Welcome to British Stories Lesson 1.
British visitors are coming to have a look around your office – what are you going to say to them? How are you going to make small talk? Luckily your English friend, Alison, is on hand to give you a few pointers.
This lesson is an “onboarding” lesson.
What that means is it will teach you the method and how to use the lessons as you do it. Expect this lesson to take longer than normal (I estimate about 1 hour to 1.5 hours). Once you get used to the method, lessons should be faster.
Get her done:
I was a bit nervous about making small talk with the British visitors who were coming to look around our office. What was I going to say to them? I decided to ask my friend Alison, as she’s from England.
“How do you start a conversation with a British person?” I asked her.
“That’s easy,” she said. “Just make a comment about the weather. The British are always talking about the weather.”
She gave a couple of examples of things I could say.
“If the weather is good,” she said, “you could say: ‘Lovely weather for the time of year.’ Or if it’s raining, you could say, ‘nice weather for ducks.’
Whether you know the person or not, you’ll soon be in a conversation with them about how the weather has been, what it’s like now, and what it’s going to be like over the next few days.”
“Why on earth do you talk about the weather so much?” I wondered.
“It’s because the weather is so changeable in Britain,” she told me. “There’s always something to talk about. We love the unpredictability of our weather, and can sometimes experience four seasons in one day. And we love to moan about the weather, and discuss whether it’s too hot or too cold. It’s what brings us together as a nation. As soon as the sun comes out for the first time, we complain.” she laughed.
“We say: ‘Ooo it’s too hot for me!’ and: ‘I’ll have to stay indoors; I can’t stand this heat!’ Or we might get a centimetre or two of snow. The whole country then grinds to a halt, because we just can’t cope. Local councils run out of grit, schools close. We watch reports on television of jammed roads with drivers spending all night in their cars.”
“Will they be interested to hear about our weather?” I wondered.
“Oh definitely,” said Alison. “They’ll want to know whether you have a lot of snow, for example. The British are hopelessly under-prepared for snow. Nobody in Britain spends money on snow plough attachments or snow chains. They only get a few snowfalls a year, so it’s hardly worth it. And they like to hear about extremes of weather.”
Alison went on to tell me about a famous hurricane they had a quarter of a century ago. People still talk about it today. Roads were littered with fallen trees; her district alone lost a million trees overnight.
“Yes,” she said. “They’ll love to compete with you about the weather they’re having. As long as their weather is hotter, wetter or colder than yours, they’ll be happy!”
1. Making small talk = “small talk” is the small, insignificant chatting that people do. Not talking about important things (although small talk is, very, very important). Also notice that small talk is something you “make”.
2. That’s easy… Just make a comment about = This is a very common pattern used to say that the solution something someone has asked about is very simple. So here Alison is saying, “Making small talk is very simple all you have to do is say something about the weather”. Another example might be if, say, you asked me how to book a coach or a train, I could say, “that’s easy, just book it online and print out your ticket”.
3. The British are always talking about the weather = obviously this is somewhat of an exaggeration. They’re not literally ALWAYS talking about it… but it seems like it. We do talk about the weather an awful lot.
4. ‘Lovely weather for the time of year.’ = A very common expression assuming that it IS lovely weather for the time of year (or you’re being sarcastic). We don’t really say “bad weather for the time of year” though.
5. Nice weather for ducks = This is a very common expression – it just means “it’s wet and raining”.
6. Why on earth do you talk about the weather so much? = “on earth” comes after “WH” question words (why, what, when, where, how) and emphasises the question. It shows we’re surprised or confused about the thing being talked about. So we’re not just asking “why do you talk about the weather so much?”, we’re saying “talking about the weather so much is a really strange thing to do… I’m surprised and confused, why do you do it?!”, “on earth” can also be used to show you are angry.
7. The weather is so changeable in Britain = the weather changes so quickly and easily.
8. Can sometimes experience four seasons in one day = this means sometimes it goes from hot, to cold, to rainy… and then back to hot and sunny. All in one day. And yes, this is not an exaggeration. It’s quite common to go somewhere when it’s sunny, arrive in the rain then go home again in the sun.
9. We love to moan about the weather = we love to complain about the weather.
10. Brings us together as a nation = if something “brings something together”, it unites that thing (usually a group of people). So in this case we’re saying that it “unites us as a nation”.
11. “I can’t stand this heat” = if you “can’t stand” something, it’s more than you can endure.
12. “The whole country grinds to a halt” = the whole country comes to a stop.
13. We just can’t cope = if you “can’t cope” with something, you can’t deal with it. It’s too much for you.
14. The local council = the local government in charge of governing a certain area (such as a city or county)
15. Run out of grit = grit is a kind of small stone put on ice to stop it from being slippery. If you “run out” of something, you don’t have any more of it.
16. Jammed roads = the roads are blocked with cars.
17. It’s hardly worth it = This is a very common phrase. If something is “hardly worth it”, it isn’t really worth the price because you would use it so little. So here Alison is saying getting snow chains isn’t worth the price because it snows so little.
18. Roads were littered with fallen trees = “littered with” means objects are scattered about (often rubbish). In this case fallen trees.