Snow Posted on March 23rd, 2012 by

I used to think the best way to disrupt France was to yell “strike” in a crowd.  Within hours, the entire country would be shut down, before anyone bothered asking what the strike was about.  It turns out, you can also just throw snow at them. (Ok, to be fair, it takes a lot more than that for a strike to happen in France; but there are in fact some French people who think that they happen far too easily.)

Around a month ago, we received some precipitation of the flaky white variety.  In the evening, I was shocked by the amount of snow displayed on the French news.  Let me be clear what I mean by the amount of snow on the news.  I don’t mean “all the huge, building-sized piles covering up most of France,” but rather, “all the dozens of ways they reported the little bit of snow that fell.”

When it comes down to it, my county back home in North Dakota probably got more snow this year than the entire country of France, and as an American used to lots of snow, it was comical to see how the layer of water crystals could take up nearly an entire news broadcast.  I laughed out loud during one interview where people were describing in complete seriousness the millimeter of snow on their driveway, and the problems it posed.

The biggest problem is of course transportation.  I took a class on driving in snow called “Being From the Midwest,” but in Brittany they have not been so educated by regularly snowy winters.  People often don’t go into work because the drive will take too long, or the public transportation isn’t on schedule.

Here in Brittany, no one would be surprised if they didn’t see any snow for 3 winters in a row.  France, and especially this region, is temperate due to the large amounts of water nearby.  Such amounts of water are unimaginable in the central United States, because the rest of our gigantic country is busy isolating us from the majority of the world’s water.

So, I had my laugh, and I also felt rather superior for my habituation with snow.  It was funny.  Or at least I thought so at the time.  And yet why should it be funny that a country so struggles with snow when it comes so rarely.  The fact that they aren’t used to the snow is not a reason to laugh, but quite the opposite:  that’s why it is so serious.  I found out that in Spain, there were deaths because of the snow, and I’m sure the same was true in France whether I heard about it or not.

Most of human history is the story of one group of people thinking they are the center of the universe, and everyone else should be expected to live, think, and behave as they do.  When I laughed at the news coverage of snow, it was because I thought I was the center of the universe, and anything that deviated from my normal was laughable.

There are countries and places that get more snow than the Midwest.  There are things to which French people are accustomed that we Americans probably struggle with.  It’s not about superiority, it’s about difference.  So, I hereby retract my laughter, and apologize for laughing at a country for being different from my own.


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