Let’s face it, those of us who come from far flung countries like the Philippines or Japan, have no full comprehension of the British culture even after living in the country for over a decade. If you’re like me, the first few months of living here must have brought some culture shock to your system. And I’m not even talking about any difficulty you may have encountered in trying to understand the British accent (it can be a challenge), but rather I’m referring to the British way of life; how the Britons conduct themselves and what motivates them to behave in a certain fashion. I deem the topic of such interest that I decided to do a series of post about all the things that I have so far learned about the British culture in the last sixteen years. I’ve lived in England that long, I’m afraid! 😉 Yet there are far too many things I don’t understand about my adopted country. But let’s not even go there, I’m here to talk about the things I have come to fully understand and eagerly embrace. Here’s the very first one . . .
- The British people love to talk about the weather. 🌥🌧🌦🌤⛈🌬💨☂
I used to think, at least for the first year of living in the country, that the British people were a little too obsessed about the weather. I did wonder why the country’s unpredictable and often gloomy weather is the cause of their obsession. They all talk about it incessantly. And there is no getting away from it. You can’t go anywhere or do anything in Britain without someone talking about the forecast. For instance, every time I do grocery shopping the conversation at the checkout usually goes something like this . . .
Me: How are you today?
Checkout lady: I’m well, thank you. What a lovely weather, isn’t it? We’ve had rain for a few days. It will be a relief to get more sunshine this week.
Me: Oh, yes. I agree.
Checkout lady: It’s been so dreadful. Just dreadful.
Me: Can I have a plastic bag please?
Checkout lady: Yes, certainly. Here you go. (hands me out a bag) Well, you enjoy the sunshine, darling. Let’s hope we get blue skies the rest of the week. Otherwise, we won’t get much of a summer…..blah blah blah…..
Me: I hope so, too. You have a lovely day.
Ruefully, I myself have developed this rather strange habit of talking about the weather. 🙂 On a Sunday morning at church, I usually go around to greet people before the worship service, and very often the conversation turns to our climate . . .
Me: Good morning. How are you today? (handshake)
Churchmate: I’m good, thank you. Yourself? Oh, your hands are cold!
Me: I’m very well, thank you. And yes, my hands are cold! It’s particularly bone-chillingly cold this morning.
Churchmate: Yes, it’s miserable. It’s wet and grey. Dismal weather!
Me: Yes, indeed. And it’s colder inside the building than it is outside so I’ll be sitting right next to the heating. 🙂
Unless the other person makes any comment about my cold hands during the winter months, I do try to avoid talking about the forecast. But more often than not, people talk about it even at church on the Lord’s Day, and I can’t help but join in the weather-talk. Perhaps a sign that I’ve been properly Britishfied. 😉
People say that the British weather is not only a safe topic of conversation but they also use it as an icebreaker. Family and friends usually discuss the weather over the phone or in person before going into a more weighty subject. Co-workers generally talk about it as well before starting a hard day of work. Even strangers commonly discuss the weather. The British people would rather talk about their meteorological misfortune than anything else. They avoid talking about unsafe issues such as religion and politics, and talk about ‘safe’ topic like the weather, which is perfect for the reserve British people. Not only does the weather-talk facilitate social interaction but it also helps keep the conversations safe and in some way impersonal. And in my experience, a lot of British people tend to become a bit defensive and often offended when their climate is sneered at.
Whatever the reason, talking about the forecast has become a national obsession that it shapes the British way of life. It has a huge social impact influencing not just the country’s economy but its politics as well. Five years ago there was heavy rain and flooding that resulted in the slow growth of the economy. The government economic policy may have contributed to it but because of the dismal weather the people stayed at home, did not go out to the pubs or restaurants to socialise and clearly kept their money in their pockets. Interestingly enough, the former British Chancellor George Osborne publicly blamed the weather for the country’s disastrous economic performance in 2011. And he’s not the only British politicians that did it in recent years. Even the former the Prime Minister Gordon Brown once used the weather as an excuse when the economy was not doing very well.
British fascination with the weather isn’t confined to politics and economics, it also is a constant theme in arts and literature. It appears in many plays, books and poems, and many great British artists certainly found inspiration in Britain’s weather. Their eagerness to particularly talk or write about it, are far from unprecedented. George Mikes in his book, ‘How To Be An Alien‘ says: “In England this is an ever-interesting, even thrilling topic, and you must be good at discussing the weather”. Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) once wrote to a friend: “Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.” A wide range of historical records, both oral and written, dating back to the late seventeenth century, show that weather-talk, has always been part of the British scene. This is probably as true today as it was over a hundred years ago, and while in no way being unique in this, it is fair to say that the Britons have a something of an obsession with the weather.
And while we’re at it, let me just say that I do check the forecast every morning because the weather condition outside determines what outfit I wear. Having a knowledge of the forecast — grey and gloomy, warm and sunny, whatever it is — is important so I can dress up accordingly. But then again, being appropriately dressed up for the weather is a no-brainer; it’s easy to look outside, see a sun and forget that things can change. Sometimes we get to experience four seasons in one day! I am a tropical girl and will never ever get used to the gloomy British weather. My husband can attest that I complain a lot about the weather during the winter months. And as you can probably guess from reading this post, I’ve been properly Britishfied. 😉 Without the English accent. 🙂 But at least weather-wise, not that I claim to be skilful in predicting weather conditions or public opinion, but at the very least, I can now get my head around some of the issues that the British people deal with on a daily basis. 😉
Note: ‘Britishfied’ — a hashtag I saw on Twitter not too long ago is not in the English dictionary, not yet anyway.
(Featured Image: cartoonstock & keepcalm-o-matic, I just put them together.)