Hi everyone! I wrote a post a little while ago asking for guest post submissions for when I’m on vacation in September.
One pitch I received came from an American expat and it was about mosquito bites and air conditioning. It was perfectly timed because as I read his idea, I laughed out loud. I was sitting on my couch with no fewer than 30 mosquito bites cursing the little bastards that had ruined all chances of sleeping soundly for the next couple of weeks. Since the mosquitoes are out in full force with no A/C in sight around here (meaning we have to open the screenless windows to get air, hence the bugs), I figured I’d run the guest post sooner than later.
And any of you out there who say you hate A/C, you’re LIARS. ;-))) Listen, it doesn’t have to be Miami-style A/C where it’s so cold you need to wear a sweatshirt indoors, but a comfortable temperature so you can sit on the couch without soaking your clothes is never a bad thing when it’s 90F+ outdoors. In fact, just this year, I finally got air conditioning in France.
So without further ado, let’s get on with the guest post.
Today’s guest post is coming to you from Neal DeRidder who blogs over at Breath of French Air. We’ve never met in person but I’m sure Neal and I would be friends. He’s laugh out loud funny and I hope you get a kick out of his writing! And don’t forget to show Neal some love in the comments!
Why are the French afraid of air conditioning?
During our search for an apartment in Toulouse we told local friends we were looking for: “A 1BR-1BTH apartment with air conditioning near the center of town.” You might have thought we said: “A 1BR-1BTH apartment with bowling lanes near the center of town.”
At a recent dinner party several people informed us that AC is just not necessary in France. It’s not necessary and it’s bad for your health. Wait, what? I can maybe accept that the French have a higher tolerance for heat or are just tougher than we are but do they really believe it’s bad for your health?
Yep. One gentleman assured me of the veracity of this claim through a cloud of cigarette smoke.
Further questioning revealed that abrupt swings in temperature are to blame for a range of maladies but primarily for sore throats. I was compelled to give my testimony, I am a believer in AC and I want them to believe too. I’ve had the pleasure of an air-conditioned office my entire career.
During hot summer spells in Denver I regularly went from 68 degrees in my office to 100 degrees outside with no ill effects. My productivity did not wax and wane with the whims of the weather. I was master of my domain!
Not one single convert.
Mostly we got pitying looks and further explanations why AC is not necessary. The non-believers presented as a fait accompli the following fact – in France the homes have shutters. Voila!
It is absolutely true that by opening windows to cooler evening temperatures and then blocking the harsh daytime sun with shutters, you can keep the interior of your home cooler than the exterior. But we’re talking a 10 degree difference. If it’s 100 degrees outside it’s still 90 in the house! Some concessions were granted; in extreme cases it is acceptable to deploy a fan to stir the sultry air. Yahoo.
More on the downside of shutters in a moment…
Am I being dramatic? Am I a soft pampered American? You be the judge. Below are the temperatures in Toulouse from June 1st to July 17th. Those few days where the high temperature was 80 degrees were called a “petit pause” by the locals.
90, 94, 90, 84, 96, 92, 89, 90, 94, 90, 84, 96, 92, 87, 98, 89, 80, 80, 94, 80, 83, 85, 88, 94, 98, 94
Maybe the French have genetically superior body cooling mechanisms. Maybe they’ve adapted to their AC-free environment like the cape ground squirrel who uses its own tail for shade. But they look just like us (no tail, maybe a little thinner). Nope, I don’t buy it. I’ve seen French people covered in sweat, fanning themselves on a not-so-fresh smelling metro car. They’re just as uncomfortable as we are. And they’re covered in mosquito bites.
Which brings us to the downside of shutters…
Exterior shutters in France are everywhere. They are also far superior to interior blinds at keeping homes cool. But being on the exterior means one must reach outside the window to close them. This results in in-swinging windows without screens. As an architect I might argue that in-swinging windows are inherently less weatherproof than out-swinging but that’s a minor point.
It’s the absence of screens that can be an itchy problem. By itchy I mean mosquitoes. To get the benefit of nighttime cooling you need those screen-less windows open. The mosquitoes don’t concern themselves with questions of “why” you don’t use AC; they just want your blood.
Is this a moral issue?
Are the French suffering their way to moral high ground for the sake of energy conservation? France has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any industrialized country. Their AC is nuclear powered for cripes sake! They have to figure out where to hide that glowing waste someday but they don’t need to worry about their AC producing greenhouse gasses today.
So here we are, with a population covered in sweat and mosquito bites, sipping piping hot espresso in 100 degree heat, explaining the health hazards of AC between drags on a menthol cigarette.
