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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snowplows! We don't need no stinkin' snowplows!

Well, I have finally found something here that annoys me enough that I can only laugh about it--probably--after a few drinks, and this post is an attempt to minimize my alcohol consumption.

Last night we had a nice, moderate snowfall, nothing like what the folks in western Washington dealt with 2 days ago or those in the northeast had in October.  It was about 4 inches, and we probably picked up another 2 or so during the day.  It was very pretty, even with the wind blowing at c. 30 mph, and I loved walking into my office and seeing a few inches of snow built up on the window ledge and some ice crystals outside the windows.

That being said, Finns need to learn about snowplows.

I remember when I was getting ready to come here and was worrying about the possibilities of slipping on the snow, since my doctor warned me that another sprained right ankle would probably equal surgery.  I bought good snowboots, planned to buy special grippers when I got here (and I have but they're a pain if you have to change surfaces a lot), and brought smaller ankle braces that would fit inside my shoes.  I felt especially ridiculous about it all, especially since everyone reassured me that the Finns would be really good about snow removal.  After all, they deal with this every year; they must have it down to a science (like in Buffalo, NY), right?  Besides, they even heat some of the downtown streets like Alexskatu.  The Finns will deal well with snow, right?


Ted got me up at 3 am to go out, so I got to see this little, mini-Cat (nothing like the size of US snowplows) working on one of the parallel streets to us that feeds right into the interstate.  Since it was snowing pretty solidly then, I figured things would be fine, like they'd been with the lighter snows we'd had.


When I walked out with Ted again at 9 am it was gorgeous but a total mess.  None of the streets had been plowed or the sidewalks sanded.  Even getting across the street to the park was a challenge, something that I hadn't anticipated given that lots of people use the same crosswalk I do because it allows them to take a short cut across the park to the tram and bus stops.  What was particularly surprising, though, is that NO ONE had done anything about the sidewalks.  They were pure packed ice and snow.  In the past we'd had a miniCat come by, scrape the sidewalks, and sand them (they don't use any chemical deicers here, and I'm fine with that).  Today nothing.

Much to my surprise, it didn't get better once I'd slogged through the park.  Even a few days ago, when the first picture was taken, I was amazed at how little the city put into keeping the tram stops ice and snow free.  I had this image of someone slipping and going right in front of a tram; that's why I took this picture.  Well, that and the woman in the distance, but more about that in another blog.  (I love having figured out how to use my Nokia's camera.)

Well, the picture below was this morning around 10 am, and as you can see, 2 days ago the platform was shiny and clear compared to today.  The challenge is that underneath that light powder is packed snow and ice.

Well, thanking God for great snowboots, I headed into the Collegium, figuring that downtown HAD to be better that Töölö.  I mean, lots of people walk downtown, all the big businesses are there, the main transportation hubs are there ...


Yes, I took this from my tram stop, which is catty-corner from the main train station.  As you can see, there has been absolutely no attempt to do anything for the sidewalks, although they had at least run a snowplow once down the main street (by the stoplight).  You could tell because they'd piled the snow in such a way that it blocked at least half the sidewalk down there!  (On the way home I noticed lots of streets where basically one side had been blocked because the plows just left a pile of snow on the corner.)

The thing is this wasn't the worst by far.  Heading up the side street to the university no one had plowed, shoveled, or sanded in front of any of the buildings.  (By now it's 10:30 am, so earliness doesn't explain it.)  It was particularly ugly this afternoon in front of the subway station right next to campus.  The streets slope awkwardly there and there are several types of roadway surface; it was pure packed ice and slush ... as were the other sidewalks, the tram stops, and the walk home.

Well, once I got into the Collegium I just had to ask WHAT WAS UP!  William, my French archaeologist colleague, was telling me that it's actually gotten much worse here in the last few years; they used to be right on top of snow removal and sanding.  He thinks it has to do with the economy and cut backs.  Then at lunch, I asked the table full of lovely Finnish postdocs what might be the reason, and they thought that William's idea had merit but they also just figure that this is the way life is; I mean, for Helsinki, this was a perfectly acceptable moderate snowstorm.  Not negligible, but not huge (They rarely get the multiple feet in a day thing here, more a couple of inches every other day, according to these guys).  And while they thought that the snow should be removed faster and that the paths should be sanded, they also didn't expect them to be done.  When I asked what elderly and handicapped people do in this, they just shrugged and thought it might be a problem.

That confirmed it.  It's sisu, that d----d sisu! :-)

In other words, as I kind of figured, the attitude was it snows, it's slippery, we can't do much, we'll just deal.  If it means slipping and spraining and breaking things, so be it.  It's our job to muddle on.


I want snowplows, not sisu.

Anyone want to import deicer? A snowblower?  I mean, I was worried about living in a house because I couldn't imagine how often I might have to shovel snow.  It turns out that, at least according to my lunch companions and the staff here at the Towers, I would never have to do it.  The city is responsible for the sidewalks, too.  I guess, if the building owners don't have to worry about getting sued, suddenly snow shoveling ends.

In fact, I hear that Espoo, one of the suburb cities, was really nicely sanded and plowed this morning.  It's just the city of Helsinki that has problems.

Okay, now that I've got that out of my system, I'm off to have dinner!  Of course, the crabbiness will start again when I have to Ted out for his evening walk if they haven't managed to sand the paths.  I suppose it would be evil of me to bring my box of salt outside and dump it on the walkway into the Towers? :-)

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