it’s a nice day here in Paris: gray and chilly, just the way I like it.