Maybe they’re just crazy.
Can you relate? Do you love air conditioning in France or hate it?
Again, a big thanks to Neal for this guest post.
Photo credit: Diane Evans/A Breath of Fresh Air
This is so timely! I spend what seems to be the majority of my time bemoaning the fact that AC is not a thing here.
I live on the (American) 8th floor, with means that while I don’t have to deal with as many bugs, that damn heat rises with a vengeance.
I’ll take the cool air any day!
Neal DeRidder says
Sorry to hear that Shelby, maybe we will all get some relief in October : )
Sorry to be in the same boat as you, Shelby. At least you’re high up so you don’t get as many bugs! But yea the heat is horrible. As I’m replying to your comment I’m scratching one foot’s bug bites with the other foot and trying to scratch the 3 on my right hand with my left thumb while typing. UGHHHHHHHHH
I must weigh in here. There is another reason many French and European people don’t use airco. Many of the buildings are not easily adaptable especially in tourist towns like Toulouse mentioned above. En plus, there are strict building codes dictating what can and cannot be exposed on the exterior. I own a house from the 11 century in the south of France in a beautiful medieval village. I can only imagine what the town would look like if exposed TV dishes and airco units were allowed. I am struggling now to install a ductless system with hidden outdoor units – mostly for dehumidification – but the walls on my house are 4.5 FEET thick. And 900 years old. It is a challenge and expense many french avoid.
So we were recently in both Paris and other parts of France, and in Dubrovnik, Croatia. In both places, very old, historic thick walled stone buildings are present. In France, almost no place has AC. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, almost every residence, hotel and office had AC. They put their exterior AC components in the back, facing alleys, on roofs or other areas where they are barely noticeable.
France is a great place, and the French are more advanced in attitudes than Americans in many ways, but the constant refrains from the French that AC is simply not needed in France are just plain ridiculous. If its over 85 degrees F, that is hot! Even if the air is dry and not humid, it is still hot. Its not going to get cooler in Summers there either.
Many people in the U.S. in Northern states like Vermont, Main, and northern NY have AC. They use it in the Summer. When, even though it may be cooler than more southern states, its still hot.
The French need AC. And fans. What exactly is the opposition to fans? They also need to quit smoking, abandon nuclear power, and start installing more solar instead. And wear helmets on bikes. Otherwise, visiting France is lovely, and they don’t need to change a thing.
I lived in Vermont and not many people have A/C. The few that do may have a window unit in their bedroom for the 5 nights out of the summer it stays above 80.
I agree …it’s only going to get hotter ….everywhere! I won’t travel to places like Paris, in the summer. It’s insane to think its reasonable to sweat to the point that you think you’re going to pass out!
I understand that there are building codes…and that it would be unsightly to have the electrical components showing …but there are portable units now too. You simply vent them out a window and roll them around to which ever room you are in.
Regardless of the aesthetic issues… The heat isn’t going to get better …it’s going to get worse…world wide. People are going to HAVE to make concessions for air-conditioning.
Muriel A says
You’re right about it getting worse. I left France in 1970 after growing up there. I was there in 2003 when the horrible heat wave hit, and I didn’t remember anything like it growing up. We would get the occasional painfully hot day, but not weeks on end like now.
They are slowly starting to get with the program. All but one of the hotels we stayed in last month had A/C. There was a portable unit in a restaurant we went to. People seemed to be OK with it. Screens on the windows will be harder. France doesn’t have that many bugs, and one of the great joys of being there is to open the window wide, lean out and watch the world go by. That’s one of the things I missed the most in the UK and now in the US.
Scott Westerfield says
Very interesting explanation of why A/C and window screens don’t exist in French homes. I always wondered about that on my summertime visits. It figures that it’s supposedly for aesthetic reasons. A friend in Paris with a lovely, updated apartment in the 5th arrondissement near the Val-de-Grace says French bathrooms typically lack shower curtains/doors for the same reason – to maintain the aesthetic of the bath. In my opinion, ductless A/C units, electric or crankable shutters or well-designed open showers that don’t splash on the floor could meet all these objections while permitting the convenience of A/C, window screens and tidy bathrooms, but I have yet to see that in actual homes.
I just bought this plug-in device on Amazon which is supposed to control mosquitoes and flies. I don’t need it so much for France but for our annual vacation in Portugal. For 27€ it better work! Unfortunately I won’t be able to confirm anything for you for another month. http://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B005OO4DN2?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00
I am very interested to hear how that thing works. I saw something that cost 5 bucks in the grocery store that either emits a chemical or a sound that scares the bugs away but right as I was about to put it in my cart (desperate) I saw it only lasts for 10 days. So hope your thing works… and then I’ll buy it 😉
This is perfect! We live in Lyon and recently switched apartments. It’s been around 100 here for two weeks now. In our previous apartment we didn’t have a mosquito problem, but now we practically sleep in bug spray! I was thinking it was just us.. haha glad we’re not alone!
