The Föhn

Are you having a bad day? Find out why it is not your fault.

I awoke before the alarm went off, a seldom occurrence.  Lifting my head from the pillow felt as though I were pulling it out of quicksand, slow, and sludgy. Not another headache.
 I got dressed and slowly made my way into town.

 It was a short trip down a two-lane mountain road with three sharp “S” curves and a 600-meter altitude difference. A beat-up VW passed me in the curve, braked, sped up, and then came to a full stop. The oversized BMW behind me kept flashing his lights. I felt like I was inside a pinball machine.

 I stopped at the post office, where I was greeted with a long line of scowls and miserable, ill-tempered customers. One was making a scene. That’s when it dawned on me - grouchy people, bad drivers, and headache -“the Föhn.”

The Föhn. We southerners that aren’t so good with the “Umlaut” pronounce it “foehrn.” The Föhn isn’t just a wind; it is wind producing gusts that can reach 100 kilometers per hour or more. It is also the ultimate excuse, an “aches, and pains” generator, transforming everyday folks into meteorologists.

 Even I have become a little weather girl. (Ok wishful thinking, I am not little and no longer a girl, but writers are allowed a few embellishments here and there.)
 Let me try to explain the Föhn to you - Vicki Style: This craziness begins on the “south-side” of the Alps, (we’ll say in Tessin), with a couple of clouds and some rain. The clouds rise, run out of steam as they climb the alp, probably over the traffic jam at the Gotthard. The air dries out, warms up, and tumbles down the north side of the mountain, generating a wind that blows our minds, and I might add our hair.

 For all of those non-meteorologists, here is my unqualified summary of the winds that blow in Switzerland: There are winds in all weather; if it is warm and gusts like crazy, it is the Föhn. This is not to be confused with the cold wind out of the north, “the Biese.” There is another wind that blows all over Switzerland inside the rooms, generally when a window or door is opened in which everyone continually screams, “es zücht.” This phenomenon is very difficult for foreigners. The alleged “Durchzug” caused by opening a window or door sinks our temperatures, here it makes everybody sick. But that’s another story.

 I hear Swiss saying, “today the Föhn is blowing.” I can’t feel any wind, and the trees aren’t blowing. How do they recognize it before the wind even kicks up? The Föhn just happens to be nature’s cinema. 


You can read the sky. It’s evident in the feather-like, layered clouds. As a child, my favorite song was “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The winds die, but the Föhn is still among us. How do we know? The lights in the town twinkle like the stars in heaven. I love it.  On some föhn days, the mountains appear close enough to hug. Some days they are your stalker. They seem to come closer and closer to you.

 One great advantage; when it’s pouring down rain in the rest of Switzerland, the Föhn allows us to enjoy the warmth of the sun just a little longer. But be careful, never go into the woods during a Föhn storm, you could get hit by a falling limb. Luckily I’ve been saved from such a fate. I only get hit by stray golf balls.

 The best effect of the Föhn is the “Get out of Something Free” card. Excuses are used. Excuses are believed. Excuses are accepted.

 Sometimes, I have been known to play the Föhn card. During autumn, my patio is carpeted with colorful leaves. My neighbors are working hard raking and bagging leaves. Me, well, I am completely relaxed, enjoying the day. “Hey, are you going to tackle the garden today?” My Swiss Martha Stewart asks.
“Why, I retort, “the Föhn is coming next week. Its natures broom”.

So when the Föhn gusts and you make a mistake, are grouchy, forget to do something you didn’t want to do anyway – it’s not so bad. Like all good Swiss know, it’s the Föhn’s fault – not yours.
 © Copyright Vicki Gabathuler, 2015



love this!! so true. :-)

beth wimmer
23.11.2015 - 12:56:30

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