An expected inconvenience

Welcome to Stockholm! Public transport struggled to deal with the extreme conditions

One truly knows that winter has arrived in Sweden when you can happily spend the night looking out the window as cars and their hapless drivers attempt to force their way up a snow covered hillside road, only to make it three or four metres before coming to an abrupt halt, front wheels spinning madly and in vain. You watch as they back out and try again, maybe making it another metre if they are lucky before becoming stuck again in the quagmire of beautiful white powder. The scene normally ends with the vehicle, and now hapless and understandably frustrated driver, unable to go forward or back any longer; and the car sideways between the road and the massive snow-bank to the side. Back in the warmth of your centrally heated apartment you laugh at the seemingly insane persistence of the drivers who continually attempt to force their way up a hill that they are obviously never going to summit, watching as they climb out into the shivering night, clenched arms and teeth as they set about trying to dig their trapped vehicle out of the mess it is now in. You watch fascinated as they walk around the car,  to devise the best course of action; maybe clearing a little space in the front and laying down some sand in the hope of gaining some all important traction, perhaps digging out the snow bank a little to allow space to turn; inside the apartment you boldly state what needs to be done to rescue the situation, all the while knowing that if it had been you driving you would obviously never have got in the that situation in the first place. Occasionally you are forced to duck in behind the window as the driver seems to be gazing your way, searching for someone who might be able to offer assistance. A flush of what may be shame courses through you as you hide, knowing that you should perhaps be strapping the boots on and going to help instead of marvelling in the incessant need of man to attempt the impossible. But you remain inside watching as the car is eventually extricated from its hole, normally with the help of some passersby and the driver reluctantly goes in search for another place to lay up for the night. With the entertainment over you return to the TV or computer laughing to yourself and waiting for the next hardy local to try the same thing, a wait that normally only takes about five minutes.

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Oops! Another car has to be dug out of a sticky situation as I watch from the warmth of my apartment

As someone who comes from New Zealand’s South Island I am no stranger to snow and the havoc it can cause, but in the shaky isles we do not experience anything like the snow storm that spread across Stockholm on the morning of the 5th of December. Visibility was only a few metres, driving snow quickly covered the land in a layer, then a blanket and then finally a flood of fresh white powder. Over the course of maybe 10 hours a few feet had fallen, far too much and far too quickly to be able to respond. Unlike in many countries however, Sweden does not stop for snow. It is an expected inconvenience that people know they will have to deal with every year. Cars are fitted with winter tyres, designed to give traction in the icy, slippery winters; airport runways are heated to keep them snow and ice free and allow flights to come and go year round, and a veritable army of clean up men and women can be put in to action almost as soon as the snow settles, making the use of plows, trucks, tractors and anything else that will help to clear the roads, footpaths, walkways and all other places where humans may consider passing through. But these things take time and it is the interim period where all the action happens.

The snow shovel became as commonplace as the mobile phone in the direct aftermath of the storm

With the snow fall occurring early in the morning of the fifth and running until the afternoon, it meant that many Stockholmers had left their cosy apartments with their soft lighting and made their way to their cars. They had pushed aside the tiredness that still clung onto their heavily clad bodies and set about shovelling away the blanket of snow that half buried their cars.  Finally after a tiresome effort which left them sweat covered and a little frustrated they climbed into the cold confines of their vehicles and prepared to make the somewhat hazardous journey to their places of work. The side streets are of course the most difficult part of the journey. The main roads have been cleared quickly and regularly, and the volume of traffic passing on them means that the snow cannot settle quite as well. The side streets are a different story all together. Deep snow clings to them, leaving no indication of symbols, lines or even road itself. Wide two lane streets suddenly become barely single lane swamps where any car can suddenly become entrapped in the slushy mess. It is not unusual to see cars simply abandoned, left idle until a plow comes along to set it free. It is also not uncommon for accidents, not the dramatic head on collisions of the movies but vehicles simply sliding at a snails pace into a ditch, another car, or a wall, to occur as the added responsibility of driving in snow becomes too much for some to bear.

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Who wouldn’t want to spend half an hour shovelling that snow off their car before work!

Perhaps the most interesting observation made by a outsider living amongst a people used to this type of weather event is the remarkable ability to press on despite the numerous difficulties. There is none of the panic and chaos that takes place whenever a dusting of snow lands over England for instance, shutting down airports, schools, public transport systems and pretty much anything else that can be shut down, causing widespread  confusion in the process. The Swedes make the most of it, dealing with the inconveniences of the snow with an almost resigned ambivalence. They sigh as they shovel it away from their trapped car’s tyres, make ironic jokes as the train platform ticker reveals their 10:32 will not actually be arriving until 11:02 and simply shrug their shoulders as they trudge through knee deep powder to the local pizza shop for dinner. It is an expected inconvenience, one that many often look forward to on the basis of its aesthetic value, particularly as the darkness and cold of winter strips most of the landscape of its colour. An outsider can only admire watching the locals adapt their routines to fit the new reality and make their day work.

The storm hits Stockholm. It definitely made for an interesting next day!

Myself? Well I for one would rather not deal with it first hand but stand at my window, watching the struggles of those below as they do their best to make it through a day that is not quite as simple as most other days. One of the few times when you can see nature making a mockery of mankinds best laid plans.

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3 thoughts on “An expected inconvenience

  1. Snow, when it first arrives is just incredible, so white, so pure, just wonderful. But once the thaw sets in the image begins to change, the vision starts to become rather dirty looking,like a slightly tired side street, the pure whiteness is no longer, the thaw takes control the beauty is no more.

    Good writing Sam, very expressive. Dad.

  2. Yeah I agree Mr. Olsen ; )! It is definitely the case here, the snow melts and it becomes a frustrating slush. Although the shear volume and cold here means that it normally can last for weeks before it melts. It seems to be snowing everyday here, roads are covered, footpaths are unpassable it really is a sight!

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