Definitely not alone! I spray myself in bug spray too but I don’t think it helps. Or I just miss my hands and feet. Have about 5 on each right now and it’s SO ANNOYING. Hope it cools down for you!
I’m American, and I do love AC, but I only use it on days when it’s above 85F and just use a fan when I can. I admire the French for not conforming, and for how they stick to the way things have always been done, and for being so environmentally conscious. The shutters do look prettier than ugly window AC units. I do wish they would get screens, though! To keep bugs out and to keep poor pets and children from falling out windows!
I’d take a window A/C unit over skin that looks diseased (like mine at this point)! But in French windows, the unit would just fall out so that won’t work. I’ve seen little boxes that go on the floor with a tube vent thing that goes out the window but they seem to be pretty pricey. Screens are a good start. I agree!
Ze Coach says
Hi Diane, I went back to France this summer and some days it was as hot as in Dallas, Texas. The difference is that in France, AC is not common in the houses so it was sometimes tough but I survived 🙂 and fans can help too.
I’ve never been “afraid” of AC but I always thought it was a luxury at home. I expected this from an office, a mall, a hotel room but at home, I’ve never been used to in France. But maybe it will change, like for AC in cars.
When I was a kid, I remember my parents cars did not have AC. It was pretty tough on long drives during summer vacation. When I got my first kid early 2000, I could not imagine buying a car without AC.
Back to AC in houses, I guess I thought that it was expensive to install and to operate because it was really needed only a few days per year. And there’s a chance that you could be in summer vacation when it’s really hot. When I was still France, what I bought for my kid was a portable AC. On hot nights, I would turn it on for 20 minutes just to cool down the room and allow an easy sleeping and then turn it off.
Also, for the mosquitoes, we had some sort of net above the beds.
A good solution to preserve the Earth is to have a “puit canadien”, a natural air conditioning with no energy involved. It works pretty good but it’s something to think about when you build a house. More difficult after it’s built. It’s also an investment.
Here are the thoughts of a French guy.
Love your French guy thoughts!
Oh man, no car AC?? But you survived so I think we’re all just spoiled with our A/C and fans and screens and bug spray. Imagine what it was like 100 years ago?
I think in some climates, like Miami, it’s worth it to have AC in your home. Well actually there’s no option NOT to — all new homes and apartments would have it automatically. With the humidity and heat it would be impossible to not sweat when putting on a suit for work and that’s not a good look to show up at work all soaked in sweat. But I agree, in some climates it’s more of a luxury because you’d really only need it a few weeks out of the year.
I’m going to look into that portable unit and do what you did, just cool down the room and then turn it off.
I am putting my bed net up tonight! Going to look up that puit canadien. Never heard of it.
Thanks for commenting and have a great weekend!
Having just moved to Canada I totally get the air con debate. I can see why the French wouldn’t have it – I hate waking up with a sore throat and I like the idea of using less hydro, but even I have my limits – when it is plus 40 out the air con is definitely on!
The French are crazy, just saying, I can’t live without my a/c I remember all too well the nights when Tim and I would sit outside talking to late in the night as it was so hot inside one could not sleep those days are long gone and thank goodness for that..
I once worked for a French company based in New York City and had to go on a 2 and a half hour business trip with a French co-worker. It was 90+ in July and the car a/c was not on. At all. Just the car fan on low. We were absolutely sweltering but Olivier was calm, cool, and collected. He just casually asked if I wanted him to open the windows a bit. :0! That acclimation to insane heat must be a French thing!
Mary Z says
I hadn’t even thought about car AC. I definitely use it in my car, alternating with the fan on medium, and open windows. My Grandma never used it in the car. Her nose/sinuses would start to run, so she hated it. I can’t stand being hot!
Ken DiCicco says
We can’t blame them for not liking air conditioner. For me, I really like having an air condition system in my home, it helps you survive the summer without worrying having heat stroke.
I’m french and I don’t like air conditioning that much! I like it at work, in malls, public transportation and in my car (sometimes) but I would definitely not get one home. I would get sore throat and a cold. I can’t even sleep with the fan on so air co is not for me. And when the air co was to high at work I would get sick too! Having a cold when is so hot outside is really not ok. I close the shutter to prevent the sun to come in and use a fan (except for sleeping) but even here in Belgium where I live now and they don’t have shutters I don’t have air co (and nobody does).
