Saturday, July 18, 2009

In Which I Talk About the Weather

It’s almost always a safe conversation piece, and it’s almost always there to be discussed. And even if it’s not (I’m thinking SoCal here where you run out of territory pretty quickly after “boy, it’s hot again”), you can always compare it to places where the weather is, well, different. Hotter, colder, wetter, more humid, dryer (ha, good luck), windier, calmer, sunnier, cloudier, more changeable, more predictable, or in some other way more or less preferable to the current location. I Googled it and didn’t get anything, but I’m sure somebody somewhere has calculated the number of hours of productive communication lost to discussing the weather.

I’m guilty of contributing my own tedious observations over the year - just today I barely resisted the urge to update my Facebook status with some snarky complaint about how I’m tired of wearing turtlenecks in July. Long underwear was made for February, not the height of summer. I’d like to say I talk about it because it’s worth commenting on. But I know better: I talk about it because it’s the easiest thing to say. In many languages.

In my time abroad I lived and worked in three or four distinct dialects of Malagasy, French, Vietnamese and English-as-a-Second-Language. Small talk might be painful in your native language, but it can be downright desperate when you have the vocabulary of a termite at your disposal. Suddenly you hear a phrase like, “Mafana be!” and you latch on to it with all your might. “It’s hot!” you return, “Yes, mafana be loatra!” And you swell with pride at adding that beautiful intensifier all by yourself, because its so very hot indeed!

I had somehow naively assumed that discussions of the weather in subsistence agriculture-based economies would be much more intense and analytical. A dry day would focus on the impact of a lack of rain on the yield of crops. Hot sun would turn into concern over the oxen’s ability to spend another hour plowing the field. A cold spring would result in debates over the right time to plant the fields.

I’m sure there was some of this, just as there is discussion among gardeners and farmers back home, but despite people’s live-or-die relationship with a good crop, the vast majority of the conversations were pretty familiar, and every day was extraordinary if only for the fact that the climate was so, well, normal.

So, how’s the weather been? I’m freezing, and it’s July 18. I’m moving back to Antananarivo if I’m going to have to suffer temperatures like this in July.

But it's amazing how much less likely I am to whine now that I've turned the thermostat up to 63. Because I have a thermostat.

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