Our American student-blogger Emilia takes a look at Britain's fascination with the weather. Why does it consume the Brits and every conversation they have? And is it really as bad as it is perceived to be? What should you be prepared for if you choose to study in the UK?
'British weather is, for good reason, practically a punch line. It seems as if everyone knows it as a country of nearly perpetual rain. In my experience, however, that’s not entirely correct. Yes, it rains in England, more frequently than in other places (though Paris gets more per annum). Calling Britain the country of rain, however, doesn’t accurately describe the weather. English weather is difficult not because of the rain, but because of the pervading grey dampness. It settles over the country around October and doesn’t let go until late May, if you’re lucky.
My first year in England, I thought I understood the weather. Living in New York, I was familiar with wading through several inches of snow to get to school. I had my rainy day outfit planned and I knew how to deal with hot and stuffy subways in nearly 90 degree Fahrenheit days. Yet none of this was the proper preparation for English weather.
I once read, I forget where, that the remarkable thing about English weather is that there is not much of it. You wouldn’t know that from how the Brits, and now from how I, discuss it. The ability to dissect every aspect of the temperate climate may seem remarkable to outsiders, but once you begin to quickly enter into the discussions when you live in the country.
Since the weather is remarkably stable — as I type this, my desktop weather widget shows Bristol’s weather to alternate between rain and clouds for the next week, all days hovering around 7 degrees Celsius — any potential variation causes excitement. The possibility of snow arouses a survival instinct. A strong wind sends people running for cover. A lovely summer day makes people ready to melt. I find it all impossibly charming.
Bonding over the weather may seem strange, but it features in many of my recent and not-so-recent university memories. During my first breakfast at halls we complained how our towels remained slightly soggy even after drying overnight in the damper-than-average West Country (where my university is located). When the first snowfall arrived the weekend we were headed home for Christmas, those of us who stayed too late in Bristol bonded over being stranded. Why, just a few weeks ago, the endless December grey allowed me to enter into a variety of conversations. It feels as if the sun hasn’t risen in days, we all agreed.
That’s what I didn’t realise when I began university. Living in a foreign country makes it easy to personalise the experience of daily trivialities, weather chief among them. When I first saw the sun set at four pm, it felt as if I was the only one who was shocked. After all, everyone else was used to this. When I simply wanted to see sun after days of grey clouds, I couldn’t fathom that other people wanted the same. But, now I feel safe to say, they did. And they do. Everyone talks about the weather in England because it is charmingly and infuriatingly rubbish.
Had I known that other people struggled with the grey as I did, those first few months might have felt a little easier. Experiencing a cycle of English weather is like a rite of passage as a foreign student. You understand the country in a way that simply hearing about the country’s grey rain can never do. Luckily, you soon learn that the sun cannot hide away forever. Even when the dark days of December require the light in your room to be perpetually lit, you can be certain that the sun must come out sooner or later. And, when it does, you can have a good laugh about all those days you schedule outdoor activities, only to have them foiled by a tiny, incessant drizzle.'
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