Brrr…it’s cold! As a Canadian from the Great White North, you’d think I’d be right at home in this freezing climate. Wrong! Despite all the stereotypes you’ve heard about Canada, southern BC is not cold. I know this, especially after living near the Arctic Circle for the past few months. Vancouver definitely gets chilly, but temperatures rarely fall below 0°C. Snow is uncommon and when it does fall, we’re lucky if it sticks for a day. More often than not it melts immediately, turning to slush or black ice. Seattle and Vancouver have essentially the same type of climates. And get this, sometimes when it snows in Seattle, it doesn’t in Vancouver! Crazy, I know.
Countless times I’ve had Americans (love you guys ☺) ask me “so when you cross the border, is it like a blizzard?” Or “but you’re used to cold weather, I mean it’s freezing in Canada!” And my favorite “so do people really live in igloos?” Ummm, no. Even though I live 2.5 hours away from Seattle, I’m continually faced with these types of questions on a weekly basis. I blame U.S. television and pop culture. Since they enjoy poking fun at their northern neighbors so much, it has resulted in a lot of inaccurate Canadian stereotypes. I’m used to it and take it in stride. But people, Avril Lavigne is not one of my best friends! She’s from Ontario, which is on the other side of the country!
As a native western Canadian, the Nordic weather has definitely been a shock. Whenever I walk outside I am immediately freezing cold. And please believe I prepare myself for this. Boots (thanks Santa!), sweatpants, long underwear, long sleeves, sweatshirt or fleece, gloves, winter coat and scarf. Don’t even think about leaving the house without a scarf – your neck might fall off! All I’m missing is the burglar mask that covers everything but my eyes, and trust me – I’m thisclose to buying one! Our dress and constant gripes about the cold have made the 3 of us a butt of most jokes among the team. They’re always saying things like “it isn’t even cold yet!” What!? Apparently this is the warmest winter Finland has seen in the last 20 years – lucky me! Instead of being -15°C to -30°C everyday, the temperature fluctuates between -1°C and -15°C on any given day. It seems colder because the air is a dry cold. My lungs loved living near the ocean where I breathed in the luxury of moist, warm air. With my Finnish city being so far inland, this cold dry air burns my lungs. Imagine working out and running in it everyday. Even though I worked out religiously during Christmas break, upon returning to Finland I found myself doubled over every 5 minutes in practice. Thankfully, my body has adjusted to the different air and I can now breathe painlessly. Warm…yeah right!
Since living in Finland I’ve learned to hope for snow. When it snows, it means the temperature is warmer. I never knew that. The first week back was bitter cold with -14°C temps almost everyday and no snow. Just whipping cold freezing air – so cold it was actually hurting my knee joints and I’ve never had knee problems (*knock on wood*). After a week of living like Mr. Freeze in Batman, the snow came….and came…and came. It’s been snowing almost everyday since and the snow flakes are huge! I’ve never seen so much snow. Unlike on the West Coast, nothing shuts down in Finland when the ground and air are white. Not school, not work, not anything. Blizzard today? (We get a lot of 20-minute whiteouts). No problem, just leave 10 minutes earlier for work. It’s actually quite amazing to see how people here have adapted to their environment – which obviously they’ve had to.
They craziest thing I have witnessed since being in Finland is the amount of people that bike in the snow. No joke, everyone bikes everywhere... no matter if it’s snow, ice, slush or rain – everyone is on their bike. It’s insane! These people are biking in 4+ inches of snow! You would never see me doing that. Mainly because 1.) I would for sure wipe out, 2.) the air is way too cold for me to be biking through it and 3.) because it’s CRAZY! Plus, the bikes used aren’t even mountain bikes with super re-enforced winter tires. They are rickety old bikes with the curved U handlebars! Nordic people are built for this weather. They are short (low to the ground, you know us tall people have a higher center of gravity – making it easier for us to fall ☺) and tough. It’s not uncommon to see elderly people walking to the grocery store and running errands. Their progress is painfully slow and it’s tough to watch sometimes – I always think one of them is going to slip and break a hip! The majority take precaution however, using ski poles for traction and support. Little kids on the other hand are so bundled up in their snowsuits they can barely walk, tumbling all over the place. I feel I fall somewhere in-between. Too cool to wear a snowsuit, but secure enough to be thinking about purchasing ski poles so I don’t fall again…
Don’t get me wrong, people drive cars here, however, they are not as popular as you would think. Average cars are extremely expensive in Scandinavia. A small 2-door Civic like car that is a couple years old will set you back about 15,000 €. Obviously cars need gas to run and that too is expensive in Finland, costing approximately 1.45 €/per liter (!). In addition, insurance costs approximately 1000 €/yr and you need to add the annual government tax of about 150 € just for owning the car. No wonder the main means of transportation is biking! If you think you’re smarter than the system and decide to buy the same type of car elsewhere for a better price, the jokes on you. That car likely won’t survive a Suomi winter. Most cars imported to Scandinavia are specially designed to perform in extreme cold weather. The average car built for temperate winters won’t start in double negatives and if it does, the engine will freak out and break (yup, that’s a technical term ☺) Even though these cars are reinforced for the cold with huge winter tires, many still need to be plugged into electrical posts when sitting overnight or out for long periods of time. These plugs keep the engine warm and allow special interior heaters in the passenger foot bed to quickly warm the car when it is turned on. The dangerous driving conditions in Finland don’t seem to affect Finnish people, as I have yet to see an accident.
To combat the cold this week Charlee, Liz, Gavin and I decided to spice things up by having a Mexican Fiesta night at our apartment on Thursday. It was a lot of fun. After scouring the grocery store for North American ingredients we found tortillas, Tabasco, salsa (Finnish style), plain yogurt (as sour cream) and Tex-Mex. With the shopping done, we cut up tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cooked it all up while preparing the meat. Our final touch was sprinkling shredded cheese on top of our delicious tacos. It was a great evening filled with great food and entertaining conversation. A perfect way to prepare us for another snow filled week.