Tuesday, 1 March 2011

There's No Business Like Snow Business

The winter is coming to an end in the UK, and so goes the threat of snow – thank goodness!

Having lived all my life in Western-European countries with fairly temperate climates, I always associate snow with chaos.

When I was a child, it was good-chaos, i.e. closed schools or playing in snow-covered streets. Now as an adult, it is bad-chaos, i.e. paralysed transport and impassable roads. The only time snow does not equal chaos is when it's in the mountains, where snow naturally belongs and where it can be domesticated for leisure purposes.

Finns Love Snow

Finns see this somewhat differently of course. And they don't have much choice in the matter really: whereas London or Paris get just a few days of snow a year (if any), Helsinki is covered for up to 5 months.

For Finns, snow is a good thing. It looks pretty on the trees (aaaaaah...). It's great for outdoor exercise: brisk walks, cross country skiing or skating (though bizarrely, adults apparently only ever go skating if they are accompanying children or amusingly incompetent foreigners).

Possibly more importantly, snow reflects the limited light of the bleak winter, making Nordic life just a little brighter.

Finns Cope with Snow

Obviously, Finns have developed a real snow-how when it comes to coping with the white stuff. They have all the right clothes, equipment and organisation. 

Clearing the snow from the roof
They have winter tyres on all their vehicles, including bicycles. They promptly clear the airport runways, the train tracks, the roads and even the roofs. In towns and villages, the councils have responsibility for clearing the streets, and the residents for clearing the pavements (side-walks). Cunningly, the council's snow-ploughs clear the streets by... shifting the problem onto the pavements! This might explain why pavements are so slippery...

Every so often, diggers come along, and put the accumulated snow into trucks that then go and dump it on special sites or in the sea. Of course, the sea is typically frozen in the winter, so the authorities employ tug-boats to go around in circles keeping the snow-dumping areas open.

[As an aside, just how do you derive job satisfaction from sailing a boat in a circle all day? What do you tell your friends and family about your job? Do you get dizzy?]

But Finns Need to Learn

Finns are understandably proud of how they cope with snow, and enjoy a good snigger at the expense of other countries (most notably the UK) struggling with a mere dusting of snow. However, there are two areas where the Finns seem to fall short when it comes to snow and where foreigners can get their own back.

Raining snow at the bus -stop
The first is that, despite having over 40 words for snow, Finns unbelievably don't actually have a verb “to snow”. Instead the Finns use “to rain snow” (“sataa lunta”).

The second is that, for some inexplicable reason, Finns don't use umbrellas in winter. In Finland, only a complete eccentric or a foreigner would consider deploying a device that is clearly very effective at preventing wet stuff falling on your head and clothes.

So paradoxically, while Finns could teach foreigners how to overcome snow-chaos, foreigners could teach Finns how to keep dry when it rains snow!


  1. I do Understand that this is old article but would like to correct one statement:
    "Finns unbelievably don't actually have a verb “to snow”. Instead the Finns use “to rain snow” (“sataa lunta”)."
    Maybe it never just "rains snow"?

    How about "pyryttää" - to snow heavily?
    Or "räntii" which is "to (rain) sleet".
    Or "tuiskuttaa" which means that the snow is coming with the wind so that it gets to all cavities imaginable (and some you could not bear to think).
    I think there must be more.

    1. Good point, though these sound like special forms of snowing (English also has a verb "to sleet", btw). But if you look out of the window, and it's snowing normally, then I believe Finns would say "sataa lunta"...