Why the British get so excited about weather

British clouds

British clouds

“Phew, what a scorcher!” This clichéd headline is almost guaranteed to appear in a tabloid sometime during a British summer; usually on the first day that the thermometer hits 25c. Coupled with a picture of bikini-clad middle aged women eating ice cream by the beach, the story will describe how our country is experiencing the hottest May day since some random relative point.

If the temperature hits 30C the headline switch to doom and drama: “Britain Melts” along with pictures of molten tarmac  on the roads or disruption on our infamous rail system. And the reverse is true, perhaps even to a greater extent, in the winter when our country never fails to display its complete inability to cope with a little bit of wintry weather.

So why are we so obsessed by what our climate might throw at us? It is after all hot for a few days every summer. Yet it is the classic opening line of any conversation in the UK. “Nice day, isn’t it?” “Bit windy today!” and so on. In other countries football might be the subject that is guaranteed to start off successful small talk with a taxi driver or waiter. Here, it’s the weather. Is there any other country where the wind or the rain (or even the sunshine) are so fervently discussed?

When we lived in New York, we really did miss the British seasons. Autumn lasted for a week. On a Monday in early November we had heat in the low 80s. By the Saturday it was barely in the 40s and snow was approaching. That was it. Likewise in the spring, there were a couple of weeks in early April where we shed the coats and wandered through the Park enjoying the cherry blossom, before the heat become oppressive and summer had unmistakably arrived.

But the reason behind our interest is probably the glorious unpredictability of our weather. Sunshine can turn to rain and back again in a day (make that in under an hour in Scotland), while planning a outdoor day in advance will inevitably lead to prolonged excited concerns about what the weather will be doing on the day itself. Statistically at any time of the year, it might be a 40% of sunshine on any day; a 25% chance of rain; 10% of days will be windy, while the temperature can fall anywhere within a range of 15C depending on the time of year. Planning a wedding, a BBQ or a camping trip? You could experience any or all of these conditions. No wonder we take so much interest in the weather forecasts!

Where else do you have such variety of weather? If I lived anywhere else I would miss the British weather and all its delightful surprises. Hear a Brit tell an anecdote about almost anything, and in the opening scene-setting sentence, they will probably mention what the weather was. That’s just the way we are, and it’s ok with me.

So if you’re coming to the UK as a visitor and are keen to strike up a conversation with a local, never fear if you feel stuck for words. Just choose one of the following “Nice day!” “Very cold!” “So dark” “Too hot” “So windy” and you’ll make friends in no time. Now I’m off to enjoy the glorious scorcher of a day; after all, it might rain tomorrow!

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

16 Responses to “Why the British get so excited about weather”

  1. So, so true. No one embraces a bit of sun like us. I wish I was there right now for this moment of lovely British madness. Because it only ever lasts a moment and then we all start grumbling again. Here in Argentinian it’s also common to start a conversation with some weather small-talk, but it’s reduced to a simple ‘Qué calor!’ or ‘Qué frío!’. We Brits can make it go the distance. We can compare and contrast mini heatwaves of the past ten years.

    May 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm
  2. You’ve got to love the way us Brits respond to a little sunshine. Shirts off, shorts on and off to the nearest piece of available grass, even if that’s just a roundabout, to spend to whole day sweating on each other and uttering the immortal words ‘Christ, it’s hot’.

    And that’s only at twenty five degrees.

    May 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm
  3. Don’t worry Vicky, the heatwave is ending tomorrow, and by mid-week our summer temperatures will be lower than your BA autumn ones again.
    Sunbathing at roundabouts eh? We Brits sure have class :-) Been out for much of the day today and saw far too flesh on display, mostly from people who really should know better (St Albans must have had a beer belly festival today, there were so many on show!)

    May 23, 2010 at 8:50 pm
  4. This is soo true! It has really tickled us during our stay in Europe the last four years. I also lived in NYC for years, so not a great comparison as it is almost as crazy at UK weather. I’ve already heard about the heat wave there and happy so everybody is enjoying it to the hilt!

    Being from sunny California, we absolutely marveled at the Brits who would come to visit Spain in the winter. It seemed like they were sun starved and didn’t want to waste a second basking in it….while we of course took it for granted. It truly seemed odd to us to be that “hungry” about sun. We, like so many Spaniards in southern Spain, could also never understand why July and August ( unbearably hot & sunny months here which I have yet to experience as we hear how bad it is) happens to be the high season in Spain with tons of British tourists.

    Then we spent a July and August in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. It was VERY enlightening. You poor folks ARE sun starved. In my 50 some years, I’ve NEVER experienced a cloudier, colder, grayer, rainier summer. It was far worst than the winter in southern Spain and caught us totally by surprise. I thought surely the summer months would be nice. It was like a funny movie when a spot of sun would come out for a few minutes & some folks would rush out to catch some rays.

    I have very rarely been to the British Isles (in many years of travel ) where it didn’t rain, but I did expect more summer like weather in the summer. Oddly, the best weather I’ve ever experience there was 2 different years in September, which were delightful. ( After the horrible weather 2 summers ago, this past September made up for it as it’s always so much nicer as a tourist when the sun is out).

