Culture Question:

Britain and Talking about the Weather

(posted: April 9, 2011)

The original question read: "When British talk about weather they talk about what, so that they spend such a long time to do so?"

Before answering the why of this question ('Why do British people talk about the weather so much?') we should first determine if they actually do talk about the weather a lot.

And it would seem that British people do indeed talk about the weather a lot. So much so that when 5000 folks in Britian were asked to " identify ... the things that make us unique as a nation" that 'talking about the weather' came out in the number one spot (out of 50 traits listed), according to a 2008 report in The Telegraph 1. So it would seem that this is not just the impression of visitors to Britian, but also of the British themselves.

That brings us to the question of why. Is it that the weather in Britain is intensely interesting? that the lives of Britons are not and the weather just looks interesting by comparison? that English has many words for 'wet' and the British want to make good use of all of them?

While these may be appealing theories, the truth is a little more social in nature. According to an October, 2010 report in The Telegraph: "Social anthropologist Kate Fox, who is director of the Social Issues Research Centre think tank, said: “Britons need weather-talk to help us overcome our social inhibitions and handicaps.'"2 Weather is a 'safe' topic of conversation and Britons use it as a low stress way to initiate conversations.

This reason does not seem uniquely British. It would be interesting to see studies looking at this cross-culturally and seeing if there were differences between countries in the prevalence of weather talk. I know in my own hometown of Winnipeg (in the middle of Canada) weather is a common ice-breaker with strangers, and we are as inordinately proud of surviving frigid winters as the British are of living in the wettest place around.

Sources:

  1. The Telegraph. “Talking about weather is 'top British trait'”, 9-Nov-2008. ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/ 3410733/Talking-about-weather-is-top-British-trait.html), 9-Apr-2011.

  2. Wardrop, Murray. The Telegraph, “Britain's obsesssion with the weather: 60 per cent admit it's a social prop", 22-Oct-2010. ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/8077958/ Britains-obsession-with-the-weather-60-per-cent-admit-its-a-social-prop.html ), 9-Apr-2011.

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British people with umbrellas winter and summer