Tempête de neige

Five years ago this week, I first posted about the drama of snow that grinds France to a halt each year. I am happy to report that, in true French fashion, nothing much has changed.

It seems somehow appropriate that the anniversary of this blog is marked by another epic episode of snow in Paris and most of northern France. Once again, hundreds of people were stranded in their cars, trains were delayed or cancelled, and just about everything in Paris closed — including the Eiffel Tower.

This post from 2013 was inspired by a conversation with my late Belle-mère. Although she has been gone for awhile, she lives on in our hearts and, occasionally, here on this blog.

Restez au chaud mes amis!


Snow covers a Metro sign and tree branchesHow five centimeters of snow turn the fearless French into a bunch of sissies

My belle-mère (mother-in-law) called early one morning in January with the breaking news: “’Have you seen what’s happened in Paris?” she demanded. “No,” I replied, imagining a terrorist bomb or worse, a train strike.

“They’re completely snowed in. At least ten centimeters.” In France, snow in Paris is major national news. Next thing you know the army will be called in to rescue stranded commuters.

“Imagine,” I said. “Snow, in January.” This prompted a diatribe about how it was all very well for Nordic countries, but in France they’re not equipped for snow, at least not in the city.

Full disclosure: I grew up in Canada. As a citizen of the great white north, it takes more than a few flakes to keep me down. But after a few years in my adopted country I have…

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  1. davidprosser · February 8, 2018

    Though I’d say we’re probably good at salting the roads there still can be pandemonium and it’s a standing joke how many trains get cancelled because of snow on the line.It’s not as though it’s a rarity in certain areas but they’re still not ready. No wonder the Canadian in you can laugh at us wimps.
    xxx Mammoth Hugs Mel xxx

    • MELewis · February 8, 2018

      These days I would probably wimp out pretty fast if confronted with a serious snow fall — it has just been too long since I’ve had to navigate on Canadian roads in winter. By the sounds of it you are well-prepared in Wales and trains getting cancelled is pretty par for the course. Hope you stay snug and safely indoors! Bises xxx

  2. francetaste · February 8, 2018

    My husband was enthralled the year we lived in NYC to see the garbage trucks fitted with plows and out clearing the streets. And the sidewalk-size Bobcats. And the snowblowers. France has none of those things–after all, why have so much machinery that gets used once or twice a year?
    I grew up just below you in the Midwest, land of big blizzards. I kept a shovel and a big bag of sand in my trunk (to sprinkle for traction if stuck but mostly for ballast to avoid getting stuck in the first place). You put your car in second gear, keep a steady pace and voilà. Here, not only do many people slow to a crawl but those in SUVs and, now, pickups, drive as if snow and ice don’t apply to them. The last time it snowed, nearly all the cars in the ditches were SUVs.
    We might get a dusting on Saturday. It like it could today and is finally cold enough.

    • MELewis · February 8, 2018

      The midwest? Now that is serious snow land! The 5 years we lived in Minnesota were some of the coldest and snowiest of my life. Toronto is actually further south as the border dips down and the great lakes moderate the temps much of the time. Garbage trucks fitted with snow plows sounds like a brilliant idea!

  3. MELewis · February 8, 2018
  4. phildange · February 8, 2018

    i’ll maybe darken the mood but all these inconveniences come from the globalization/privatization cancer .20/30 years ago public services in France were still public and with enough ressources, human or material . For the roads every département had its DDE antenna (Direction Départementale de l’Equipement) . Enough people, enough money to buy what was needed . We never heard of this mess of now, unless in case of fantastic weather catastrophy . In the last decades our so-called governments had only one major goal ; distracting all the money possible from the public sphere into private world corporates, banks and trusts .
    The same cancer is active in every field, thousands of hospitals beds eliminated, less and less health reimbursements from the public Sécurité Sociale, semi privatization of electricity and gas, same for the trains . Result : less public workers, less maintenance, less investment in material . I could see it by myself, the 1999 huge storm let me 3 days with no electricity, in 2004 3 weeks, in 2009 5 weeks . No more local antennas of EDF with people who know the local forest, not enough public servants to do the job . Last Christmas mess with trains never happened 30 years ago, i remember how satisfied i was coming back from abroad to note that for French trains five minutes of delay triggered protestations . But , well, people were paid to check the trains and the lines in advance . Same in middle and high schools . When i was young if ever one professorship was left empty for the “rentrée” it would cause a big scandal all around . Now ? it is the rule . That’s what i mean when I say France is no longer France, the French “Republic” -and in republique there is public, res publica . Now the country is ruled by servants of Wall Street, everyday’s life progressively goes towards Third World conditions and the yore French people has been slowly brainwashed .. i’d say, too bad for mankind .

