(First published in Le News 17 July 2014)
Funny you should ask. I’ve been thinking about winter a lot, lately. This may seem a strange time, what with all the blue skies and sunflowers, but it’s best to be prepared: what Switzerland lacks in poisonous spiders and man-eating potholes, it more than makes up for with deadly weather. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I really believe the weather has been trying to kill us since we got here.
For example: we were newly arrived from Johannesburg (where winter requires nothing more than an extra coat), when the ice storms of 2012 hit. The temperature dropped to minus twelve, my eyeballs froze solid and someone – a European, obviously – invited me to go snowshoeing. At night! I tried to explain: a person from Africa does not leave the house in minus twelve. That is when a person from Africa climbs into bed, pours libations of vin chaud to Old Man Winter, and begs for mercy. (This of course was immediately disproved by my husband and the bigger child, who raced past me into the snow, joyfully chanting, ‘Ski, ski, ski,’ and making me feel like a wimp.)
Anyway, we survived that and by the time winter came around again, I was ready for it. I’d bought some serious cold-weather kit and was about to knit myself a full-body thermal balaclava … but … no ice storms. Just snow. And snow. And snow. None of my Arctic gear was actually necessary because I kept warm by shovelling the driveway four times a day. I would’ve done better to invest in a team of sled dogs.
With the help of more vin chaud and enormous amounts of Swiss chocolate, we survived that experience and when summer rolled around, I rolled into summer, a good deal more padded and a lot more weather-confident. Because summer I can handle. Come heatwaves, drought or summer floods, no problem. As long as you have sunscreen, a barbecue and a cold drink at hand, you’ll be fine. But then we were attacked from above by hailstones the size of Luxembourg, and my confidence plummeted again. It didn’t help that I had just, seconds before, remarked to my anxious children that Johannesburg had far worse storms, and would they please stop being silly and come out from underneath the couch. No sooner had they completely ignored me, than a bolt of lightning destroyed our electronics and left my credibility in tatters.
So, I give up. I obviously don’t understand Swiss weather at all, and I have absolutely no idea what the seasons will throw down next. My only comfort is that no one else seems to, either. So far, no matter what the Climatic Malfunction, someone in the know has assured me that it’s ‘very unusual’. A three-week summer downpour that stops the trains and washes away half of Switzerland? Very unusual. Snow in May? First snowfall of the year only in January? Last snowfall of the year in early December? All very unusual. No one has actually told me what is usual, so maybe it doesn’t exist. And that’s okay. As this little poem (found on the Internet, author unknown) says:
Whether the weather be fine,
Whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.