Regarding the screens, you can always build one for your window, even if you have shutters! It works!
Les français sont vraiment des arriérés. Ces comme les rues de Paris qui puent la pisse.
Penser que l’air conditionné est un signe de progrès est tragique. Mais bon, quand on se surnomme “Reagan”, c’est pas très étonnant…
My early years in OH was pretty much without A./C….just a huge ceiling fan that the folks would turn on at night. My bed was next to the window. Great when you first went to bed, but by morning after it cooled off, I would wake up with a stuffy head. However, I was elated when the folks put in central air and I have lived with A/C ever since. Today, I keep the A/C set pretty much at 80 degrees so that when it comes on it at least takes the humidity out of the air and makes the hot humid days tolerable. This year because of all the rain we’ve had, the mosquitos are horrible.
I have to say that as a Frenchie in North America, I actually really dislike air conditioning. My office is seriously COLD. I had to bring an extra blanket and socks because I sit around shivering all day.
My American family lives in Oklahoma, so I understand the need to cool down in the summer, but always found it absurd that my grandpa’s house was cooler in the summer than in the winter. And I hate that because of air-conditioning, it’s often impossible to open the windows and get some fresh air in hotels, office, etc. The air feels gross and recirculated. Maybe it is a cultural difference?
Completely understand, Aude. My office in NYC was always freezing too no matter the temperature outdoors so I’d have to keep a sweater on me at all times. Same with the train. I think there’s a difference between frigid temperatures and feeling comfortable. Sometimes feeling a breeze and some warm air does a body good and I love feeling the spring and summer air when it’s in the 70s. But once your face is too sweaty to apply makeup or it’s too hot to even do light housework without sweating, I love a/c. Again, not freezing cold but enough to take the edge off so you can go about your day without soaking your clothes in sweat. And mosquitoes, I think they’re a creation of the devil hahahaha. I hope you don’t have too many mosquito bites! Bon dimanche !
Wow! I can so relate to this! My better half is a Frenchman–and he despises A/C!!! We just got back from three weeks spent between Paris and Theoule-Sur-Mer in the South. In Paris, I thought I would die–I’m not kidding. His family has a place in the 6th–on the top floor of a building. Trust me, the top floor of a building in Paris during the canicule makes one not a pretty sight! I literally slept with a cold face cloth and ice cubes. It was much better in Theoule. Our apartment overlooks the Mediterranean and the breeze we get it amazing. The walls are so thick and the floors are cool and tiled. The cross-ventilation is so amazing that you don’t even think about A/C! Now we are back in the humid Northeast of the States. I need the A/C. Really. I do. He could care less but I’m winning this argument!
hahaha, the heat really is a problem. I don’t know what I’d do if I lived in Thailand or something. Would I just get used to it? Probably not. The 6th floor sounds horrible. I don’t blame you for sleeping with ice cubes. I would have done the same thing. So glad that down south you get a breeze and the house helps you to stay cool. Enjoy your time in the US!
I gotta say. I appreciate noncomformity – I seriously do – but not when it’s just irrational.
Wel, as far as I’m concerned, A/C just ruined my 3-week stay in Louisiana: it was only April (80°F outside / 26-27° celsius) and anywhere indoors was like being in a fridge. I had to wear a sweater, trousers, socks, a scarf and a jacket at all times and the rare times I found a restaurant or bar outside New Orleans, I couldn’t go there because it was freezing. So I went back to my Airbnb where I could at least switch off the A/C for God’s sake.
In the plane when we flew back to France, French customers had to ask for 2 blankets and when the Air France staff agreed to raising the temperature a bit (they confessed they were cold too), the American customers said they were going to faint!!!
What to think of a population who can’t live in normal conditions anymore and has to use machines in order to survive ? (and therefore stay indoors as much as possible) Is that why your streets are empty? What to think of a population who can’t adapt to the heat and in order to cool the air down (to unbearable levels) uses machines that warm it up even more and are responsible for global warming?
A/C is a nuisance and should be forbidden except in hospitals and nursing homes…
From Louisiana, living in Lyon right now, and you’re right that we love our air conditioning. AND MY GOD I MISS IT!
But all the “sickness, sore throat” stuff is a bunch of nonsense. The French government in decades past said that stuff about fans and AC because France was still a developing nation and their power grid could not handle it if lots of people were using fans and AC all the time. The idea that it’s bad for you, that’s just government propaganda. Koreans believe something similar, for the same reason- Google “Korean fan death.”
