I’m wearing 13 items of clothing today. It is 6º outside, or wait maybe it’s -14º… it’s alarmingly cold. I’m having trouble conveying this because I am crippled by fearenheit: the panic experienced by Americans when attempting to comprehend temperature in other countries.
I’ve been in Europe for four and a half years and while I’ve learned how many pints are in 4 cups of flour, when it comes to temperatures I have failed in adapting to the metric system. (Probably because celsius doesn’t matter when measuring sugar for banana bread.)
Sub-zero temperatures have arrived, snow in Oslo is imminent but the weather is a nuisance only amongst the international community. No one is as prepared as Norwegians for cold weather. Schools seldom close and transport is rarely affected because cars and buses use special snow tires while trains and trams are built for the task.
Rather than hiding by fireplaces Norwegians come to life in the winter. They keep their ridiculously sensible clothing ready for the first gust of sub-zero windchill, suit up in ski gear at the first snow fall and spend the next four months skiing.
And, much to the chagrin of expats living here, they’ve taken away our excuses to stay home on a chilly day:
- Excuse #1: I’ll get cold. Norwegians have a saying: Det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær. That means “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” (it rhymes when you say it in Norwegian).
- Excuse #2: Too much snow. Snow ploughs finish their work before sunrise (8:57am) so if you slip it’s because of your own lack of coordination.
- Excuse #3: It’s too dark. Sunset is at 3:17pm today but don’t fret, you can buy light reflectors. Everyone has them hanging off of the zips of their coats, backpacks and strollers in Oslo to help drivers spot pedestrians.
Norwegians spend what they call “green winter” (there is no summer at the edge of the Arctic) preparing for “white winter.” These folks are practically born with skis on and they’ve found a way to sustain their passion without snow: rollerskiing. What was originally a way to improve technique during the less cold months is now a sport acknowledged by the International Ski Federation.
By the time winter comes again, ski enthusiasts are ready for the trails. On an average winter Sunday nearly 250,000 skiers flock to the Nordmarka, the forest north of Oslo which morphs from a hiking path to a ski route with the first snowfall. The 270-square-mile wilderness is illuminated and marked with ski trails. The only thing that frightens Norwegians is the occasional avalanche.
Locals take precautions in this sort of weather but it’s all to help them stay comfortable outside, winterwear is practically a science here. Here is what my son wears out these days:
- woolwear – silk wool pants and shirt for autumn and spring, pure wool for winter
- fleecewear – tops and bottoms to go over the wool
- wool socks
- winter boots – there is a 2cm-thick woolen shoe that sits inside these hefty boots
- winterdress – this looks like an astronaut suit, there’s one for mild weather and another filled with goosedown and wool for winter.
- hals – I don’t know the word for this in English but it’s a cape covering the neck and upper chest in case the jacket zipper should slip
- hat – wind resistant and yes, filled with more wool
The only skin that’s exposed is the face and for that there’s kuldekrem, a lotion with minimal water content to protect skin from becoming chapped.
Adults wear almost the same items so needless to say it takes about 25 minutes longer to pack up and leave the house.
When I get outside it’s so cold that my fearenheit becomes inconsequential. As soon as it’s time to bring out the kuldekrem, I know I’ve got at least three months of severe temperatures ahead. I don’t have to deal with the confusion of celsius and fahrenheit until temperatures go above zero and I have to figure out which layers of wool to shed.