Coming from Scotland (a country that is no stranger to cold weather), I once naively thought the snow in Sweden would offer few surprises for me. Wrong. Here are six things they probably didn’t tell you about the cold weather here that are worth knowing.
The snowplough alarm clock
Compared to back home, Sweden does an admirable job of keeping its roads and streets clear of snow, making it possible to see crazed cyclists flying down bike lanes the morning after a night of snowfall.
What they don’t tell you is that the ploughing is often done at a ridiculously early hour in the morning, which makes perfect sense from a logistical standpoint, but is a complete nightmare if your bedroom happens to be on the ground floor, facing out onto a road.
If you’re wondering why a few folks look particularly grumpy the day after the first night of a round of snow, it’s probably because they were woken up an hour before their alarm was due to go off by clunky metal machine scraping across the ground outside their bedroom window. I speak from experience.
Good morning. Photo: Nisse Schmidt/TT
The stones, the horrible stones
A shortage of grit or sand seemed to be a yearly occurrence during the snowy days of my childhood in Glasgow, so perhaps there’s some kind of twisted karma behind me now living in a country that not only has copious amounts of it strewn everywhere, but also throws tonnes of tiny stones on top for extra measure.
The Swedish pebbles of doom do their job of providing grip pretty well, but they also have a habit of getting stuck inside your shoes, mid walk. Better still, they also appear to be sized specifically to get lodged in the underside of your boot, before dislodging on your apartment floor and attacking the bare feet of an unsuspecting inhabitant. It hurts.
Oh, and when springtime comes, the pebbles will all be sucked up to make sure that anyone who misses the snowploughs gets one last fix of noise pollution.
Horrible stuff. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
There are people who ski to work (really)
For some fitness-loving Swedes, heaps of snow isn’t reason enough to make taking public transport to work a necessity. Instead, they will literally ski to the office. This is a genuine thing.
So if you thought the peak of winter would provide a brief break from the shame you feel about how much fitter the locals seem to be than you, you thought wrong. I suspect these people are the same ones who cycle to work until the last possible moment, scooting across sheets of ice as if it’s nothing, though I have no scientific evidence to prove it. Yet.
The worst kind of person. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Stuff doesn’t close
One of the real joys of snow in Scotland was the inevitability that the heating would grind to a halt right as the temperatures started to drop, ensuring an extra day off from school, or if you were really lucky, a day away from the office.
Not in Sweden. Unlike back home, for the most part they seem to have boilers which can stand temperatures below ten degrees here, which means that bonus day off is nothing but a distant memory. Though admittedly, there is one big benefit…
These kids not only don't have the day off school, but they actually seem to enjoy it. Photo: Johan Gunseus/TT
The buildings are actually warm
In theory, coming indoors from the cold weather should mean a positive change in temperature, but in the UK that isn’t always the case. One apartment during my student days had a near three centimetre gap between the bottom of the front door and the frame, rendering putting the crazily expensive heating on entirely redundant, while my first flat post-university in Glasgow had a huge hole in the wooden window frame which the letting agent insisted need not be replaced. Ah, the memories.
It was pleasant to learn therefore that in Sweden, the buildings seem to have been designed to keep the elements out and keep the heat in. Heating costs are reasonably priced enough meanwhile, and I’ve yet to enter a home here which didn’t feel at least close to adequately warm, even during the coldest days.
Which is why it gets a bit old hearing friends from abroad comment that your apartment in Sweden must be insufferably cold. One Catalan friend genuinely told me she “would die” if she came to Sweden. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that shoddily built Barcelona apartments are far more insufferably cold in December. Humidity combined with two degree temperatures at night and zero insulation is not a warming experience, trust me.
Warmer than your house in Scotland (or Barcelona). Photo: Hasse Holmberg/Scanpix
The treacherous slask moats
The downside to the regular sanding of Swedish roads and pavements is that at least in Stockholm and southern Sweden it ensures the snow melts fairly well, and within a couple of days it will all have merged into a sludgy brown goo which, for some reason, seems to particularly enjoy gathering around pedestrian crossings – the one place where you’ll absolutely need to step onto the road.
I’m not entirely sure what an accurate translation for the Swedish term “slask” is in this context – slush will probably do – but I do know that I have to battle the stuff on a daily basis when it’s snowing. Attempting to leap over a moat-like puddle of the horrible brown stuff in order to make it from the road to the path or vice-versa is a risky game that can end messily, and one that the Swedes seem to be much better at than me.
A life or death situation Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/TT
Article first published in January 2017.