Much nicer today, isn’t it?
It’s nearly time to leave our Islington flat – our lovely landlady is selling up, and there’s a nice workman down from Oxford, tearing out tiles, trying to make it look respectable before the new people move in. He’s just popped in for a chat, and immediately talked about the weather:
“Much nicer today, isn’t it?”
This was quite a surreal experience, because at that very moment I was reading about how English people use weather as “a form of code, evolved to help us overcome our natural reserve and actually talk to each other”. I was nodding along, chuckling at ‘the rules’ of this exchange – it’s crucial to agree, for example – but wasn’t expecting to be given an immediate opportunity to test this theory out. What would happen if I disagreed?
But I chickened out. I agreed that it was indeed much nicer today than yesterday, and went on to say how this was annoying because I wasn’t at work yesterday and fancied going on a nice cycle ride. I stopped before I got to the stage of advancing my theory that this was a form of punishment by ancient and vengeful gods, which is good because the rules only allow for a small degree of whimsy in this area of initial contact.
I offered him a cuppa – the correct thing to do in this situation – and we had a nice chat about weddings, geography, and other unthreatening topics. He then showed me what he was doing – he mentioned the word ‘grouting’, which I think has something to do with dogging – and I nodded and agreed, because admitting that I am totally clueless about workmen tasks would also have been against the rules.
All in all, as one who believes he’s not bound by or is at least generally clueless about the invisible rules of petty niceties, it’s been an entertainingly chastening experience.