And in Louisiana we’re using the AC both for temperature and humidity. Most people don’t have both a dehumidifier and an AC, so they just use the AC, but they really should use both as it saves energy in the long run in fact. But our temperatures in July and August are much worse than yours. Also, Americans are expected to WORK during the summer- we don’t have paid vacations, so you can’t just leave when it gets hot.
I could understand no AC maybe… But no ice? In my home New Orleans, before AC, people at least had ice, and everyone constantly walks around with an icy cocktail in their hand, the original AC. But your whole country is still believing eco-conservation lies that the gov’t told 40 years ago!
I agree with you John. French electric power, could not handle it if a lot of people or all had ac units. Still I can’t understand why they do not put screens on to prevent mosquitoes coming in. That would be so simple and efficient. Granted it woul not solve the heat problem in summers.
Once on a trip to Royan
in the Charentes, all expensive beautiful condos with front windows looking on Atlantic Ocean had their shutters closed during the day, hence preventing this nice view on the ocean, and shutters open at nights getting all the mosquitoes in. Gee, allez savoir pourquoi! So ridiculous paying for a view and not being able to enjoy it.
Stella says: “I’m french and I don’t like air conditioning that much! I like it at work, in malls, public transportation and in my car (sometimes) but I would definitely not get one home. I would get sore throat and a cold.”
With all due respect, Stella, your comment doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re okay with AC on a regular basis “at work, in malls, public transportation, and in [your] car” – then on what grounds do you assume that having it at home would give you a “sore throat and a cold”?
That just doesn’t add up, nor is there any scientific evidence supporting your claim. It’s a myth, as the article-writer suggested.
Look, the point of AC is to keep cool when the environment is really hot. If it’s technologically feasible, and doesn’t pollute, then why put up with the heat (or mosquitos) if you don’t have to?
And even if we dispense with AC, what sense does it make to /not/ have screens? Do the French /want/ to be constantly bitten by mosquitos…?
Aude said: “I actually really dislike air conditioning. My office is seriously COLD.”
That’s only because whoever’s setting your office’s AC level is setting it too low. If you have AC in your home (or in a hotel room), you can set it at whatever level you want! Why would you be anti-AC just because someone else away from your home sets it too low…? That’s like saying, “I hate cars because I know a guy who’s a careless driver.”
Like I said in my previous comment: the French stance on this whole thing is simply irrational.
“If it’s technologically feasible, and doesn’t pollute, then why put up with the heat?”.
it is a top contributor to global warming. So putting up with the heat would be a good idea.
When I went to the US last month, my first reaction was to feel like crying when I saw that everyone depended on the air conditioning so much. I wrote to my friends back in France: “Me might as well give up on fighting global warming, they’re all on A/C here. C’est mort pour le climat…”.
Meredyth DeRidder says
Ok this is Mom speaking!!!!
I have lived in hot places like South Carolina and loved ever hot minute.
I have blocked off all registers and the intake vent in my downstairs apartment so that I don’t get the cold AC air from upstairs. I now like my evenings in my new digs. I like even more going out on the patio and relax with no one else around. They are all in their AC homes. I work at a store with AC and have to wear a sweater all day. My sinuses do not like AC but I think it is the recycled air not the fact that it is cold. When your recycle the same air day after day it has to get UGH!.
Thank you Meredyth!!!! Your comment is so sound and healthy, and reassuring. So all Americans are not crazy…
Rosemary K says
I have been living in France since 1975 and I don’t think I’ve ever seen air-conditioning in a private home. However, when I moved into Paris from the suburbs 10 years ago, the first thing I bought was a portable air-conditioner for my office and I used it every summer. No matter what windows I opened, I could get no cross-breeze in my 18th century apartment and since I grew up in from tropical North Queensland in Australia, I do not like being enclosed in shutters most of the day.
Now, we live in the Loire Valley in a 430-year old stone house. The sheer thickness of the walls keeps the downstairs area cool (24°C today as opposed to 34°C outside). Upstairs, though, we need to keep the shutters closed until about 3 pm. The temperature is maybe one or two degrees higher, but it’s fine in the evening especially when we open the windows.
The only problem about that of course are the mosquitoes.
My husband is French and an air-conditioning specialist and obviously not against using A/C. I was not aware of the French prejudice against it but I am going to start conducting a little investigation. I’ll be back!
Hi, being English I’m not used to habitual AC but always need it in my car in the summer. Whilst on the Cote d’Azur [half the year] I am very pleased to have AC in the apartment – but only in the bedroom, – why am I not supposed to get too hot in the salon?? On the downside I find American and Far East AC far too sinus stripping! I have a photo of me on the train from HK airport wearing one of the ubiquitous Chinese face masks – and not caring how daft I looked!!
Wander Mum says
Air conditioning!! It gets us all talking – especially at work.. Always too cold for me (I’m a Brit). But it’s a life-saver in malls in super hot countries and my car!! How did I survive without it? I can’t imagine staying in a hotel room without it in places like Asia and the Middle East although I don’t love using all the time. I do find it very drying on my skin & throat. My husband and I fight over it a lot! I usually sneak over and turn it off when I wake up in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t have it at home personally. I do love the French attitude ! There is no convincing them – but I love that you tried! #allaboutfrance
What a great topic – and creating lots of debate :). I’m in two minds about A/C. I don’t particularly like it and resist turning it on as long as I can (in Australia – don’t have it France of course). I much prefer to be too hot than too cold. But I would like a fan, even a pedestal fan. Then I can lie under a wet towel and use evaporation to keep cool. (It works).
Christy Swagerty says
Hilarious and TRUE! Although, I do like living without screens because I feel like Princess Aurora. So it’s a personal issue. 😉
Cathy Sweeney says
I’m not a fan of A/C under 100 F . Even then, I’d rather have a good fan. In a car when it’s super hot, I’ll turn on the A/C and open the window, too. Love fresh air, even when it’s hot. My husband disagrees! 🙂 I did enjoy reading your story — even though we disagree, too.
Hi Cathy, thanks for checking out Neal’s post. I like options. If someone doesn’t want to use a/c or screens or eat chocolate, they don’t have to get an a/c or screens or chocolate. But for those of us who are more comfortable, it’s nice to have the choice. So for me, I’m with Neal 100%. 😉 Especially at work. Sweating through my work clothes after 20 min is gross and doesn’t impress clients!
Curtis Bausse says
No A/C at all for me preferably (especially as the the mosquitoes all go after my wife), but as we live in Mayotte it’s kind of hard to avoid. So it’s become a matter of negotiation and compromise!
Two musts for a marriage to last! 😉 How long have you been in Mayotte?
Indeed – even if Mrs. B. generally has the last word 🙂 Just one year in Mayotte so far, we’ll probably stay one more.
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
Curtis wrote a great guest post for me a couple of months ago about his life in Mayotte if you’re interested Diane, you’ll find it tagged in the post linked here on Réunion (same series)
Phoebe @ Lou Messugo says
This is a great topic to get everyone talking – 2 main things occur to me straight away here: it is NOT just France, it is a European thing, I’ve never seen a/c in a private home in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia etc. In fact I reckon in all the countries I’ve travelled in in Europe I’ve never seen it! And secondly, could it just be that Americas are obsessed with it, and judge Europe from a US-centric point of view? The heat in most countries in Europe (worthy of a/c) and certainly France only lasts for a few weeks every year and yet a beautiful old building should be defaced with an ugly a/c unit? I don’t think French are against a/c per se, just can’t see the point of spending money (it’s expensive to install) and uglifying a building for such a short time. (It’s also expensive to run) I think I better stop because I could go on and on!!! But as I said before it’s a great topic for a guest post!
I’m watching a show on the heat wave in Paris that killed 2,500-3,000 people. Air conditioning would probably save some lives. Really, it’s kind of gross if you didn’t have it. Just that sweaty feeling….
Haha, I’m so glad you linked to this! I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of air conditioning, but it would sure be nice during the summer heat waves – it got so hot in Lyon that there was nothing to do but lie in front of the fan and sweat. You can bet that everyone was camped out in any establishment labeled “climatisé.” My French doctor assured me that air conditioning was making me sick, and while I know most people will say that’s ridiculous, I swear overzealous air-conditioning gives me a sore throat. (However, French AC isn’t overzealous by any stretch of the imagination.) Maybe it’s because we don’t have it where I grew up – it doesn’t get hot enough in this part of California.
And I am in TOTAL AGREEMENT about the lack of screens! Who can sleep with a single mosquito buzzing around the room? Anyone? Not me.
In my experience, A/C that’s on the arctic setting can absolutely make you feel sick or give you a cold. Like having to wear a hoodie to the movies in Miami is over the top. That’s too cold. But a comfortable temp that allows you to put on makeup without sweating or unload the dishwasher without having sweat trickle down your back is much needed once temps hit the 80s!
Hi, i’m French and I’ll give you my opinion (even if it’s years after the article was posted).
1) I think we have a bad opinion on AC because it’s very often set too freezing in malls/shops, and when you go out of them BAM incredible hotness wave hits you. And as some have said above, too cold-too hot can give you a cold.
