I thought about this when I was taking a stroll along the River Thames in Windsor, when a total stranger passing me said “It’s going to be a cold one tonight!” That was it, nothing more.
I of course replied “yes, it looks that way”, although privately I didn’t think the night was going to be any colder than normal.
It did occur to me this was a very English thing to do and got me questioning why we talk about the weather so much. After all, we don’t have extremes of weather and it doesn’t actually rain that often either.
Even in winter the temperature will not go much below freezing and in summer you can expect between 20c – 25c.
The answer is that it’s an excuse to make conversation. The English do not like to be rude and not speak, even to a stranger, and so a safe subject is to talk about the weather.
“Nice day for it” (it is never clear what “it” is); “looks like rain” , “Nice weather for the time of year” and “It’s going to be a hot/cold one” are all forms of greeting and icebreakers to start a conversation or just to fill the void.
The exception to this practice is on public transport. If on a train, you seldom talk to the person you are with and certainly not to a stranger. To do so would lead to the person swiftly moving away from you or leaving the carriage altogether.
When we talk about weather, we have all sorts of phrases and words to describe rain, but seemly very few for sunshine. We would talk about it being a “scorcher” or “hotter than Barcelona” but with rain we are more descriptive.
“Raining cats and dogs” and “it’s pouring down” are used to describe heavy rain, along with the more vulgar “pissing it down” which is usually only said to people you know very well.
“Drizzling” is the term to describe a very fine rain like a mist, and “a light shower” for light rain.
When venturing out from home or the office, is it customary to look at the sky and ask someone if they think it’s going to rain. They of course will have no idea but will always offer an opinion one way or the other.
The truth is, the weather in England is changeable. A sunny day can soon cloud over and one day can be scorching hot and the next day cloudy. Even the time of year doesn’t help.
April can be hot and sunny but I have also known it to snow. The hottest month is supposed to be August but often June is better. As for winter, it seldom snows in the south of England and I have been walking on the beach in February eating an ice cream.
I suppose the reason we talk so much about the weather is because it’s unpredictable and everyone has an opinion, which makes it an ideal conversation starter.
Photos by Todd Diemer, Magda V.