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Tammy Swift, Published February 08 2014

Swift: ‘Cold’ temperatures are all relative across country

It’s all about perspective.

I recently spent a wonderful week in balmy Florida. Palm trees and sleeveless weather were such a welcome break after a winter of Polar Multiplexes in the Frozen North. I got to visit my sisters, eat at a few of my favorite restaurants and think of something besides frozen pipes and snow-shoveling.

But here’s the hilarious thing. Floridians kept apologizing about the weather. Everyone – from my once winter-hardened sisters to strangers on the beach – talked about it. The temperatures were in the high 60s, we experienced a few days of rain and the sky was Portland-gray. It still was about 80 degrees warmer than the place where I live.

And yet the natives seemed devastated by it. “We’re sorry it’s such crazy weather here,” said one shop clerk apologetically, as a gentle breeze outside the store window lightly moved a single palm frond. “It’s so unseasonably chilly for this time of year.”

I wanted to regale them with tales of a distant land. A place where skunks literally freeze to the ground. A place where even the sun looks cold. A place where they have to check the runway for penguins before the plane can land.

“Grow a spine, man!” I wanted to say. “Put on a windbreaker and have another key lime margarita!”

But I didn’t want to be all “My Old Man Winter Could Totally Beat Up Your Old Man Winter” about it. After all, they do have to contend with the devastation of hurricanes. And I didn’t know if they would actually believe me. (Who can imagine what 70-below with wind chill feels like until you’ve experienced it?)

So I just nodded sympathetically and feigned an anemic shiver. “It sure is cold down here,” I said. “I think a 20-percent discount on this conch shell nativity scene would make me feel better.”

And then I thought about it: What is “Florida cold”? What would these well-tanned and friendly Southerners classify as too wintry? In North Dakota, we know it is winter when we have to plug in our cars, jackhammer ice off our windshields and close the Interstate.

But I suspect Florida can set the bar quite a bit lower. Floridians know it is officially winter when:

• People are encouraged to wear socks.

• SPF can drop to 25.

• Senior citizens go to dinner at 3:30 rather than 4:30 so they don’t need to drive their golf carts home in the bitter evening cold.

• Motorists “scrape” their windshields with Kleenex.

• People say, “Temperate enough for ya?”

• Floridians must close the top button on their polo shirts.

• Water moccasins become known as slush moccasins.

• Rather than issuing “closed school alerts,” newscasters issue “closed-toe shoe alerts.”

• Alligators will only eat prey after it has warmed in the sun for at least a half-hour.

• The beaches are as deserted as a Yoko Ono concert. When women do venture out, they have to wear Carhartt bikinis.

• Manatees begin carbo-loading and really develop weight problems.

• Mermaids need to wear a light shrug.

Of course, it’s a moot point now. I’m back in the land of the Great White North. All I can do is send good vibes to our Florida brethren, as they struggle to get through another day of partly cloudy skies and subtropical breezes.

Hey Florida! Temperate enough for ya?

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com