Chronicles of a writer abroad

Beware the Föhn


A warm wind blew into the room as we sat in German class today. “Here is the Föhn,” our teacher advised.

Ah, the Föhn– I’d read about this phenomenon before coming to Switzerland. A beguiling aura of mystery and superstition surrounded it. I was curious to know more, and luckily our teacher can be convinced to prattle on in English about matters culturally related to Switzerland. Through him, and subsequent internet research, I have learned the following.

The word Föhn, in German, means hairdryer – and it thus serves as a nice metaphor for the hot air that blows in regions north of the Alps at certain times during the spring and fall. This air can cause wildfires, spur rapid changes in temperature, and bring on anxiety or migraines in certain people. While it brings a welcome increase in visibility, there are anecdotal accounts of it triggering psychosis, and researchers have documented increases in accidents and suicides during its active periods. Our German teacher explained that Innsbruck (a lovely resort town in Austria that Stelian and I visited five years ago) is the heimatstadt or hometown of the Föhn — they are particularly affected by it, he said, due to their proximity to the Alps, and so when the winds are blowing, they cancel exams for students, as well as all but the most urgent surgical procedures.

Before I’d ever heard of the Föhn, I heard similar reports of weird behaviour and wariness relating to the Santa Ana winds in California, but I’d always assumed that this was mostly just folklore; something that people legendize and enjoy getting a little spooked by.

“Also, das ist ein bisschen…superstitious, oder?” I asked our teacher, in my quality Denglish (Deutsch + English).

“Nein, das ist nicht aberglaublich,” he replied. “It’s quite real.”

So, dear family and friends, the next time you are blowdrying your hair, think of us, caught in the blast from a large-scale version of your seemingly innocuous appliance…our hair becoming perilously overdried and our fortunes “blowin’ in the wind.”


2 thoughts on “Beware the Föhn

  1. When the Santa Ana winds kick in for the season and start to blow me sideways and spread wildfires, I’ll try to distract myself with visions of warm winds blowing through the Alps – and then I’ll probably think of hairdryers 🙂

  2. Pingback: A November hike | Milchtoast

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