Iconic British Things No.9: Talking About The Weather

The British live in a temperate climate, which, if you’re in California, means that it is sometimes wet and sometimes cold and sometime snowy and sometimes sunny and sometimes haily and sometimes misty and sometimes grey and sometimes bracing and sometimes revolting and sometimes delightful and never, ever the same two days running… unless it is raining.

We are not alone in this, not by a long shot. New York, for example, endures extremes of heat and humidity that would make the average Englishman wilt…and then freeze. But the good people of New York are not universally known for banging on about the weather all the time are they? No, that’s the Brits.

New Zealand has the same kind of climate, only more extreme, to the extent that Neil Finn from Crowded House wrote a song called “Four Seasons In One Day,” but had he come from Brighton or Dundee or Newport, he would not have stopped at just the one song. That might have been his opener, but he’d have gone on to write “Drizzle On My Raincoat,” and “Looks Like I Can Finally Hang The Washing Out,” and “Should Be Fine Tomorrow, With A Bit Of Luck,” and a million other variations on the same basic theme. As it is, he wrote a song which has the chorus “everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you,” which is EXACTLY what the British are like. Everywhere we go, we always take talking about the weather with us.

We’re internationally famous for it. As an opening gambit in any conversation with a stranger, rather than choosing something personal – “I like your jacket,” “hey, nice car!” or even “can I just say, your hair is amazing” – we’ll opt for a neutral “nice day, isn’t it,” or “looks like rain later” or even “I knew I should’ve brough a brolly with me!”

(note: brolly = umbrella)

I think it’s that British reserve thing you hear so much about. When faced with an awkward social interaction with someone whose views on everything in the world are unknown, the safest option is to pick a common element which is outside of either party’s control. That way, you can’t offend anyone apart from people who prefer cold and rainy days to hot and sunny days, and they’re weird.

So the next time someone with a plummy accent catches your eye and starts banging on about clouds, just remember they’re probably trying not to be rude.

 

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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