noun • Icelandic
weather that is nice to look at through a window, but not nice to be outside in; literally, “window-weather”.
Some things are best appreciated at a distance. It’s best not to interfere with, say, a wild animal in its natural habitat, or a high-contact sports event, if you’re into those. Certain other things are best enjoyed when distance is enforced by a barrier. Situations that we see on TV, for example, are often enjoyable only because we’re separated from them by a screen and out of their reach; many such situations wouldn’t be nearly so entertaining if we were in them ourselves. And at times, the world outside our windows can be the same.
If you’re like me, you see the great outdoors as an oyster to be explored, especially when the weather is sunny and inviting. You might even be prone to falling into the mindset of feeling guilty if you don’t go outside on days when the view from the window is especially lovely. But we don’t always have to be out in the weather to appreciate it. The weather can be deceiving. It’s no secret that when it comes to the elements, sometimes it’s best to keep a respectful distance. And it seems no one knows this better than the outdoorsy Icelanders. Gluggaveður is not only admirable from the inside, but indeed preferable that way.
Most often the idea of gluggaveður is applied to winter — watching a silent snowfall, whose calm beauty eclipses the danger of traveling in it, or gazing out at a cloudless sunny day that looks much warmer than it is — but it can really be an any-time-of-the-year word. Other types of unpleasant weather can be pleasant to look at too. I can’t be the only one who appreciates rainy days from an aesthetic point of view: watching little droplets cascade purposefully down the glass that separates me from them, listening to the dampened pitter-patter sound as the earth rejuvenates, observing how the pavement becomes glossy and reflective in a way that you only see during weather like this. And certainly, any kind of storm is best enjoyed from the inside, watching the temper of the elements rage while tucked away safe and dry and warm. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the hot summer days that tempt you with their bright sunlight but prove stifling if you venture out into them. All are gluggaveður, just the same.
Baked into the definition of gluggaveður is the implication that watching the weather from the window is part of the experience. So often staring out the window is labeled a waste of time, a sign of boredom, but the Icelanders acknowledge it — at least in this case — as anything but. There’s something undeniably entertaining, even comforting about watching the snow, the rain, a storm. In fact, the experience of watching gluggaveður sometimes gets compared to hygge in the sense that it often involves creating a cozy environment where you curl up by the window, no worries on your mind, safe and warm and happy as you watch the weather pass by.
Nature, even when at its worst, is still undoubtedly beautiful. Weather of all kinds has long been a fascination of the human race, and that fascination still persists today — this word is evidence of that. We treat it with respect and awe, and it’s quite telling that the weather is one of the few things in the natural world that we haven’t sought to change, only to understand — and to watch. A concept like gluggaveður reminds us, in a rather wabi-sabi-like fashion, that even in unfortunate situations, there is something to be appreciated. It may be disappointing to be trapped inside in the winter, but the snow certainly is pretty.