Being British means talking about the weather every day, whatever it has on offer, but is it worth so much of our attention? We can certainly experience all seasons throughout a single day with our fickle weather and most handbags hold an umbrella and sunglasses all year round. But we rarely endure real extremes of weather in the UK so why are we so fixated with it?
Let's be honest, talking about the weather is just polite small talk. It's harmless, and isn’t gossiping which we also do well, and is a neutral topic to use to open a conversation. There was a time when men and women were only allowed to talk about the weather in public as woman were considered too delicate to hear about other life matters. Indeed, woman were not educated as it was thought it would be too much for them. The most personal question that could be asked was, "How are you?" and, as today, a standard but not honest answer was more acceptable. Talking about the weather was thought of as friendly and social but without any risk of causing emotional distress. As well as being an excellent ice breaker, it was a good choice if there was a lull in the conversation.
Oscar Wilde was obviously unimpressed by all this and said the British incessant need to talk about the weather was the, "last refuge of the unimaginative." The Social Issues Research Centre published a report in 2010 that suggested, "Britons need weather-talk to help us overcome our social inhibitions and handicaps," and because weather is a safe topic of conversation we use it as a low stress way to initiate conversations.
Interesting the SIRC have also carried out research on flirting and reported the "traditional British comment on the weather ("Nice day, isn’t it?" or "Doesn’t feel much like summer, eh?", etc.) are fine conversation-starters and the fact that these comments are phrased as questions, or with a rising 'interrogative' intonation, does not mean that the speaker is unsure about the quality of the weather and requires confirmation: it means that the speaker is inviting a response in order to start a conversation." The report continues, "In Britain, it is universally understood that such weather-comments have nothing to do with the weather, and they are universally accepted as conversation-starters. Saying "Lovely day, isn’t it?" (or a rainy-day equivalent) is the British way of saying "I'd like to talk to you; will you talk to me?" "
So, all that weather chat and we're not even really talking about the weather but possibly flirting or dealing with our social ineptitude. That's us told. And our incredible number of weather terms must be a nightmare for English language students (my favourite weather adjective is 'squally') but this list should help.
While I've been writing this I've seen rain, hail, near gale-force winds and brilliant sunshine so this morning's weather will have given us plenty to talk about. And no, I'm not flirting with you. Or am I?