07 June 2012

Talking of the Weather

I've learned something in my twenty-five years of living in Canada: when in doubt, talk of the weather. It's a legacy of Canada's English ancestry. Apparently in England, that's what you do; and the early Brits, after they kicked the French out of Ottawa - wait, the seat of government wasn't Ottawa then. I can't remember what it was, but the Brits kicked the French out of it. And first they made them sing "God save the King" (it was a king then, George III, not the Queen, may-her-diamond-jubileed-head-be-blessed), and then they taught them how to talk of the weather. Except it probably ended up being talk of ze vezzer, instead.

I realized the importance of English weather-speak the other day, while reading "Emma". Just to give you a bit of background, at this point in the story Emma is in the middle of a huge knock-down drag-out argument with Mr Knightley (except they're of course being genteel and refined about it), which is all about Emma's airheaded interference in her friend's love life. She's just persuaded Harriet to refuse an offer of marriage from the guy Harriet has a massive crush on and who would be the perfect husband for her, and all because Emma thinks that he's not refined enough for her. Which is, as Mr Knightley says, "Nonsense, errant nonsense, as ever was talked!" but of course Emma doesn't see it that way; she thinks she's doing her friend this big favour. (This is the part of the story where I most want to slap Emma upside the head, but that's beside the point at the moment.) Mr Knightley is furious with Emma (the guy in question is a friend of his), and Emma is - well, see for yourself:

"Emma made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone. She did not repent what she had done; she still thought herself a better judge of such a point of female right and refinement than he could be; but yet she had a sort of habitual respect for his judgment in general, which made her dislike having it so loudly against her; and to have him sitting just opposite to her in angry state, was very disagreeable. Some minutes passed in this unpleasant silence, with only one attempt on Emma's side to talk of the weather, but he made no answer."

Are you getting this? They're sitting there, fuming at each other - so mad they could spit - he thinks she's a conceited featherwit (which she is), and she thinks he's an interfering, preachy bossyboots (which he is) - and Emma tries to talk of the weather. It must be some kind of knee-jerk reaction in refined Brits: there's silence in the room? "It looks like it might be cloudy today!" Haven't seen someone in three years? "Think it's going to rain?" Drop a rock on your foot? "Lovely sunshine we're having!"

And it works around here, too. I don't know how many times I've used the phrase"Looks like it'll be a nice day," or, conversely ,"It's just a bit chilly out today!" (that one works best if it's about 10 degrees below freezing). The thing about weather-talk is that it provides a friendly atmosphere - talking about the chill in the air can take the chill out of human interaction (even though Emma has to work a bit harder at it that time). And the general atmospheric conditions in weather-talking nations seems to be favourable to politeness. Sunny with a chance of friendliness. It's one of the things I like about Canada.

Life, the Universe, and Weather Talk. Looks like it'll be cloudy again today; we might get to see a nice rainbow.


  1. Angelika, it was So Great to see you on the weekend. What do you make of this crazy cold weather we're having? There's snow in those hills again!


  2. Crazy weather alright. And us saying so probably means something entirely different, deep down.
    And yes, it was lovely seeing you!

  3. I'll get together and talk weather with you anytime...even if we are on friendly terms at the time. :D