    • MELewis · February 8, 2018

      You may say I’m a dreamer…but surely I’m not the only one to believe that you can have good services through public-private partnerships? I do agree that we are currently seeing cutbacks in essential services that are unacceptable, from schools to prisons, and that the poor and ill are the hardest hit. But – cancer? I think there are two kinds: not just the greed that comes of too much carrot-chasing profit motive but also the mentality of the fat cats in public service who thought they had jobs for life and did not have to adapt, to learn new tricks and play as a team. And as for the ‘republic’, perhaps it meant more historically in France than it does now. But the US is also a republic, so what does that say about putting the people first? 😉

      • phildange · February 8, 2018

        In the competition for big money the winners are more and more clearly gangsters-minded, no questions about misery at home of death for shitholes,,though where Al Capone had 100 henchmen the top predators of now have the US army . Note also how now the official “power” starts being entrusted to the most obscene deadly clowns : after Berlusconi came Dutarte in the Philippines and now Trump in the US .

  5. midihideaways · February 8, 2018

    It’s quite amazing just how many places grind to a halt with the advent of snow! Thirty years ago that happened in Berlin (not sure if it still does), and London didn’t fare that much better on the streets. And I remember the excuse from the train operators about the ‘wrong kind of snow’ preventing the trains from running!! You’d have thought that people had never thought that snow was a possibility 🙂 Where I live in the south of France we don’t get snow often, but if it does stay on the ground, the population is totally helpless. Nobody thinks to sweep their sidewalks, nobody has shovels!! A few years ago, the snow stayed on the ground for three days, and except for the occasional car, crunching through the snow/ice, the village went very quiet!

    • MELewis · February 8, 2018

      You are right and as someone who enjoys the white stuff and is not afraid of it, I am intrigued by the degree of distrust and dislike it generates in France. As if it were totally unheard of and outrageous! There are down sides of course when you have to shovel it away or put snow tires on your car, but in the grand scheme of things? It’s pretty to look at and lights up the landscape at a time of year when the days are all too dark.

      • Kiki · February 9, 2018

        I just wish I could hi-five all those comments! The French ARE disgusted when things like this happen. How dare the snow falling? It IS outrageous…. 🙂
        All of this makes me smile – a lot! Bring out those snow-boots, we bought our shovel in Switzerland, bought 15kg bags of sand&salt, have a WD40 spray handy (yesterday, couldn’t open the car doors, and when, eventually, we could enter it via the opposite door, the lock wouldn’t snap back and we were left with the question if it was reasonable to hold the door closed with one hand while steering…. 🙂
        No seriously, a grease-spray is a God sent these days, as are gloves, hats, boots and a flat road (here, it only goes up or down, and steeply so too!).

      • MELewis · February 9, 2018

        I am enjoying the reports from your great white north…we are still in the green never-never land of the winter that wasn’t here by Lake Geneva!

    • Kiki · February 8, 2018

      Yeah and if it wasn’t the wrong kind of snow, it was one leaf on the track! 🙂

  6. Garfield Hug · February 8, 2018

    I hope you are not affected by the floods in Paris. For a Canadian…you will have experienced snow like no other! I salute you☺

    • MELewis · February 8, 2018

      I’m afraid that we are not affected for the moment at all in my part of the Haute Savoie — rather ironically I might add since this is ski country. We’ve had nothing but fairly mild temps and rain since January. I do miss it this year…but that is not a popular sentiment among my compatriots either in France or in Canada where they are up to their eyeballs! x

      • Garfield Hug · February 8, 2018

        Phew! Glad all is good at your place. Hopefully you will get some good snow to ski on. ☺

      • MELewis · February 8, 2018

        Lots of that at altitude. A bit too high for me but husband and son do enjoy it! 😅

  7. Kiki · February 8, 2018

    But we on Ile de France had 20cm of the fluffy stuff yesterday. C’était du Jamais Vus in our 10yrs time…. We then spent 3/4hr out in our heaviest winter gear (moon boots in my case…. Yeah!) gently shaking the heavy loads off our blooming camellias – tapping gently against the bent-down branches of our trees and shrubs, the magnolia buds of 3-5cm length already were largely covered in ice, two of my best loved specimens might not make it. The daffs stuck their head out by 2-5cm above the snow-barrier… Then we fed the birds with about 12€ worth of food, they were literally hovering at 1m and waiting for their treats. The large outdoor table made from heavy wood and the English bench looked like a winter wedding accessory, the table like a giant wedding cake, 20+cm high layer of foamy white…