2) We DO suffer from heat, we don’t have supernatural powers that makes us stand it better. I do remember many nights having to sleep sited in my bed my back agains the wall to try and get some freshness. I live in a 1875 stone house in the Loire Valley now and our bedroom is under the roof on the 2nd floor (US 3rd) and I can tell you it’s hell in summer: 27-30°c (and 12° in winter!). We managed to find a big standing AC unit that’s as noisy as a truck parked in the house, so we turn it on a few hours before going to bed. I work in an office inside a warehouse, winter are cold and summer are hell with the metal structure and bay windows facing west.
3) AC being uncommon here, therefore it remains expensive I think. And we think the AC units outside are just plain ugly.
4) Our houses are made of stone or concrete blocks, they’re not easily convertible as someone said above. I read a LOT of blogs of Americans restoring old houses, and they all add an AC system and ducting everywhere in the house. But it’s easy! It’s just made of wood! Your wooden houses are so much more versatile than ours! You want to move or add a window? Easy, remove some siding, cut through the wooden planks, add some posts to the frame, patch the old hole with clapboard, there you go!
5) I think and I know we French like to be unconventional. I’m sure you’ve noticed, we like not to do things like everyone else, like being against rules. You don’t want us to smoke inside bars? OK we’ll extend a heated portion and smoke in it. Cops are speed-checking? Flash your light to other vehicules to inform ppl not to get caught. That is to say that I think despite the fact that we find it difficult to stand summer heat, and we really do, believe me, we think it is natural, it’s just a period to pass and maybe we think “they did it in the past, why couldn’t we?” Of course AC could bring comfort, but well, that’s just what summer is! Hot weather! Deal with it, c’est la vie! (same goes with winter being too cold. and autumn too damp. and spring too changing. We’re French remember, we complain about everything! 🙂 )
Anyway, I’ve been bored at work this week and I’ve spent the whole day since yesterday reading your blog, and I’m sure I still have days of reading ahead. I find it very interesting to read about our own culture from a foreigner’s POV, it makes us realize that some things that are so normal to us are weird to others. Same goes for books (Pardon my French – unleash your inner gaul, a Certain je-ne-sais-quoi, Raymonde Carroll’s “Cultural Misunderstandinds, The French-American experience”).
I am a UK/American citizen, brought up in HOT California. I have a house in the south of FRance. ALL STONE. I put AC in the two ground floor bedrooms, the rest of the house stays pretty cool (2 foot thick stone walls, shutters etc). But it is hot here, and sorry, but the French I know have AC…. The French take that attitude in Paris and other places because they are too embarrassed to say that they are too cheap to install the AC. I admit it is easier living in what I call :villageurbia”. So I have room, and can hide the exterior extraction fans…
An all-stone house sounds heavenly right about now, Leslie!!
Just wanted to add that in our old house with enormously thick walls we dont’ really need air conditioning, but I do like a bit of air and we have mosquito screens fitted between the inward opening windows and the outward opening shutters, (in the rooms where the walls are under 80cm thick!) very simple. Any competent carpenter/joiner could knock them up. Just saying!
Lionel from Paris says
I COMMUTE on French Public Transportation (RATP)every weekday between Paris and Suburbia for my work on buses, metro and rer and I can attest that during heat waves -that can take place anytime between May and September- it’s hellish, because either there is no aircon or it is regulated so high that one doesn’t feel the difference with the outside air, particularly during rush hours, it’s a sauna, but the RATP dismisses it with a handwave, saying with perfect bad faith it works perfectly -which is a blatant LIE. The RATP executives are cheap SOBs who allow Parisian commuters in summer to have the miserable experience of bathing in their own sweat and gaping for air like fishes out of the aquarium, for me it’s a PUBLIC HEALTH SCANDAL (many people , old or sick, regularly FAINT in the fucking Parisian subway each summer).
Buses do not have AC for most of them (http://scope.ratp.fr/ventilation-mecanique-ventilation-refrigeree-climatisation-ratp-scope-fait-le-point/ ), some RER have it. I worked on the RER C underground platforms in Austerlitz10 years ago during summer, and it was exactly as expected: chilly 18°c in the trains, and suffocating 35°c on the platforms because of the hot air the trains’ AC rejected!! I have commuted several years, so I know how horrid the situation can be, i’m not excusing it. I have been to NYC a few years ago, and I can tell you that the subway’s platforms were suffocating too, and it was not a wait for a train every 3min like in Paris but rather 15min even more at night. So this heat gotta go somewhere…
Lionel from Paris says
@Liss-Apple37 : I think that -voluntarily or not- you misunderstood me : I wasspeaking of the stifling heat and lack of air INSIDE the metro and rer carriages (and Inside buses too) during heatwaves episodes (“canbicules”). I was not talking about the platforms, although it feels hot there too (but slightly less, because there are vents then and there are air currents particularly when one goes down two levels to the automated line 14).It seems obvious that the RATP-whatever they say for PR- is not keen on investing in a serious aitr conditioning system in its network , because it certainly would be costly and wouldn’t be worth
it since it happens only two or three dozens days each year, although with climate change it’s bound to happen more and more often. Unfortunately the RATP is not honest about this and pretend all is well and that the commuters are not suffering, which is false.
