It is a peculiarly British trait to be as obsessed with the weather as we are. It my sound like a cliché (It has grown to become one for good reason) to say that there are few thing we talk about more. It usually my father's very first question whenever he calls me: "What's the weather like over there Paul?" This is invariably followed by, "It is terrible here!" Having lived in Mongolia, where temperatures drop to forty degrees below zero and in Oman where they can be reach 45 degrees in the shade, I have usually given the old man plenty to discuss. However, since moving to France, I have noticed that the French too like to discuss the weather and are keen to find comparisons with England.
On both sides of the English Channel (or La Manche), we are fond of the odd national stereotype. To the Brits, the French munch on frogs legs, quaff red wine at alarming rates, wear berets, smell of garlic and will most likely summarily surrender to any passing German - even if he is merely a tourist. The French see the British as badly dressed, roast beef lovers who could not prepare a decent meal or identify a good glass of wine if our lives depended on it. Of course, both images owe more to stereotyping, cliché and mild racism than they do to reality. However, we seem to bumble along with comic images of each other.
The list of stereotypes I unfurled in the previous paragraph is pretty exhaustive. However, there was one I omitted from the French view of the British: The weather. I had not been in France long before I realised that many French are convinced that the British Isles are continually under incessant downpours. They seem to believe it rains everyday. And, whilst there is a nucleus of truth to this image, it is a massive exaggeration. Yet, as soon as the sky turns grey and rain droplets threaten to form, the French begin to compare Nice to England. Without fail, every time that it rains, one of my colleagues will wander into my office and ask if the weather reminds me of home.
At first, I found thus mildly amusing. And, in an effort to blend in and ingratiate myself, I would laugh. However, after a while, it began to grate. It grated because it was a predictable thing to hear, but also because I felt there was something of a double standard. In the summer, Nice has one of the best climates in the world. The sun shines, the sky is blue and there is often a gentle breeze to stave off the truly stifling temperatures that would otherwise grip the town. In the winter and also in spring and autumn, the climate is not so wondrous and for the local Nicoise or make fun of the English for their weather would very much be a case of the kettle calling the pot black.
The main thing to say about the flip-side to Nice's weather is that no matter the season, when it rains, it rains. In England, we love the drizzle, where the air is damp and you get soaked to the skin, but you never really see the water bouncing or flowing. In Nice, it is the complete opposite. The rain seldom lasts long, but it usually pounds down for a few frantic minutes. In these situations, there is more often than not a fantastic accompaniment of thunder and lightning. It is a beautiful sight to the lightning bouncing off the Alps or crashing into the sea. And, on one such occasion, it struck parts of the city with such force that it knocked out our lights and shut down five computers in my office - when that happened I pointed out rather concisely to my colleagues that things are rarely like that in England.