Home > Bookish Things > English Behavior – Weather Talk

English Behavior – Weather Talk

A recent trip to the bookshop brought into my line of sight a book about the quirks and habits of the English people. Once in my purview, resisting the urge to pick it up and take it directly to the counter was difficult. Frugality prevailed for once, and was rewarded by aquisition of copy on loan from the Windsor library. Thus a return trip to the bookshop was forestalled and the checking account saved from becoming £20 lighter and our large book collection from becoming even larger. (At least for now.) The book is called “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior” and is written by social anthropologist Kate Fox.

The first chapter deals with “weather talk”. ‘When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather’. This over 200 year old quote is considered by the author to be as accurate today as it was all those years ago. She says however, that all this weather talk really doesn’t have as much to do with the weather as it does with overcoming natural English reserve and actually speaking to each other. A short interaction about the weather, carried on within the boundaries of weather speak rules, is a relatively risk free way to make a small connection with someone. Most of us would know that “How do you do?” isn’t really a question about health or well-being. In the same way, “Nice day, isn’t it?” is not a real question about the weather. Logical examination of the weather doesn’t really have much to do with it. Just a simple “Yes, isn’t it?” works as a correct response to a weather greeting.

To participate properly in weather talk one must agree with the comment. She compares it to a church service where the priest says “Lord, have mercy upon us” and waits for the reply. It would be unthinkable to reply “Well, actually, why should he?” when “Christ have mercy on us” is your proper response. When talking weather the same sort of pre-determined response is required. She advises that if you find yourself in a situation where you can not agree with the weather greeting the proper mode is to express your disagreement in terms of person quirks or sensibilities. Thus “Oh, isn’t it cold?” could be responded to with “Yes, but I really rather like this sort of weather – quite invigorating, don’t you think?” or “Yes, but you know I don’t tend to notice the cold much – this feels quite warm to me.”

Ms. Fox also describes a weather hierarchy which is considered the norm. Sunny and warm/mild would be considered the best weather, followed by sunny and cool/cold; cloudy and warm/mild; cloudy and cool/cold; rainy and warm/mild; and ending with rainy and cool/cold as the worst weather. This hierarchy can be used when commenting about the weather. So, “Oh, it’s chilly today” can be responded to with “At least it’s not raining.” If the weather comment is at the lower end of the hierarchy you can respond by predicting imminent improvement. “Awful weather, isn’t it?” can receive a “Yes, but they say it’s going to clear up this afternoon” as a response. There is a chance that your weather chat partner will respond with “Yes, well, they said that yesterday and it poured all day.” In which case you can both moan about the whole situation together.

She does warn that the worst possible weather-speak offense, to belittle English weather, is one mainly committed by foreigners, particularly Americans. For example, a Brit moaning about the weather being hot at 20 C is not going to take kindly to an American or Australian who laughs and says “You call this hot? This is nothing! You should come to Texas [Brisbane] if you wanna see hot!” This type of comment it a very serious breech of the agreement “rule” and should be avoided at all costs. These comments will just re-enforce the British idea that Americans have a “mine’s better than yours” fixation.

The whole point of the exercise is to communicate. To agree, to have something in common. To get past the awkwardness of interaction and enjoy a little social bonding.

Categories: Bookish Things
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: