We take the weather for granted. We enjoy it, despise it, but eventually live with it. The weather is the favourite subject of conversation around the world, especially when it comes to ‘breaking the ice’. When mothers tire of speaking about their children, when men have finished obsessing over ‘business’, it is the weather that comes to the rescue.
I agree that the weather could be the conversational topic of the mundane but when we face that awkward moment of silence during some conversations, a simple line like, “Isn’t it hot in here?” can do the trick.
Picture this. A regular scene in my residential block. I get into the elevator. Yes. I have seen that familiar face. Perhaps, he lives in the same building or even the same floor, or worse, he probably lives next door. I don’t want to get too personal by asking how he is. Instead, it is safe to make ‘small talk’.
For small talk, it is always the weather. “Hot, isn’t it?” I ask. For those of us, in Dubai, it is safer to add, “It is getting worse every year”. Till date, I can never tell for sure, if it has really got worse or not. But, hey, no one is going to sue me. So, I say, “worse”.
The man nods. The elevator reaches its destination and we both smile. Well, there, I had a ‘conversation about the weather. Rain, thunder, hail, just about anything can be a conversation start. It is the ultimate ice-breaker.
This doesn’t happen in elevators alone. Take the park, when my child is playing and I want to chat with the mother next to me. “Nice weather, eh?” I offer. Of course, it is nice weather. Why else would I be in the park? But, it comes to my aid and extends a hand at being friendly. At the beach, I go, “The water is good”. In the supermarket, I say, “Summer is here”, to the person next to me.
It is not just me you see, the entire world is doing it. Even pilots make announcements about the weather! Maybe, he is just trying to be friendly with the passengers.
According to some study, one in two Britons talk about the weather every six hours. I can quite understand because I don’t think even the people in the Met office in Great Britain are sure if it is going to rain in London or the sun is going to be very generous on a given day. So, their conversations probably rally between rain, hail or sun. In winters, they can even add a bit about the snow.
However, here in Dubai, I don’t think we have that much variety. All we can say is “It is hot!”; and we pretty much say that most of the time. But, this year, has been different. The weather did a U-turn of sorts and gave us a bit of rain! That turned out to be such a conversation opener that Facebook was inundated with pictures. And yes, I am told that it is important to be able to speak about weather in various languages. Why else would I be taught those one-liners when I was learning French and Russian.
French weather vocabulary taught me the ‘ultimate topic of small talk’. But, before I learnt about weather, I asked the tutor to teach me how to say, “I can’t speak French” in French. Believe me, that line helped me a lot more than the weather when I was in France. But I learnt about the weather anyway, just in case.
It can come in handy, on a rainy day or on a cold morning! Who knows, it could turn out to be quite a windfall.
Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.