No time, no place to talk about the weather
|The tedious thing about the British and the weather is when you find yourself a moment of great joy, tension or sadness and you find yourself having a conversation about the rain, the wind, the sunshine or the approaching cyclone. When you have relatives whom you have known for many years and you can't recall any conversation between you that wasn't about the weather. Or when all you ever hear about the weather is complaints, whether it is too cold, too fair or too middling. |
But sometimes the weather is an entirely appropriate subject. In the last few days, we've been having a heatwave (not sure who decides it is a heatwave – when a leading supermarket claims to be selling 800 cucumbers an hour perhaps?). It is perfectly reasonable, therefore, for this event to come up in conversation; it probably impacts on all our lives in some small way. For my own part, my body has responded by sleeping half the day.
And when it comes to strangers, the subject of the weather is vital. Apparently they've published a guide for Polish people workinng in Devon which recommends breaking the ice with the natives by talking about the weather. Which makes me wonder how on Earth you begin a conversation with a stranger in Poland or any other country? I'm the last person to celebrate small-talk, but you have to start somewhere and being under the same sky is the only thing you can be sure you both have in common.
There is some skill to this, skill which the writer of this article hasn't fully mastered when he attempts to discuss the weather with his fellow commuters.
“Six were positively bright and chatty, one was too immersed in his iPod to hear me, another couldn't understand me and one gave a courteous response but then returned to reading his newspaper.”See, one might regard it as the Golden Rule of starting a conversation with a stranger: If your intended stranger is currently reading, listening to music or engaged in a conversation with someone else, do not interrupt them in order to talk about the weather. Not only may this fail to illicit a response, but it is bad manners. And thus decidedly unBritish.
But of course, one does wonder whether talking to strangers, let alone talking to strangers about the weather, is a particularly British attribute. Clearly the London reporter wasn't used to it. Oop North, I often found myself indulging in meteological intercourse several times a day, but Down South (at least my corner of the South), one has to drag this stuff out of people.
My neighbours may be a particularly odd bunch and not representative of anyone. But they will not talk to us. In eighteen months only one person has volunteered a name. Even this most sociable of neighbours doesn't always say return a greeting but he does have a severe stammer so I might have gone indoors again before he can get it out (that isn't a joke; it is the benefit of the doubt). The other names we have learnt were obtained by direct interrogation and misdirected post. “Hello, I'm the Goldfish, I've just moved in next door.” (and not even that; I use my off-line handles for these purposes) didn't illicit any response whatsoever.
Don't get me wrong, they haven't turned against us; nobody is unpleasant and there's no community that we're being excluded from. We do hear chanting coming from the village green of a full moon, but that's probably just the Neighbourhood Watch.
Anyway, not sure what I'm rabbitting on about, except, it is jolly hot just now, isn't it?