As a Brit, I suppose sooner or later the time would come for me to address that most important and beloved of topics: the weather.
It’s a well-known stereotype, celebrated no doubt the world over, that us Brits are obsessed with talking about the weather. And I am not prepared to fight this stereotype – it is an actual truth, and had the Ten Commandments been written by a Brit, number ten would have surely been ‘thou shalt discuss the weather forecast with thy neighbour every day’. One of my earliest memories is Michael Fish telling the trusting viewers of the BBC Weather Forecast that there wasn’t a storm coming, and then waking up to find we had no garden fence. I was 2 years old. It made a lasting impression.
Slipping into weather conversation is a bit like smoking a joint; it’s comforting in times of stress, you can share it with a stranger, and everyone can relate to it. (Not that I’d know, Mum, Dad – I’m just theorising. I swear.) Speaking of my Dad, he’s a classic example of a Brit who just loves the weather. When I was a studying in Russia, Dad would give me frequent updates on the Moscow weather, as if I wasn’t already aware by the fact I had blue nipples and frozen snot that it was -25 and snowing most of the time. When I call him for a chat, I always know that for the first 15 minutes he’ll moan about how badly Southampton are playing this season, and the rest of the conversation will be completely devoted to the weather. But I do understand his point. Weather conversation give us a sense of unity and let’s face it, our eternal obsession with the War shows that if there’s one thing we crave, it’s a sense togetherness as a nation. If it’s raining cats and dogs outside, we love to collectively complain that we have miserable summers and we want to retire one day to Spain. If the sun comes out and temperatures rise above 20 degrees celsius, a state of emergency is declared as people fear they won’t survive the heatwave and – no joke – #TooHotToSleep becomes the top trending hashtag on Twitter. And Heaven forbid we get snow; the country grinds to a halt, schools close, the Tube breaks down and everyone posts Facebook photos of the three snowflakes that fell on the roof of their cars. Madness. But a shared madness, nonetheless.
So really, for a Brit, the weather experience in Hamburg is an absolute dream. (I mean this ironically, of course. Nobody could seriously love the fact that this city gets more rain than a rainforest in Costa Rica.) But I cannot deny that the weather patterns here create a special sense of excitement. For example, I love playing ‘guess what the weather will do in the next hour’. I wake up to blue skies, a warm breeze and birdsong, and by the time I reach my office a mere 25 minutes away, my Birkenstocks are squelching and my umbrella has blown inside out. Or I’ll leave the house wearing a scarf and jumper and arrive wherever I am going with sweat streaming from every pore and a face that used to have makeup on it. It’s wonderful, it really is. I find this unpredictability, thrilling though it may be, makes it nigh on impossible to decide what to wear in the morning. I do try, on the days when I manage to wake up with the first of three alarms, to look like I’m a professional thirty-something with an important job, but I often end up defaulting to jeans and Converse because it’s safe and practical. You wonder why the Germans love outdoor jackets and Jack Wolfskin? I bet you they’ve all lived in Hamburg at some point and learned the hard way that it’s necessary. Hamburgers even have their own word for the weather here: ‘Schietwetter‘. Say it aloud and you can guess its meaning.
To try and help overcome the gargantuan challenge of predicting Hamburg’s weather, I’ve now given precious iPhone space to THREE weather apps. A quick triage across them every day is as close as I can get to knowing how things might pan out. And, like the good Army Cadet I was in my youth, I live by the Army 7Ps – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance (an adage you can apply to everything in life, I recommend it.) Gone are the days of carrying a tiny, impractical yet terribly fashionable handbag. These days I need room for the Factor 50, my sunglasses, an umbrella, a scarf, and spare socks. Minimum.
The thing that irks me the most though isn’t actually that Hamburg has crappy weather. It’s inconvenient, but as someone who burns if I stand too long under an LED light bulb, I’m more suited to this climate anyway. But what IS irritating is if I pass comment on the wet weather – which I am wont to do, I’ve been programmed this way since the age of 2 remember – everyone without fail says to me ‘oh, but you’re British, you should be used to it!’ Friends, readers, Hamburgers, please understand one thing. London is in the South-East corner of the UK. It’s much further south than Hamburg, it’s completely sheltered from the coast and it’s fairly mild. If I was from somewhere ‘oop Norf’, like Newcastle, or – Heaven forbid – if I was from Stornoway, then yes, perhaps I would be used to it. But I’m a soft Southerner. London is basically the Costa Brava in comparison with here. Hamburg is precariously perched between two oceans, and is less than two hours from Scandinavia.
Anyway, British whinging aside, I will say that when the sun is out, Hamburg is the best city in Europe. Maybe even the world. And if you do hear me moan about the weather, or even just pass comment on it, please humour me. It’s genetic.