Sunday, 30 December 2012

Nordic walking

I walk differently when I'm in Sweden.

This thought popped up in my head as I took the first steps on a wintery pavement this Christmas, after my arrival at Landvetter airport in Gothenburg. With all that ice, often hidden by new snow – you can't just trot along as you would on a bare (and probably wet) UK pavement. No, it requires a careful and balanced approach. I gradually got back into the habit whilst walking around Gothenburg, waiting for the train to take me further north, to Arvika.

A consequence of this 'Nordic walking' is the fact that most Swedish women don't wear stiletto shoes and boots – wintertime. We all dress practically up North, you know. I mean, we would be silly not to! Try walking on a snowy and icy pavement in mid-winter Sweden with high heels and you see what I mean. When Swedish women go to parties and clubs, they bring their indoor shoes with them in a bag and change once inside the venue. And when visiting friends, you just take your boots off in the hallway and walk around in your socks. How British people can walk around on white carpets with dirty shoes and even curl up in the sofa... well, that remains a mystery to us Scandinavians.

Then there's the Nordic driving. As I was driving quite a lot this Christmas time – on proper winter roads in the forest – the Nordic walking thoughts kept coming back to me. At the end of the day, it's really the same thing. Driving in a wintery Sweden requires not just winter tyres, but so much more concentration. Not only do your eyes have to read the landscape, in a constant look-out for elks. (That's an all year round thing, by the way.) They also have to measure how far out on the snow covered verge you can allow yourself to drive. When meeting cars, you have to balance the distance needed to the other car with the added risk of skidding off the road.

But – you get a 'feel' for it. The trick is to avoid braking, but instead using the clutch and steering yourself back to normal, should you start skidding. Be gentle. Slow down. "Pretend you have a raw egg between your foot and the accelerator." Those wise words from my driving instructor (when I was 18) still ring true.

Us Swedes might be 'safe and boring', but – there's a good reason for it.

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