I was born and raised in Minnesota, USA.
I’ve been trying to explain what that means for the last 5.5 years, but I get the feeling that no one really believes me. “Okay, but does it get to…minus 20?” they ask — as if that’s the end-all be-all of winter temperatures. Honestly, I’m not sure most people can handle that conversation, let alone an actual Minnesota winter.
Anyway, what you really need to know when it comes to my home state is this: we don’t get “snow days.”
Back in my student years, I worked as a barista at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Whenever we had groups from out of town holding events in the building, at least one person would ask me and my colleagues “what [we] do in the winter.” And, as we’d resigned ourselves to doing, we’d hand them their cappuccino, force a chuckle, and respond, “The same things we do in the summer. But, you know, with more clothes.”
“Thanks-a-latte” humor aside: it’s kind of a silly question. While visitors from more temperate climates might find our winters a bit extreme, they rarely bring anything that Minnesotans aren’t expecting. It’s why we have that skyway system in downtown Minneapolis; it’s why University of Minnesota students can traipse across something like half of campus without going outside. Try to find someone on the street to tell you this is the coldest they’ve ever been: I dare you. (But come inside before you get frostbite.)
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems: icy roads pose significant dangers, and homeless people suffer horribly this time of year. If you have to park your car outside, you’ll need to add an extra 20 minutes to your “commuting time” so you can scrape the ice off your windshield. But it’s highly unlikely that you won’t need to report to school or work due to the weather.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I need you to understand where I was coming from my first winter in New Zealand — the first time I ever got a pass because of snow.
It was Queenstown in August. I was 75% of the way through my working holiday visa in New Zealand, and 50% of the way through a (very brief) stint as a call-center worker. That meant I had the gratifying job of ringing up Australians and trying to sell them funeral insurance — albeit, not trying very hard.
On the day in question, it snowed. I kind of groaned and rolled my eyes (like, I left Minnesota for this shit?) but I rallied. What else could I do? I asked my hostel roommate if I could borrow her boots (for a northern girl, I was woefully underprepared for this possibility), put on my sad little fake leather jacket (ditto), and headed out.
I arrived to a ghost town. A shell of what the call center used to be. Once a thriving joint filled with apathetic young adults idly playing Sudoko while they waited for someone — anyone — to pick up the phone, now it was an empty room with plastic bags blowing in the wind and dust slowly blanketing the headsets.
“Oh,” said my boss, “there’s no point. My best people can’t make it in, so the rest of you don’t have to come.” (Why he was there remains unclear.)
I’d have been insulted by his basically calling me useless, but that would imply I thought I was any good at this job (I wasn’t) or that I wanted to be (I didn’t). Plus, my head was too busy spinning.
I had a snow day. My first ever — and for a few bloody centimeters.
I almost wanted to stage a protest. How can anyone live like this? How can you let such a meager dusting of white flurries dictate the very essence of your life? I’d still be in middle school if Minnesota had similar policies. How could he say others couldn’t “make it in”? I’d made it in! Granted, I’d only had to walk 100 meters and others had to drive, and Queenstown is far better at creating snow than removing it. But at some point, don’t you have to make a stand?
Maybe — but this day wasn’t that point. If there’s one thing I took away from my childhood, it’s that you never look a snow day in the mouth.
So in a rather uncharacteristic turn of events, I kept my mouth shut and returned to my hostel. The other backpackers laughed with me when I told them what happened; but I knew most of them — those who didn’t hail from similar climates — were thinking that it kind of made sense. Who works in weather like this? “The only place the English can find in the snow,” a few people said, “is the pub.”
We didn’t go to the pub that day, though, and the hostel was jam-packed. After all, when it snows in town, no one makes their way up to the ski fields; the roads aren’t good and the buses don’t run. And several others were in the same position as me: not able to get to work, or unneeded even if they were.
What happens when you take a group of restless people with nothing to do, snow that keeps coming down, and a back garden situated on top of a hill?
I suppose you can imagine.
They make ski jumps out of picnic tables and throw snowballs at each other, of course. I guess that’s what you’re meant to do on a snow day.
I really wouldn’t know.