Unwittingly, I find myself writing about the weather again. It has been pointed out to me that this is simply an example of Britishness. The thing is, I’m not British (yet), but it appears that living in a country for more than half of my life and adapting to its customs has rubbed off on me somewhat.
Today has been quite remarkable. We’re only into the afternoon and already, I’ve almost lost track of the number of times the weather has changed. And I don’t just mean it was a little cloudy and then the sun came out. No. The changes have been pretty dramatic. When I got up, I was happy to register a blue sky, knowing I’d soon have to leave the house on foot. By the time I was finishing breakfast, it was grey and the first few drops started hitting the windows. I didn’t have any other choice but to put on a long coat and brave the weather. On the way into town, I could see patches of blue sky ahead of me, but the umbrella was definitely a necessity. Half an hour later, just as I reached my destination, the sun was out shining brightly in an almost perfectly clear sky. During the couple of hours I was indoors, another shower had passed over the city, but it was clear again as I left. In fact, walking south was particularly unpleasant as the already low autumn sun was being reflected off the wet pavement and directly blinding me. Before I’d finished preparing my lunch, another heavy downpour had begun, the sun coming out once more for dessert. Then another shower; and more blue sky. You get the picture.
Let’s be honest though – talking about the weather itself can get a little boring. Its primary use is, after all, simply as a conversation starter when two Brits meet and attempt to establish some common ground. Or alternatively as a filler when a conversation dies down. The interesting stuff happens from observing the interactions between the weather (mostly unchangeable, but definitely not unchanging) and people (who have the possibility of adapting to it, but do they?). Take a day like today, for example. Unless you don’t know Edinburgh at all, it’s obviously fairly foolish to venture outside on an autumn’s day without something to protect you from the elements (wind or rain, depends what affects you more). Yet the number of people who do just that is quite incredible. I will pick on students now (without any guilt, as I was one myself not so long ago), a stream of whom walks down my street to the science and engineering campus of the university every day. During one of those downpours, while I was safely sheltered behind my window, I could see very few of them walking under an umbrella. The sight of a completely sodden hoodie was much more common. In such a situation, it’s quite easy to start drawing conclusions about the people one is observing: the sodden students were freshers, away from home for the first time and unable to look after themselves without their mothers telling them to put on a coat. Those with coats were either older, more sensible, more experienced or had actually rung mummy up before leaving the house.
For others, of course, the weather is an opportunity to display all kinds of fashion sense (or nonsense, in some cases). A pair of bright red wellies could perhaps not be considered particularly attractive, but they certainly draw the eye. Soaked jeans and trainers – less so. Thus whether a person takes the weather into consideration can also tell us something about their personality. Simply put, whether they can be bothered to adapt the way they dress. And if they do, whether it’s to look good, or just to stay dry. In Scotland, however, I have observed an additional dimension to ‘dressing for the weather’: more precisely, it’s actually that of not dressing. Imagine this: a cold January morning – no rain, just a chilly wind on a crisp day. I’m trying to decide whether to put on that fourth layer. In the end I do. Not long after leaving the house, I pass a guy who is wearing absolutely nothing on top of his T-shirt. I shiver. How can he possibly not be cold? Perhaps one day I’ll be let in on the true secret, but for now I’ll explain it to myself like this: a warm of bowl of Scots porridge is somehow keeping him warm. So that accounts for the need to look macho. But at least there aren’t any fashion pressures for guys. Or perhaps there are, but I am, and will remain, blissfully ignorant of them.