In Praise of Wool Socks

I am generally not a warm person. As in, my body is usually rather chilly and I am almost always looking for extra layers. (You’d think, wrongly, that I would be better at planning accordingly.) As far as I know, genetics are to blame for the poor circulation in my hands and feet, which turn white when cold and red when hot. It looks strange and can also be quite physically uncomfortable. (I’m told there’s a name for this but I never remember what it is.) Stranger is the phenomenon by which one of my hands is a normal temperature and the other, usually the one holding the book and not tucked into the blankets, is freezing.

Since returning to a cold climate, I have become reacquainted with the problem of keeping my feet warm, and I’m not sure how I previously managed it. Observation suggests that most people walk around in the winter without being in pain all the time and I spent the earliest cold days hoping to learn their secret. Perhaps, I initially reasoned, I was simply not used to so much walking around in the cold. After all, this is my first winter as a European resident, relying on walking and cycling for transportation regardless of the weather. Getting into a car in North America really doesn’t require too much time outside, and certainly not on the coldest days. But then again, I lived in New York City for a winter and certainly walked there. We had snow that year, too! Or perhaps I am just not as hardy as Germans, who casually do wild things like eat ice cream outdoors in all seasons.

Given my bemusement with the whole situation, you’ll understand why I was shocked when, after I mentioned my cold feet to a few friends, one asked, “Are you wearing wool socks?”

Well no, I wasn’t. I owned one pair and as far as life had led me to believe, they were for hiking. And my ski socks (for skiing) seemed to have vanished (and have since been replaced).

“You should try it,” my friends urged. “It’ll help.”

Who would’ve thought?

Fast forward. Turns out not all socks that look like wool are made of wool and you get what you pay for. Turns out there can be different amounts of wool in wool socks, and that some contain more synthetic materials than others, which may or may not be a bad thing. Turns out thick wool socks fit differently (and not very well) into certain pairs of tight boots. Turns out wool socks keep my feet comfortable enough, though not as warm as I’d been led to believe. (I might need to conduct further trials into my choice of footwear, but maybe that is a project for next winter.)

So I am trying to adapt to winter in Germany: Dress in many layers. Wear wool socks. Always have a scarf. Earmuffs are a good replacement for a hat, but everyone else will be wearing a hat. Children and teenagers never seem cold, even when they should be. Carry a backpack. Ride your bike slowly if it might be icy. Always be prepared to sit outside. Breathe the fresh air. Drink hot tea. Look up at the stars. Enjoy the rare days with sunshine.

Get ready, people keep telling me. Winter only gets colder.

It’s a good thing I have wool socks.

Weimar, Germany – December 2021

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