    Today great day of sunshine, very, very icy but I think it will only be really bad again when night falls. Our rapid national road is closed since yesterday – still not all cars could be recovered from a disastrous day. Many abandoned their vehicles and I don’t know how they got off and where they are. Our own road, still closed…. was entered countless times by taking the barricades off and then being stuck with spinning wheels…. silly people! I think we are probably the only cautious people with winter equipment… but that’s the Swiss for you. Shall need to get out later and shall be glad to be well equipped.

    • MELewis · February 9, 2018

      Glad to know that I’m not the only one with a pair of moon boots! Also glad they came in useful, although I hope it was enough to save the flowers for spring. Your garden sounds lovely. Snow like that is always so beautiful despite the dangers of the cold and ice. People are foolish to take their cars out if they haven’t got the right equipment or experience of driving in the snow. Hopefully it will also be melted soon, but slowly so as not to make the water levels go up too high again!

  8. Suzanne et Pierre · February 8, 2018

    We were living in Paris in 2013 (we had published a few posts as well) and quite enjoyed witnessing the life stopping because of a dusting of snow. I know that this time they got more snow and they aren’t equipped to deal with it but I can’t say that I have much sympathy for them. It has been snowing almost non-stop since the beginning of January in Montreal. We have received a total of about 180cm of snow so faresince the beginning of winter and there are more in the forecast…winter isn’t over yet! (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · February 9, 2018

      I just read a funny story in Le Monde showing a Québecois fellow watching the reports from Paris on TV — it sums up how ridiculous we look from a Canadian perspective! You may enjoy it: http://www.lemonde.fr/big-browser/article/2018/02/08/mais-ils-deneigent-quoi-de-la-poussiere-quand-les-quebecois-nous-raillent_5253878_4832693.html.
      Here’s to an early spring in Montreal!

      • Kiki · February 9, 2018

        Saw that too and LAUGHED…. We, the Swiss, do the same – one friend wrote with mirth that she saw on CH TV how people mounted their skis on Montmartre – it’s quite fun, isn’t it…..

      • Suzanne et Pierre · February 9, 2018

        Thanks Mel for the link. A Parisian friend sent it to us yesterday and I later saw while browsing Le Monde. We do have a chuckle though I truly understand that Paris isn’t equipped to deal with snow that comes once every 3 years…

    • Kiki · February 9, 2018

      Suzanne; I lived in Toronto many many many moons ago and I have seen such huge amounts of snow there – I fully understand your reaction. May I just tell you – only as info – what happened to us when it snowed last time ‘seriously’ here on Ile-de-France and we had a ‘rendez-vous’ for a car service?
      While waiting for something to be done, I said to the car dealer: Well you should have a golden time ahead of you. Everybody will buy winter tires and you’d do great business.
      His reply: No we won’t – we only get a certain number of winter tires and no more. When they are sold, there is no more to be had….. (honestly!)
      And when I told him that I couldn’t understand, as they have (to my knowledge) Michelin and other ‘own’ brands, he just gave me a French smile, lifting his shoulders, saying: That’s what YOU would think….
      Make of that what you want. But same as you, I have no tender feelings towards them whatsoever – this is the business (and security!) sense of a ‘banana republic’ and I don’t want to insult any banana producing country!

      • Suzanne et Pierre · February 9, 2018

        Thanks for your comment. We lived in Toronto for 25 years and I must admit that as a Montrealer we had a good laugh at the city once it got 3 big load of snow in a row and had to call the army to help clear it out. Toronto is now better equipped and trained to deal with bigger storms….

  9. Kiki · February 9, 2018

    It’s snowing again – solidly…. we shall see! Doesn’t look great for our trees, one ‘sort’ of fir has 2 huge branches on the ground and although we took every snowflake away already 2 days ago, it’s just lying there, like a dead croc!

  10. broadsideblog · February 18, 2018

    We got a good six inches here last night — and it was spectacularly beautiful, especially at dawn. I took lots of photos, even in the freezing winds on our 6th floor balcony, and am so glad I did — as it was warm today and the trees are one again bare.

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