Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Finns and the temperature

The terrible weather forecast for next five days in Helsinki

I left the house at 8 am this morning and it already over 15 degrees Celsius; what I think of as perfectly nice t-shirt weather unless you are going to be sitting around outside for hours. But now I’m on a bus sweating profusely because the heating is on. The radiators that run along at foot height under the bus seats are too hot to touch. A faulty heating system maybe? But I don’t think so.

The longer I live in a foreign country, the more I travel, and the more friends I have from different countries around the world, the more I tend to think that people are more alike than different. But at the risk of playing to a national stereotype, I’ll go this far – the majority of Finns are completely nuts when it comes to the temperature. There is a dirty little secret that the Finnish Tourists Agency will never tell you: that Finland has rather nice weather, at least in comparison to the much of the rest of rainy, dreary, Northern Europe. I’ve been having to water the garden because there hasn’t been any rain for maybe three or four weeks. Its cloudy right now, but the last week and half has been wall-to-wall sunshine. The weather is stable, so once it turns nice it tends to stay nice for sometime and finally the traditional winters at least, are cold, dry, and snowy. They want you to think they live in a icebound land of savage, frozen beauty – but they don’t, it is all rather civilised from a meteorological point of view.

Yet many Finns seem to live in perpetual fear that they, and particular their children, are about to die of hypothermia. In the last week I’ve seen people wearing gloves and woolly hats for their morning stroll with the dog - the temperature was about 13 degrees! Children are dressed up in one-piece snowsuits, mitts and massive balaclavas until the temperatures are well into double figures. Friends and colleagues are forever asking “don’t you need a hat?”, “shouldn’t you put a coat on?” when you are leaving the office to walk a massive 100 mtrs to a nearby cafĂ© for lunch. Houses are heated to the mid-20s and the idea of opening a window in winter (or indeed anytime when the temps aren’t approaching the mid-20s) to get some fresh air will be met with reactions ranging from bewilderment to anger. And then they put the heating on in the bus in an effort to give everyone a sauna as they try to got work in morning, and still no one takes their overcoats off.

My pet-theory for this national aversion to cold is that at the end of the Second World War, along with the formation of the welfare state, Finland took a collective decision never to be cold again. And on my bus to work this morning, they were sticking with that decision as much as my shirt was sticking to my back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I reckon you just sweat alot, I still have my thermals on :)