Weather, Talking About

Family in the snow

'It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.'
Samuel Johnson

English people are notorious for their endless fascination with the weather; it is a topic that permeates folk culture, which an endless supply of - unreliable - proverbs and sayings: from 'red sky at night, shepherd's delight, red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning' to the belief that rain on St Swithin's Day (15 July) presages 40 further days of downpours.

The weather is a topic that is deployed nationwide as an ice-breaker. When two strangers meet, in a train or a queue for example, it is virtually de rigueur to enjoy a short conversation about the weather. The primary function of this fascination with the weather is, of course, to break down the English person's natural reserve; it offers a universal, and neutral, topic, which everyone, from a small child to an elderly grandmother, enjoys discussing.

Other countries endure far more noteworthy weather events - droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes - but the English weather is, above all, unpredictable. Sunshine, showers, wind and rain sweep across the country with extraordinary rapidity, providing an ever-changing outlook.

The very unpredictability of English weather always seems to take us by surprise: a few weeks of summer sunshine results in near-drought conditions and garden hose bans; a few days of heavy rainfall causes rivers to swell their banks and disastrous floods; a 'cold snap' can bring the country to a standstill. Trains have been known to grind to a halt because of 'leaves on the track' and 'the wrong kind of snow'.

In these days of global warming, English people can now enjoy discussing ever more unpredictable weather - blizzards in April, floods in July, and so on. With the weather as a topic, conversation is never going to falter.

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