It’s widely accepted by the French that the British are uptight, frigid and repressed, and that this is conclusively proved by their habit of talking about the weather in a bid to avoid more intimate conversation.
Just for once, I have to stick up for the Brits here – the French (or the montagnard French anyway) talk more weather than anyone else I’ve ever met. I can’t say whether they do it because they’re terrified of sex, mind, only that they do it. All the time. Only the other day, while doing the rounds of local retailers in search of stamps, bread and those miniature bottle-brush devices you get for cleaning inaccessible bits of tooth, I earwigged on at least half a dozen conversations, every single one of which had something to with recent or projected meteorological conditions.
At the risk of being labelled frigid, I should mention that even as I write the rain is lashing down outside comme une vache qui pisse (I am not, at this point, going to go into the French obsession with cows). It has been raining for a fortnight, and shows no sign of changing its mind in the near future, so you’d think that weather conversations would have dried up. But no. Quite the opposite in fact. The more it tips down, the more people huddle under eaves discussing how wet it is, how wet it looks like being for the forseeable future, how warm/cold/wet is was all winter, how this means we will/won’t have a good summer ……… etc. If talking about the weather is a reliable indicator of sexual inadequacy, I’d say the French are going to die out within a generation.
Of course, mountain weather does at least provide a decent variety of sub-topics. There’s very little point in talking about the weather in the Mojave Valley for instance – you’re rather limited to “Hot, isn’t it”, and likely to get odd looks, given that no-one can remember a day when it wasn’t at least 50°C. (This is also why you’d probably be talking to a cactus – would you live in a place like that?.) Round here, on the other hand, you could quite easily have snow overnight, followed by tropical sunshine all day, a thunderstorm in the evening and possibly a spot of light flooding later on. And what’s more, this is quite likely not to correspond in any way at all with what the various weather forecasts promised, which gives rise to two parallel strands of conversation, one about the real-world weather and the other concerning an entire alternative universe of theoretical meteorology.
In their defence, people here have a keen financial interest in the weather. The minute it rains in the summer the campsites empty, and they stay that way until the sun comes out again. In the winter poor snowfall, unseasonal warm spells and just bad weather on the weekends can put a serious dent in profits, and not just for the current season either. I’ve had guests tell me on numerous occasions that they wouldn’t go back to so-and-so resort because they went there last year and it snowed all week/it didn’t snow/there wasn’t enough snow/conditions were icy/slushy/powdery ……. etc. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face that overall the resort had great conditions and they could have had a bad week anywhere. They’ll even agree with you. But they’ll still say that no, they’d never book there again, it was a rubbish resort. So can you blame us if we spend all winter glued to snow-forecast.com and trying to predict next week’s snowfall by watching which way round the birds are standing?