Monday, 27 August 2012

Pros and Air Cons: The US obsession with conditioned air

"too darn hot" - make sure you and your bulldogs are cool and hydrated
So I survived August. I say that because Mr was very intrigued to find out how I'd cope in a month characterized by humidity and heat; when locals take their summer vacations to escape the oppressive weather.

To be fair, I made like a true local and disappeared to the UK for a week. I've already waxed Olympyrical about the Games, but my UK trip also allowed me to catch up with friends and family, almost as if I'd never been away. The trip also allowed me to realize a few more of the subtle differences between US and UK culture.

The week I spent in London was wonderfully sunny. This meant I hardly slept the whole time I was there. Why? I, like many US residents, have become addicted to air conditioning, a comfort that is often elusive in UK accommodation.

Air conditioning was (kind of) invented 110 years ago in the now hipster village of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I first experienced the ups and downs of the US love affair with conditioned air when I found myself in New York City during a heatwave. The mayor warned people not to go running in Central park, the news was filled with locations of 'chill centers' for the young, elderly and other vulnerable folks without air con, and stories of neighborhoods suffering from power outages or power surges. I visited a lot of museums, not only to enjoy their exhibits but also their frosty cool rooms. I learned the stifling discomfort of waiting on a subway platform, and the chilling relief of stepping into a conditioned subway car.

But when I moved over to the USA back in June, I found it hard to get a decent night of sleep: It was too darn cold.

This all brought to mind the stereotype of the wasteful American: During summer they crank up the air con and wear sweaters inside, and during winter they crank up the heating and lounge around in t-shirts. I wasn't used to it - I enjoyed the heat. I wasn't used to light summer bed sheets and cool indoor breezes. I wanted a heavy duvet (AKA a comforter in US English) to weigh me down and keep me cosy. I insisted on turning down the ceiling fan in our bedroom to the lowest setting.

It was lucky I did.

The very next day I stood up on the bed to reach for something and was totally head-decked. The ceiling fan smacked me right above the ear. Mr had to watch in horror as my body crumpled down onto the bed and started to shake.

I was laughing. Oh, I was in pain! I had a lump on my head for a week. But at least the fan had been going slowly enough not to slice my head clean off. This dumb Brit was so unaccustomed to air con that it literally hit her in the face.

But at some point in the past few months something happened to my internal thermostat. It was so subtle that I barely noticed what was happening: I am now fully addicted to flowing, cool air. I find the bedrooms of England stale and stuffy, the hotel duvets too heavy and warm. I still insist on having the ceiling fans on low settings, mostly out of fear, and I try not to stand on the bed anymore, but I sleep soundly, thankful for these artificially cool summer nights.


  1. We were just talking about the AC last night. Joe has to have it blasting every night when we sleep. I freeze because of that, even in August! I'm one for opening the windows and having real air in a room. I know when it's roasting that doesn't really achieve anything. I know i'll probably now be condition to the AC lifestyle from now on though!

  2. Usually I'd be all up for opening the windows too (we actually did it the other day!) but sometimes the air here is just too stagnant. It's weirdest when it looks dark and October-like outside but you open the door and this hot heat hits you. Baah.