I have a whole new level of appreciation for all things woolly. There is a science to clothing for cold climates that the Norwegians observe and possibly even invented that I was blissfully ignorant of until I moved here. And it goes like this. If you wear wool with the right layers on top, cold weather will never stop you from doing anything.
A blog about Norway wouldn’t be right if I didn’t quote their clothing philosophy at least once på norsk. Det finnes ingen dårlig vær, bare dærlige klær. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Clothes need to work. If they make you look good, it’s a bonus. To this end, you need lots of the right type of layers – at least 3 – and you are ready for anything in -20C. Proper boots are also important of course.
Woollen long johns and long-sleeved woollen tops next to your skin are vital. But they are not the coarse off-white woollens that old men wore in westerns, they are luxurious soft merino wool semi-bionic 2 piece suits. Semi-bionic because they keep you warm when cold, cool you down if you are at risk of over-heating, and almost tell you when you need a coffee. Next you have a fleece or wool middle-layer and then a wind- and waterproof outer layer.
It took a bit of getting used to for me. When I saw kids sitting in puddles of cold water in autumn, I was horrified. But they were all “proofed” from the cold and wet and blissfully comfortable.
That comfort is not cheap. We got a list of clothing that the kids needed before starting in barnehage that was eyewatering in terms of cost when you included volume of items plus spares. It is also not optional. It feels like proper clothing is seen as a basic human right for a child here. It’s right up there with bread. Kids are entitled to sit warmly in a puddle or a snow drift.
It is interesting that knitting is a really valued tradition here, like it used to be in Ireland. There are some glorious wool shops in Oslo where you can buy anything from cashmere wool to sheep’s wool, and increasingly alpaca wool. It’s not old-fashioned at all, it’s trendy. It’s a valued skill to be able to keep your family warm in the wintertime. My mother was a great knitter when she was younger but her daughters didn’t really pick up the skill. Now, I would give a lot to be able to knit an Irish cable jumper like my mother lovingly crafted for me when I was younger.
“Why would you make it if you can buy it” has become the prevailing ethos in the wealthy capitalist world. The last wool shop disappeared in my hometown in Ireland years ago. As far as I can see in Norway, one of the richest countries in the world, the opposite ethos still holds true. It’s refreshing.
So what have I learned. UGG boots are an absolute nonsense in snow, they have ZERO grip. Water-resistant and water-proof are different things altogether. Kids going off in the morning looking like they are going to work on an oil rig is a good thing. The sheep is an unjustly maligned animal, I know he’s not the smartest but give him a break, think of the coat, the COAT! And the nursery rhyme Rain Rain Go Away has no real place here.
Post script. My daughter didn’t freeze napping in the great outdoors. Through all seasons, she slept on a camping mat in her Arctic sleeping bag and layers of woollens and protective clothing. She loved it. Maybe these fearless Norwegians know what they are doing.