Snow Job

In Britain, people constantly complain about the weather. In Austria, people complain about everything else. Gleefully embracing every opportunity to throw snide remarks across the channel, we revel in their ineptness at an inch of the white stuff.

This year, the heavy snowfall in mid-January was the first test for the £36 million snow removal and de-icing equipment the British Airport Authority (BAA) acquired two years ago after operations came to a halt in a few centimetres of snow.

It wasn’t enough. London’s Heathrow Airport still couldn’t cope, and its slow response to the heavy snowfall on 17 January brought parts of Europe to a standstill. The busiest airport in Europe, Heathrow reported 48 cancellations on 22 January, bringing the combined total since 18 January to 1,050.

Still, even Vienna didn’t survive the snowfall unscathed. Usually taking snow in stride, this was the heaviest snowfall in 26 years, and over 200 flights in and out of VIE were cancelled, leaving many grumbling in the cafés for the runways to clear.

In town, the citizens are expected to help keep streets and sidewalks clear of snow. It’s the neighbourly thing to do. It’s also the law. Heavy snowfall in public housing can require Janitors to be up at 4:00 in the morning to clear the paths by 6:00. From 6:00 to 22:00, it’s the householder’s job to clear all public walkways in front of their property and scatter the salt (provided by the city). Those who fail to comply can be fined up to €72.

This would never fly in the United Kingdom. Local authorities there are responsible for gritting and salting all public roads and pavements. In fact, clearing the pavement in front of your own home in a manner that causes injury could have legal consequences.

So maybe it’s time we share our enthusiasm for civic duty.

Of course there is also shovel etiquette: So no piling the snow onto your neighbour’s porch!

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