WASHINGTON has gotten a bum rap all these years for the way it handles snow. Oh, you've heard the tale a hundred times. The city can't deal with snow, the tale goes. It breaks into a sweat as the first flakes fall. Otherwise strong drivers cringe and weep. The sense of sure-footed destiny that otherwise guides the metropolitan area's commuters deserts them like so much snow melting on a warm windshield, turning routine 35-minute rides into storied evening-long odysseys. The otherwise proud owners of costly imported driving machines leave their toys strewn at angles of helplessness by the side of the road.

And of course a sober standard reason is assigned to Washington's wintertime incapacity. The sociologist in all of us comes out to report gravely that this is a southern city, and anyway, even if it is not, it is a city full of southerners who come with tires, cars and psyches unprepared for the rigors of harsher climes.

Well, it is time to tell the truth about Washington and snow. This city is no better or worse in dealing with the stuff than others, including northern cities with far more experience with blizzards, as anyone would know who has ever driven, for instance, in Buffalo or in any number of other places we might name, but, being polite Washingtonians, won't. Years of study and observation have proven that the city is full not of helpless pitiable southerners but of northerners who go around claiming that the city is full of helpless pitiable southerners. Some of them do so in uncritical fidelity to the myth of Washington's seasonal frailty. Others do so for the deliberate purpose of scaring the easily alarmed off the roads so that they, those self-confident northerners, can have the roads to themselves. The breed has no shame.

This is not to say that the next time it snows, everyone should jump into his or her car. It's still not a bad idea to get off the road, to double up, to take public transport, to drive carefully, to do the dutiful winter-citizen thing.

But must we again go into a paroxysm of hibernal self-abasement or smilingly allow others to depict us as effete snowbound cowards whose stamina and resourcefulness have been permanently curdled by this wicked city? Can't we proudly declare that in fact our residence in Washington has not depleted the heroic weather-braving strains that made this nation great? Can't we say that we can do snow as well as other Americans and that, when we looked at the snow falling softly and quietly on Thursday night -- before the sleet and rain -- we thought it was beautiful, and we loved every flake of it.