What It Is and What It Feels Like

Today in Edmonton the temperature is -20C (-4F) with a windchill ‘feels like’ temperature of -28C (-18F). This distinction between the nominal temperature and what it actually feels like has always left me slightly bemused. In my world, only the ‘feels like’ temperature matters.

Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

When Canadians check the outside temperature they want to know not only which jacket to wear, but also if they need one or two pairs of gloves, just a hat or a hat and a hood, one pair of socks or two, just a neckwarmer or a neckwarmer and a scarf. These decisions hinge on how long you need to be outdoors and how far you will be travelling on foot. Getting dressed to go out in winter is an exercise in multiple micro-assessments.

As I thought about this today (and decided against going anywhere) it occurred to me that instead of finding the two different-but-current temperatures odd, perhaps there is a wider use for this concept. There are lots of things in life that are supposedly one thing but in fact feel like something quite different. Off the top of my head, here are a few that occur to me.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Going On A Diet. Supposedly this is a fairly simple exercise in limiting food choices in order to become healthier and happier. What it feels like after a week or so, though, is frustration at being obliged to eat unappetizing meals and yearning for what has been given up.

Voting. This necessary practise is celebrated as the cornerstone of democracy, a privilege, and something to be relished. In practise, it feels like taking a quiz in a silent and almost-empty school gym or community hall. Instead of feeling like a part of a huge collective, it feels very solitary. (That is pre-pandemic voting. Pandemic voting is even less celebratory and communal.)

Family. By definition, a family is a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children. Extended family includes everyone closely related by blood or marriage. What it feels like, though, is a complicated mixture of emotional bonds, occasional joy, occasional sorrow, occasional frustration, and being resigned to accomplishing daily practical shared goals. Oh, and it feels like love, sometimes, too.

Maybe love should have a different “feels like” definition of its own. And what about doing housework, going to work, reading the comments sections, and many other everyday activities? Yes, I think I am on to something here. The Canadian temperature ‘feels like’ concept has much wider application possibilities. I’m going to give that some more thought as I stay home today, not feeling cold.


  1. Feels like temps in California always make me laugh, for example real temp 74 F. feels like 75F. seriously can anyone tell that difference. by the way what is the difference between a neck warmer and a scarf. I would have expected them to be the same. Is my California showing?

    • Haha. I can promise you that I would not be able to tell the difference between 74 and 75 F!

      A neck warmer is sometimes called a gaiter. It is a ring of fabric or wool that can be pulled up over the mouth and nose.

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