Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Weather

And all over the world
Strangers talk only about the weather
All over the world
It's the same
It's the same
   - "Strange Weather", Tom Waits

I've spent the last week on a cruise, and therefore have had ample opportunity to observe people interact with strangers in 20 second snippets - elevators, specifically. And here's how that breaks down:

  1. About 3 out of 4 conversations center on the weather.
  2. The remaining 25% are about my children, but that depends on me having them with me. "Awww, how cute!"
Why the weather? Why is this such a fascinating topic, the default fall-back when you feel you have to say something but don't know what? Why is this apparently a human universal - regardless of whether I'm in the elevator with Germans, Americans, Spaniards... Okay, maybe not a fair cross-section of humanity, but you get the idea. But having thought about it a bit, it really is the ideal topic for when you want to say something to a stranger.
  • Weather is dynamic, as opposed to static or entirely predictable. This makes it an infinitely more interesting topic than, say, pointing out that a month is about 30 days long, or that Obama is the president of the US, or anything else that hasn't changed for a long time or is likely to change anytime soon.
  • Weather is of some kind of interest to everyone. Very few have no interest whatsoever in the climate around us, it affects almost all of us in one way or another even if it's only to a small extent. Contrast this with a comment on, say, the variations in the value of Microsoft's stock today. Most people aren't interested because they own no stock. Note how it satisfies the first critera, however.
  • It's neutral. No one is to blame for the weather, if we leave the climate change debate out of this for now. The same cannot be said for any kind of political discussion, or religion, or even what foods you like. However miniscule the risk of offending someone with a comment on a topic, nothing can be safer than the weather. No one will be upset or cause a ruckus over you saying that you find it a bit chilly today. If you complain about last night's cabaret show, there's a tiny risk that the person you're talking to was in it - or has a daughter who was, or whatever.
You can't go wrong with the weather. Or saying that someone's baby is cute: that one is pretty safe, too.