Friday, May 27, 2011

Talking about the weather

How much do you talk about the weather? Chances are it's highly related to where you live. So I'm going to talk about the weather now, well, more specifically, how you talk about the weather in Australia, England and Israel.

Talking about the weather. Part 1. Australia.

Australians love to talk about the weather. Every time I speak to my parents the conversations always include a weather report, and every email I receive mentions the weather. Perhaps my family is more weather focused, as my dad is a sailor and spends a lot of time at sea, but I would say it is not unusual to talk about the weather at the start of every conversation with someone you know well or only slightly. Aussies talk about the weather a lot. We do live in a country with the most variable weather in the world, where nothing is normal from year to year – where you can live your whole life in a 20 year drought for it to be broken by months of flooding rain that destroy everything you own, or the hottest day ever brings 47 degrees C and bushfires that cause unbelievable destruction, or the biggest cyclone in centuries flattens everything around. We're talking extreme weather, that is only becoming worse with climate change. It is hard to be a climate change denialist when you live in Australia, when with every extreme weather event people say it must be climate change.

The Australian weather nerd
I worked with some extreme weather nerds in Canberra. Extreme weather nerd behaviour includes:
  • closely monitoring the rain gauge in your garden, plotting the results for the season, comparing it to seasonal averages etc.
  • listening to all news weather reports. If you hear there is rain coming, you jump onto the Bureau of Meterology's website for the infamous weather radar, watching hopefully for patches of red
  • calling all your friends or running to see them when you see a red colour on the radar, representing lots of rain
  • getting jealous of all the red on the radar over north queensland in summer.
Now this extreme weather behaviour I witness (and participated in) was obviously the result of the long period of drought Canberra was in. Considering it rained constantly last winter, I'm not sure if such behaviour continues, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it does... (and this behaviour may also be related to many of these weather nerds living on farms/keeping gardens/being ecologists...

Talking about the weather. Part 2. England

Talking about the weather had never seemed that strange to me until I moved to England, where the weather is discussed on an entirely different level – the English talk about the weather all the time. With everyone. All day, every day. And the weather in England is always: Grey or greyer, wet or wetting, windy or windier, cold or colder. One day a year the sun comes out, and it's talked about all year.

A typical day of ones life in England:
7am. Wake up. Look out the window. Grey. Listen to the weather report on the radio. Grey and cold. Discuss the grey weather with your partner/housemates.
8am. Go to the bus stop, noticing the weather. Talk to the person next to you at the bus stop. About the weather
9am. Arrive at work. Say Good Morning. “Grey day today isn't it” you say to your colleague
9.10am. Make tea. Talk to another colleague. “It's rather grey outside today isn't it. When is the sun going to come out”, you say...
10.30am. Morning tea meeting with other colleagues. “How about this weather we're having, there is no end to this grey is there! When will the sun appear?”

I'm not going to continue. As you see, for the first 4.5 hours of the day you've talked about the weather 5 times with at least 5 different people. In one day, you probably discuss the weather 20 times, with almost every single person you talk with. Talk about taking the discussion of weather to an entirely new level. It's completely ingrained in the culture. I think that if an Englishman moved to Israel, where every day for 5 months is almost exactly the same: hot, humid, 30 degrees, he would still talk about the weather every single day (but only with other Englishmen...).

Talking about the weather. Part 3. Israel

Which brings me to Israel. I started working in an Israeli company, and in the tea room I met many people that I know barely. And I naturally talked about the weather with almost all of them. Well I did, until I mentioned it to my Israeli friend who said, “If you talk about the weather with an Israeli, they will think you have nothing else to say, and that you are a boring person”. Israelis do not talk about the weather. Well, it does come up in conversation, but it is way down the list. But then, there is little reason to talk about the weather, for a few reasons:
  1. The weather here is boring. In Summer it is exactly the same weather for 5 months. And there is absolutely no rain for those 5 months either. In the winter people do wonder where the rain is, but not very much.
  2. People ask about people here, how they are, are they sick, are they married/having babies yet, are they enjoying life. There is very little small talk. People are direct with their questions and answers and open with their feelings.
  3. There are bigger things to worry about. Terrorism, war, security. The Middle East peace process. Will Israel still exist in 50 years time? Big questions, big insecurities, and the weather doesn't really rate there. No one talks about climate change. I've never seen an Israeli newspaper mention it. Life is stressful here, and there is no interest in talking about the weather.
The Israelis are in line with the Crowded House song that starts:
      “No time, no place to talk about the weather
       The promise of love is hard to ignore...”

More info
Talking about the weather falls into the small talk basket. Small talk is called phatic communication, and is considered a social skill.

This BBC article on the differences between British and German small talk – the Germans don't even have a word for small talk. And Hebrew doesn't really have a word for it either. 

Talking about the weather in Australia vs. Indonesia

This blog post  talks about how social media is changing phatic communication.

And here is an American guy discussing how to talk about the weather.

No comments:

Post a Comment