Britain really does get a lot of rain. Almost as much as people think it does. Enough that the vocabulary for rain is extensive and specialized. It’s raining stair rods. Or pitch forks. It’s chucking it down, or pissing down, or bucketing down, or mizzling—a lighter, mistier version of drizzling and a word I use sometimes for the pure pleasure of hearing it. In the U.S., it rains or drizzles or rains cats and dogs, but that’s about it. Once in a while, I guess, it mists enough to turn mist from a noun to a verb. But if it does anything else I can’t think what it is. We have words for different kinds of storms, from a shower to a hurricane, but for the rain itself? We haven’t been driven by the sheer indoor boredom of being stuck in the house on 356 consecutive rainy days to come up with new words and phrases.
Or maybe the words came from being out in the rain before the invention of anything that even semi-reliably kept a person dry. Naming the damned stuff could keep your mind off your misery. Or at least keep you busy while you were miserable.
Once you have a vocabulary, you have to say something with it, which is how we get to attitude. It rains enough here that people grow a kind of fatalism about the weather. I say “grow” because it creeps over them the way mold grows on damp walls. Sometimes it comes out as a wry fatalism and sometimes as plain old moaning. (When I lived in the U.S., a moan was nothing more than a sound. Here it’s transformed into an entire attitude, a form of not-gonna-do-anything complaint. A way of life, in fact.)
The content of wry fatalism and moaning is almost the same. It’s the attitude that makes them different.
“I guess we’ve had our summer,” a neighbor said on a gray day that followed some warm, sunny weather.
I knew enough to say, “Yes, and it was a beautiful day.”
He laughed and I congratulated myself: I’d played my hand in the game of wry fatalism. Not bad for a furriner.
On a different day—a sunny one—another neighbor said, “It won’t last.”
Same thought but pure moan. I wasn’t sure how to contribute. Maybe all I needed to do was shake my head mournfully and agree but I didn’t. What help can you expect of a furriner anyway?
Free of either fatalism or moaning (I think) is weather news. People trade bits of this the way American boys once traded baseball cards. A storm’s working its way across the Atlantic. An arctic front’s moving down from Iceland. A warm front’s bringing rain from Spain (really—no plains anywhere to be found but the rain falls anyway). You name it, we tell each other about it, especially if it’s bad weather. We listen to the weather on the TV. We check online. We get updates on our phones. Okay, I don’t. My phone is nothing but a phone, and I’ve given up on the evening news since I read the paper and enough already, how much weather (not to mention news) does one person need? So I’m using we loosely here. But every other single person in the country does all of those things, and every last one of them tells me about it. And as a result I can tell more people, who already know it and have already told me some version of it but it’s okay, this isn’t really about the information, it’s about talking to each other. We’re trading baseball cards. Baseball cards have no intrinsic value. They exist only to be traded.
No one’s weather news quite matches anyone else’s, but if it did what would we have to talk about?