How about that cold snap?

If you’ve heard or said that recently, with friends and strangers alike, you’re hardly alone. The other day I had a work call with someone in Atlantic Canada, who I had never met or spoken to before. Within 30 seconds we were talking about the recent run of Arctic temperatures. We did so for several minutes, our observations and stories flowing naturally, before we got down to business.

Why do we talk about the weather so much? Is it an actual topic of interest or a conversational tactic? Maybe a bit of both.

Canadians aren’t the only ones to routinely bring up the weather. But we do it a lot, from everyday exchanges to media coverage, by some measures more than anyone else in the world. The Weather Network reported on one study of the subjects reported by Canadian media. Compared to the averages of 160 countries, the weather took up 229% more place in our media.

It makes sense that weather would dominate the consciousness in a country where we zig zag from deep freezes to heat waves. In a place where it’s sunny and pleasant every day, the weather can be more of an afterthought.

Yet talking about the weather serves another purpose.

British social anthropologist Kate Fox observed hundreds of weather-related conversations for one of her research studies. She says they’re not really just about the weather.

“Weather talk is a kind of code that we have evolved to help us overcome social inhibitions and actually talk to one another,” Fox told the BBC.

She explains that chit chatting about the weather can be a way to fill silences when we’re meeting people, bond (by complaining about a common irritant), or assess someone else’s mindset (are they in the mood to talk or do they want to left alone?).

There are deeper reasons too. In a CBC story, Diane Pacom, a social professor at the University of Ottawa, commented that weather is a critical aspect of the Canadian identity. “The way you create a collective ethos is through this constant preoccupation with weather,” she said.

When we talk about the weather, we’re often talking about much more. It isn’t just a rhetorical throwaway. It’s also a shortcut to interpersonal connections. Come rain or shine, that weather talk can break the ice.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

January 10, 2018

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