30 June 1989 : My last day in England before emigrating to Germany. It is a beautiful sunny summer's day. Blue sky, no clouds.
1 July 1989: My first day in Munich. It rains cats and dogs all day.
This sobering experience brought home to me a reality that has been confirmed every year since 1989: the weather in Germany is no better than in Britain. I had simply been seduced into thinking that by the crisp, sunny winter's days that I had experienced in Bavaria before my move.
In fact, it still annoys me when Germans refer to their many grey, rainy days as "British weather" (duh, if it's in Germany, it's German weather) or tell me that, as a Brit, I must be used to such climatic conditions (no, I'm used to it because I've experienced it in Germany for 24 years).
Moaning about the weather, like deducting expenses for tax purposes (legally or illegally) is a national pastime in Germany. Indeed, one of my first memories of Munich back in 1989 is of a friend's 90-year-old mother arriving at our flat on a rainy day and simply saying Scheißwetter! I was told at the time that using Scheiß in that context was perfectly acceptable, even for 90-year-olds. I still don't really know weather - I mean, whether - that's true, but I found it fascinating.
Come rain oder shine you - are prepared
And having survived the long, cold winter here, it was no surprise on the second sunny day, at the beginning of April, to hear someone complaining about the heat. So maybe we should all just relax and regard the weather as a harmless way to let off steam. Although an American colleague of mine took a more intolerant view recently: "You can't do anything about it, so why not stop moaning?" Well, it's a viewpoint.
Anyway, let's bin those cultural weather clichés for a moment and recognize the common nature of climatic conversations. After all, the weather is a typical starting point for small talk in many countries. Look, for example, at this exchange between two strangers at a bus stop:
Wayne: Lovely day, isn't it?
Diane: Beautiful, isn't it?
What can we learn from this fascinating conversation? I think there are three main "learning points", to use a form of jargon that still jars on my sensitive English ears (though not as much as the hideous "learnings"):
- The double use of the question form "isn't it?" is very common, particularly in Britain, even though the first usage is a rhetorical question and the second usage isn't really a question at all.
- It is also typical to vary the adjectives in such exchanges: "lovely" / "beautiful". For more possibilities, see below.
- In many small-talk conversations, we don't introduce ourselves at all (or only at the end). It would be absurd here for Wayne to say, "Good morning, my name is Wayne and I work for a high-tech company in Nottingham. Lovely day, isn't it?"
We shouldn't, however, overestimate the universality of weather conversations. I remember a lady from Pakistan telling a conference audience that the weather would never be a conversation point in her country during a season when it rarely changes. (Likewise, I have never seen the point of weather forecasters in Andalusia in summer: "Tomorrow, it will be boiling hot, like yesterday and the day before, and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow ")
But to increase the variety of your weather conversations, why not extend your repertoire of adjectives, to include words like: gorgeous (wunderschön); glorious (herrlich); a bit nippy (frisch); chilly (kühl); ghastly (abscheulich), muggy/humid (schwül); oppressive (drückend); sweltering (drückend heiß). Other useful terms include: lovely and warm (schön warm); it's a scorcher (ein sehr heißer Tag); a downpour (Wolkenbruch); to drizzle (nieseln); to run into bad weather (von schlechtem Wetter überrascht werden); and weather permitting (wenn es das Wetter zuläßt).
There are also many idiomatic expressions in English that involve weather terms, including the following:
- Come rain or shine: whatever happens (also, literally, whatever the weather).
- To sail close to the wind: to be close to a disaster / almost dishonest.
- To have your head in the clouds: to be out of touch with reality; to daydream.
- To make heavy weather of something: to make something unnecessarily difficult.
- To rain on someone's parade: to spoil someone's plans/fun.
- To throw caution to the wind: to act in a completely careless or reckless manner.
- To steal someone's thunder: to take praise for something before somebody else can.
In fact, while writing this column I am feeling a bit "under the weather", meaning slightly ill. One can also talk about feeling "one degree under". But I'm sure that within a day or two I'll be as "right as rain" (fully fit and well). Weather permitting, of course.
- Sprachmagazin "Business Spotlight"