Small Talk and Complaining About the Weather

Yesterday, after my dental cleaning, the hygienist set up my next appointment, which would fall in August. She laughed and said, “By then, we’ll be complaining about the heat instead of the cold.”

I laughed with her, but I cringed a bit inside. Complaining about the weather seems to be reaching Olympic heights this year, with the Polar Vortex affecting so much of the nation, more and more schools closing due to extreme weather conditions, and peoples’ general obsession with griping about the current conditions.

As someone who has cultivated the skill of small talk over the years, I’ve always known weather is a part of it. Weather is something that everyone experiences so it is quick and easy common ground, readily available fodder for small talk. I’ve prided myself on coming up with small-talk-based discussion revolving around other things – when I fall back on the weather, I consider it a weakness in my own social skills.

Yet people seem obsessed with weather! It’s too hot, it’s too cold, there’s too much snow. Is it small talk, or do they really hate the weather outside? I don’t quite get it.

I love weather. It fascinates me. Living in Wisconsin, I get all the extremes. The newly named Polar Vortex, frankly, is normal for us. We expect high temperatures below zero for a period of time each winter. We expect an average of 55 inches of snow per year. In the summer, we are a bit cooler than other places, but we still have days that settle in the mid-90s and the humidity is intense.

When a storm is poised to hit, I turn into a weather geek – I’m watching for the severe weather bulletins, I move the pets and important papers and such to the basement if tornadoes are threatening. If it’s snow, I work ahead if I can, so I can take a day off and enjoy it with the kids if school gets canceled.  

You’d think I’d LOVE talking about the weather! But discussing what is actually happening isn’t on most people’s agendas. They just gripe about the cold and snow, or complain about the heat and humidity. And I’m at a loss to explain why they do that. Is it just small talk, or is it something more?

I know some people do suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where they are depressed during the winter months. There are places where the unusual winter weather causes genuine problems for people – like the horrific traffic jams in Atlanta last month where ice and snow coated the twelve-lane highways while too many people were trying to use them. And I always feel great compassion for anyone whose life is upended by a tornado or a hurricane. But that’s all different from griping about another day of cold weather.

I suppose I should consider the weather a gift, an easy tool to use for small talk, but sometimes I wish there was a bit more substance behind it all.

How’s the weather by you these days?

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