Tag Archives: winter

Finnish words that don’t translate 3: keli

As my stay in Helsinki comes to its bittersweet  end, a friend asks me about two aspects of the Finnish Winter which are often assumed to deter aliens from remaining here, leaving the territory to the hardy natives. The first (of which more in the next day or two) was the darkness. The second was the cold.

Well yes it is cold in Helsinki, although the minus 7 of earlier this week seemed positively balmy after the minus 25 in Lapland. But it being a dry cold it is somehow less unpleasant than the damp cold of a British winter. What’s more you are rarely cold inside, the Finnish flats and housed being well insulated and properly heated. However, the strange paradox is that often, in Helsinki, what you want is it to get colder and stay that way. The snow covered streets not only look lovely but they  reflect the light giving you more of this scarce resource.

Sweeping snow off the rooves

The worst thing that can happen is when like yesterday the temperature suddlenly rises above zero and the piles of snow, lovingly piled high by the privatised snow-ploughs begins to melt and the luxurious carpet (should that be “wood floor”?) of snow on the pavements disintergrates into dirty slush or loska.
Keli basically refers to road conditions but it can also take on a wider meaning to include the conditions for skiiing. On my way into our building, an elderly lady commented on this saying, “kurja keli” – miserable keli. And she was right. Not only was there the peril below as even the most sprightly youth risked fractures on the slimey surfaces but danger from above too. The melting ice and snow on the roof tops creates an additional hazard and many building have safety barriers blocking the pavement, forcing pedestrians to chose between being knocked unconcious by falling ice or flattened by a truck.

Gradually workman get around the city on high cherry-pickers,  and sweep the snow from the edges of the roofs making the pavements below safe again for a grateful citizenry. And by chance today the temperature drops again to minus 4 and a fresh fall of snow turns Helsinki white and bright again, reinforcing my intuition that when it comes to keli, cold is better than warm.

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The Iceman Cometh

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Being an Alien with little in-depth experience of the Finnish winter, I am still quaintly delighted by snow. It started coming down last night as we sat in a Dodo meeting on ways to use wasted space in Helsinki. Ideas included guerilla gardening, earthships and squatting. Then walking out to the bar, it had already begun to settle, carpeting the dark streets of Kallio. An established English architect told me that he has no trouble with the Helsinki winters having prepared himself by spending two of them in Oulu, deep in the frozen North.

But so far, I really don’t have a problem either with the cold or the dark. in one way, what makes it so much more bearable than Winters in Enlgand is that when you get home (or even into the tram), you feel lovely snuggly and warm. I cast my mind back without nostaglia of the damp and drafty victorian dwellings of London and feel quite lucky to be here.

(Note to self: find out how much a pair of winter tyres for bicycle will set me back.)Kuva033