    I have to give all the Brits big props for living in that weather, which I would find very hard to do. BUT I do love all the green and that wonderful British sense of humor …which is probably partly developed by the weather. ;)

    May 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm
  5. Haha so true! We have left the UK permanently mainly due to the weather – I don’t like the unpredicatablity and the lack of sun. When we explained this to our friend in Buenos Aires he couldn’t understand it – can the weather really affect you that much? Yes! We Brits are all obssesed with it.

    May 23, 2010 at 9:37 pm
  6. the only thing bad about British weather is the summer. there are only 4 months of it..? LOL :P

    May 24, 2010 at 8:51 am
  7. It’s also the default way of talking to complete strangers. Ever noticed how quickly it comes into conversation when you are talking to someone you only just met?

    Regardless of age, colour or nationality, it’s the one thing that unites us; the one thing we can share, and the only thing we can always agree on: the bloody weather!

    It’s going to tip 30 today, and it’s May! Just remember, this is no guarantee of a summer. You know how it goes around these here parts… Oh, no you don’t, and that’s the real problem, we just don’t have a clue what the weather will be like.

    Best of all are the crisp spring and autumn days. Bright, clear, with air cool on the inhale and fresh on the skin.

    The seasons, we love ‘em – but you can keep the rain!

    May 24, 2010 at 9:04 am
  8. Abi #

    Absolutely! I didn’t realise how much I talked about the weather until I moved abroad! On the other hand, it’s a nicer, more generic (if not that exciting!) conversation starter…much safer than “So, what do you do?”
    The only danger now is that in Spanish, it’s pretty easy to confuse “It’s so hot!” with “I’m so horny!”
    After getting that wrong a few times, I’ve noticed I don’t talk about the weather so much anymore…

    May 24, 2010 at 9:55 am
  9. It’s so true! But as you point out, the weather is worthy of talking about. You’ve got a great point about the seasons too – I spent some a few months living in the Solomon Islands and with them so close to the equator, every day the sun rose at 5am, and set prompt at 6pm. Every day the weather was unchangable: hot and humid with a rainshower around midday – you could set your watch (if you had one!) by the sun and the showers. I like a bit of variety myself.

    May 24, 2010 at 11:26 am
  10. Thanks for the many great comments. I laughed at your “estoy caliente” remark Abi! Such a great mistake to make; it’s sure to win you friends :-)
    @soultravelers3 no need to feel bad for us Brits. As you can see here, we’re all pretty happy with the weather we have in all its glorious uncertainty.

    May 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm
  11. It’s so funny that you posted this b/c I just recently traveled with some Brits. I and couple of others had to give them a hard time because it seems like they may complain about it being too dark and cold and wish for warm weather, but once the warm weather comes, they complain that it’s too hot and they’re getting sunburned :)

    May 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm
  12. chris_on_Kos #

    OMG! I was rolling when I read this article. Running a small bed and breakfast in Greece, I’ve had many British guests over the years. If I had ten cents for everyone who told me it was raining in the UK, I could retire! When I commented to someone that the Brits are obsessed with the weather they couldn’t see it. However, after they thought about it, they told me I was right. Of course living on a Greek island where we’re pretty much guarranteed the summer weather for at least five months, one needs to take that into account. Thank you for your humorous article and confirming my thoughts on the British obsession. All being told though, I can’t blame them!

    May 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm
  13. As an Australian, living in the UK means you have to endure ‘but why did you move here? The weather in Australia is so lovely!’ Of course everyone forgets Australia is so huge, and that the weather is different throughout the year, in different places. Also, they forget how lovely the weather can be here in the UK! And you are right -having seasons is glorious! I think Brits are now just hardwired to complain about the weather, but if you point things out to them (how lovely Spring can be, how welcome warm weather is when it comes, how beautiful a bleak, still grey Winter day can be) and they take a moment to move away from that reflexive thinking, they might agree with you.

    Yesterday picking my son up from school, after a weekend of sunny weather, I was gobsmacked to see that almost every single parent was sunburned – shoulders pink as candy proudly on display. Even if it doesn’t happen all that often, don’t these people care about skin cancer! But other posters are right – as soon is there is a touch of sun, off come the shirts so you can roast yourself.

    BTW – Melbourne, Australia, is well known for having ‘four seasons in one day’. Another part of the world with unpredictable weather :)

    May 25, 2010 at 7:02 am
  14. Oh I like this :) I always believed that the weather as a conversation starter was severely underrated. I live in Metro Manila and lately our weather can go from scorching to tropical storm in under one minute.

    June 19, 2010 at 10:23 pm
  15. Thanks to all for the great comments about our weather. Natalia, it is a blessing to have such distinct seasons here – I certainly would miss them (although I can be a typical Brit and moan about it too!) Mikaela, your weather conversations sound as though they could be far more wild than ours! The British climate is very moderate in comparison :-)

    June 20, 2010 at 10:58 pm
  16. Yeah, nothing like a bit of sunshine to get an Irish man out and about.
    We really enjoy sun – we get about 2 months and we also welcome the seasons
    Autumn is really beautiful in Ireland, one should travel over the Irish sea to see our beautiful country

    February 16, 2011 at 11:06 am