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You may have heard we Brits are famous for talking about the weather

Saturday 7 February 2009

This is WHY we talk about the weather.* I’d show you my own pix but

  1. I haven’t got the cable connector thingy for getting them off the camera, in my current between-computers state;
  2. they didn’t come out too well anyway;
  3. I don’t want to publicise the clutter on my windowsill.

It was good on Friday morning – thick on the ground, and big flakes falling horizontally.

It’s not Siberia, not even Canada; our ground-floor windows aren’t covered by snowdrifts and we’re not shovelling snow in order to get down to the front gate. Taifeng did shovel a bit but that was because it was slippery where we’d trodden it down.

But it is the worst we’ve had for eighteen years, and certainly the closest I’ve seen in this country to a blizzard. (I’m a softie Southerner and although have visited the mountainous regions quite a lot – North Wales, the Lakes, and the Scottish Highlands – that was never in winter). This week’s snowfall has clogged up the country’s transport. Marvin hasn’t been to school since they sent him home at lunchtime on Monday and even Tigger, whose school is just down the road, has had two days off.

We’re hearing a lot on the news about other countries that cope with worse than this. Well, of course Finland copes. It gets worse than this all the time. Our kids don’t expect to ski to school.

We’re hearing a lot about how the government should have been better prepared, the councils better equipped. That’s the media for you. Whinging is NOT a traditional characteristic of the Brits (though complaining only to each other, instead of the person who could change things, is). Everyone I’ve heard in real life is agreeing that if the money had been spent on snow ploughs etc to be used once or twice a decade, there’d have been outrage and with good reason.

That’s the point. Finland copes because it’s used to it. Would it cope better than the UK with the drought, hosepipe bans and so on that we’re getting in recent years? Would Singapore have snow ploughs handy to deal with heavy snow on roads, railways and runways?

The Brits talk about the weather because our weather gives us something to talk about. A friend who grew up in the West Indies told me that, when she lived in England, she talked about the weather too. It varies, it’s not easily or accurately predicted, and almost every day it is different from yesterday’s and from tomorrow’s. In the days when agriculture was central to the economy, the forecast meant (and in a lot of areas still does) far more than needing to have a woolly jumper clean and aired by the weekend.

The weather thus became, like the handshake, a currency you could use with any stranger, friend or casual acquaintance. It demonstrates openness, announces that you’re not hostile, while not getting too personal or committing to a long conversation. In any situation, any at all, where a friendly nod is not quite enough, you can comment on the weather without looking silly.

Unless you’re in a country where it’s sunny, has been sunny for the last three weeks, and will be sunny for at least the next three. Then you do look silly. You sound like one of those Brits who always talk about the weather. I’ve done it myself. It is as normal as offering a cup of tea when a guest arrives, as lifting a hand to wave at a neighbour you see across the street. And then, because the weather hadn’t given me anything to talk about, I have felt a fool.

This is why across the world we have our reputation for talking about the weather. When a Brit does it, s/he’s not just pointing out what the weather is doing. It is something more.

Then again, sometimes we’re just saying what the weather’s like. After all, without reaching the extremes of anything (rainfall, snowfall, hurricane, temperatures either high or low), in this little land we do have weather worth talking about.


* Bear in mind that when the Severn can’t be crossed, Wales is cut off from London.**

** Without going a really long way round.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday 22 February 2009 5.44 pm

    Hi Mand!! It’s been forevah it seems since we last spoke. I love the new look of your blog. I also have enjoyed reading all your writings, including this piece on Brit’s and their weather. Indeed, you’ve been having some spectacular weather and I’ve really enjoyed the photos on the BBC news site. Am I allowed to say it’s been spectacular?

    Me personally, I think the rest of the world has adopted the Brit’s charming ways ( maybe out of a wee bit of jealously) because England is famous for it’s weather. If it’s raining cats and dogs, and we come slogging in from that, my mind goes instantly to that British cup of tea.

    You’re right about how it makes us feel foolish when we’ve no weather with which to break the ice. So, what does one say when standing in line for a coffee? The best I’ve been able to come up with is “Lovely weather we’re having,” which still makes me feel somewhat retarded.

    Lovely post Mand; I wish you warmer, sunnier, and brighter days ahead!

    • Sunday 22 February 2009 6.19 pm

      Good to see you again! Your comment made me laugh. 80) Certainly you’re ‘allowed’ to say spectacular (i don’t do Not Allowed), whether you mean aesthetically or inconveniently. And spring is unmistakably in the air now; yesterday we even had sun and i could go out without a scarf. I haven’t met the weather i don’t like, though, except when one kind goes on for too many weeks. See you across at your café soon!

  2. Wednesday 18 February 2009 11.40 am

    Wouldn’t really matter, unless you were a haulier or something! I’d love to see all the lorry-drivers skating across with their loads harnessed behind them. lol

  3. Tuesday 17 February 2009 8.10 pm

    Hi – have just read your very long blog on the weather!
    I know we Brits are famous for talking about the weather but I think you have excelled at it. Re Wales being cut off= I don’t think that would matter all that much, do you? In any case if the river was froz\en you could skate over.

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