Summertime

The weather isn’t small talk

The weather is one of the most important parts of our lives. Let’s talk about it.
Summertime

The weather isn’t small talk

The weather is one of the most important parts of our lives. Let’s talk about it.

At the risk of sounding like a simpleton or a stoner or both, I offer you this declaration: Weather is life. And it’s okay to talk about it! The weather controls what we eat, what we wear, how we move through the spaces we call our homes, how we interact with the people around us.

A young cyclist enjoys the grass grass at Peckham Rye Park in South London.

A young cyclist enjoys the grass grass at Peckham Rye Park in South London.

For some people, like meteorologists and farmers, the weather is directly tied to livelihood. But even beyond that, all of our lives are at the mercy of whatever developments come to us from the sky. A shift in air pressure can lead to literal destruction just as easily as it can make everyone on your morning commute a little more pleasant than usual. Here in the Northeast, clear skies, sunshine, and welcome breezes have appeared after weeks of bleak weather, making the world seem just a bit brighter.

The weather, when it’s good and especially when it’s bad, is an egalitarian topic of conversation; anyone can participate, even when there’s disagreement about what is “good” weather and what is “bad.” Still, chatting about the weather has been reduced to the often-maligned social convention of small talk. Its inevitability is what on the one hand makes it important, but on the other, makes it a pedestrian concern. But if there’s anything we all should be able to talk about all the time and without guilt, it’s the weather, even if only for the small joy of remembering that there’s a force larger and more important than you or your public officials or your creditors.

A man plows snow in Millennium Park in Chicago.

A man plows snow in Millennium Park in Chicago.

A woman shields herself from rain in New York City.

A woman shields herself from rain in New York City.

And even as we wait for it to deliver us our eventual doom, it’s the weather that offers us some days of joy and respite. If someone greets you with a comment about how nice the temperature has been, they may be vapidly reproducing social conventions or they may be inviting you to take joy in the delight and disappointment, courtesy of the weather, that keeps our days from becoming monotonous cycles between our obligations at work and home and school.

And when it comes to interactions with strangers, I’d rather spend a whole day stuck in an elevator talking about how lovely the breeze felt than, as I was recently, trapped for an hour on a train next to a passenger who asked me if I thought I was “the good kind” of tourist or “the bad kind.” A comment like “It’s so nice out,” or “God, I can’t believe this rain again” acknowledges a common presence and place, that you are not the only person who is alive and experiencing your environment, even despite the many facets of our identities that make it so that even long-time neighbors can go their whole lives living in completely different worlds. Completely different, that is, except for the weather.

New Yorkers enjoy an inflatable pool on a sidewalk in the Bronx.

New Yorkers enjoy an inflatable pool on a sidewalk in the Bronx.

People in innertubes swimming at a waterpark in Suining, China.

People in innertubes swimming at a waterpark in Suining, China.

Even with the people closest to you, weather talk is both unavoidable and important. It can dictate how you spend time together and how you feel during that time. And if they are far away, talking about the weather can help you situate yourselves in each other’s worlds, “How’s the weather there?” being close relatives with “How are you feeling?” and “What’s going on with you today?” The answer to the first question so often informs the answer to the next two.

Soldiers play in the snow in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Soldiers play in the snow in PyeongChang, South Korea.

In an era where just waking up and glancing at the time on your phone means being confronted with a slew of headlines detailing the many ways humans are making the world suck more, talking about the weather on a nice day can be a kind thing to do. And if you find yourself chatting about the weather with someone you soon discover is a climate change denier, chat on. Weather talk in that case becomes more than a pleasantry or a way to bond. It becomes a public service.

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