The Weather

When I saw Watching the English began with a chapter on talking about the weather, I was not enthused. From my perspective, talking about the weather seemed to be a universal small talking point – it certainly is in the United States. However, as I read further I see it is a much more nuanced topic of conversations.

When I think about our interactions with local tour guides and Sara, some mention of the weather almost always starts off their spiel. At work, a comment is made either to me or out loud on multiple occasions. Most strikingly, I had a ten minute walk to the tube station with a coworker and our conversation only covered the weather in London, the weather back home, the weather in Florida, and the weather in different countries in Europe he had been to.

I thought the weather as a member of the family was a particularly astute observation. The weather as a family rule speaks to the subtleties of English culture in contrast with the volume focus of American culture.

Fox is correct in saying English weather-speak is a form of code, used to overcome our natural reservations, but that does not explain why it is so prevalent here. I disagree with her dismissal of Jeremy Paxmann’s theory. He says that the English fixation with the weather is a product of the variation in weather. I think to a certain extent talking about the weather’s popularity is certainly related to the volatility. I can’t imagine the consistent sunshine of the beaches of Spain is a popular talking point. London is by no means a tropical paradise and the fluctuations must contribute to their propensity to bring up the weather.

  • Hey Jack, solid post. while walking around London I also felt that the British constantly discussing the weather was an odd thing at first. The British seem to have mastered the “nuance” that you use to describe their discussion of the weather and seem to be able to fit it into any conversation they have as a way to break our normal reservations. I also have to agree that the volatility and the all around unpredictable nature of British weather most likely is the reason that its such an easy and useful talking point. Great observations!

  • Jack,

    Insightful post. Like John, I’m in agreement that Jeremy Paxmann may have been right on some levels about the volatility of the UK’s weather contributing to its prevalence in British conversation. During our first week in London, we had the good fortune of 5 days of sun and warmth. However, for the 4 weeks that followed, it rained every other day. I wore pants every day, and even wore a sweater a few times. More than once at work, my coworkers have brought up that these weeks of bad weather were not the norm, and that surely I shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the weather in Britain is always this terrible. Had this change in weather patterns not taken place, I don’t think I would have had these conversations in my office; they were simply the product of weather volatility. To be clear, though, I do still believe that Brits often fall back on talking about the weather as a form of code. Still, I do not believe that this is always the case, meaning that Jeremy Paxmann’s theories may have some creditability.

    Overall, great observations. Well done.



  • Hello Jack,

    I’m writing this comment as I sit on the stoop outside our apartment because it is approximately 100 degrees inside. I have quite mixed thoughts about this infamous weather here in London; as we’ve read in Fox and seen in real life, these British blokes love to complain – that’s been well documented on these blogs. But the disposition I’m in now reminds me of an interaction we had on our Facebook visit the first week we were here. Our W&L alum said, “I don’t know why everyone complains so much about the weather here, it’s great every time I’m here!” I can identify with that perspective. I can count the times on one hand I’ve been inconvenienced by the weather in the seven weeks we’ve been here; it’s been a beautiful summer here, with cool to warm weather and some days with cloudless blue skies. I understand the social importance of moaning about the weather, but I have a great impression of a London summer after this trip.


  • I have to say that I agree with you Jack, particularly with respect to your emphasis on Jeremy Paxmann’s theory. I think we can all agree that, from experience, the weather in this country is anything but consistent. Yesterday was the hottest day of the year in England so far according the internet while it seems only a few days ago, we were bogged down by a torrential downpour. The variation in the weather is indeed a likely reason for its status as a conversation staple in this country. People generally like to talk about new developments rather than those in stasis. Does anyone ever start a conversation with “So I hear that Theresa May is Prime Minister still”? No, they ask “will she call for a general election?” or “Will Jeremy Corbyn lose this election?”

    In general though, small talk is considered such because of its generally inconsequential nature and the neutral connotations of such discussion. When one makes an observation about the weather, it is generally a statement of shared experience with which the person on the receiving end can relate and readily reply in affirmation. It may very well be that talking about the weather is so common simply because it’s easy to do so.


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