Hahahahahahaa Crazy is right! I live in Provence sadly without mosquito netting and no air conditioning either. I do the ballet of the shutters and must admit that I’m not wild about air conditioning but talk to me again in July… Meanwhile, I’m going to keep nagging my man to install mosquito netting at the incredible inconvenience of having it removable so that we can close and open the shutters at night.
I’m a Parisian who has never lived anywhere else but Paris, and yet I can’t stand the French mentality regarding air-conditioning ! I feel like an alien because I never seem to meet anyone that feels the way I do.
In 2003, a heatwave killed over 10000 people and yet people are more terrified of getting a sore throat for a couple of days if air-conditioning is installed !
I don’t believe those who are against air-conditioning care about global warming as they heat indoor places at over 25°celsius in the wintertime.
Laure, I think I love you.
New French cars do have A/C, and people appreciate it. This summer, all our hotel rooms (Strasbourg, Paris) had A/C. In Saint Malo, we were quite comfortable without it.
I do remember the summer of 2003. I had never experienced anything like that during my childhood in France. Climate change is real, and they will have to deal with it sooner or later. In all fairness, four-foot wide walls help a lot, as do fans when it’s not too crazy hot. Fans don’t make much difference in the Mojave desert where I live, but they do in more humid climates.
The sire throat thing comes from at the age-old fear of “courants d’air.” That is still alive and well, and people think A/C is like having a permanent courant d’air in your house. Also, having to keep windows shut in summer is very counter-intuitive to the French.
Debbie Connell says
How about those magnetic/portable screens? That might not help with the A/C issue, but it would with the mosquito attacks! There are several brands & variety out there, I just picked one at random on Amazon to illustrate the product.
Wolf & Moon Products, Inc. Bug Off Instant Screen, 32-Inch by 80-Inch https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002DR0DMS/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_a80zBb48D6144
I live in rural France, the southern tip of the Touraine. I’ve bought lengths of netting and made screens for my windows, even a screen door that leads out to my back garden! Because of the crazy heat these last weeks, I’ve recently ordered for delivery (because I can’t face going out in this heat) a portable air conditioning unit. I’ll have to adapt a window on the back of the house to take the hot-air conduit but otherwise I’m hoping it’ll give some relief. I cannot say how many hundreds of times otherwise intelligent thoughtful French friends with poker faces explain patiently how air conditioning is likely going to give me life-threatening illnesses. I tell my concerned pals that I grew up in an air-conditioned house, worked a few decades in air-conditioned buildings and still they have nothing but pity for me. On the other hand, they tell me that reducing the speed limit from 90 to 80kph is nearly CRIMINAL and will bring the nation down. Sigh.
I live in Italy and it seems Italians and French have much in common. Irrational fear of AC. They say it will make you sick. They also have a fear of getting hit by a breeze. This is why fans are also not used. In Italy it is called colpa d’aria or hit of air and it causes a serious condition called cervicale. Very bad. This is why, on a breezy day even if it’s 95 degrees Italians wrap their necks in scarves.
Here also screens are not normal BUT they do exist. I have them. All my American friends have them. But I only know one Italian family that has them. We also have AC units in two rooms. They are internal units with no exterior part. Perfect for pretty villages. I’m sure they most be available in France.
Very funny and, in fact, not exclusive to older generations of French people. I spent a few weeks in Paris last May/June and stayed in a 5th floor walkup apartment in the 14th. I met the daughter of the owner of the apartment who was probably in her mid 20s. When I asked if they considered putting a window unit in, she went on a diatribe about all kinds of maladies she had endured due to “trop de clime”…
N LoBalbo says
Positively hilarious and utterly true !
Kerin Rigney says
This was awesome! Spot on. My first baby was born in France and the last two weeks of my pregnancy was an intense heatwave. My husband and I spent all the time time playing cards in the basement for relief. In the hospital, they only left th window open 6 inches (they said to guard against postpartum depression) but they had no AC. Fortunately, the heatwave broke shortly after the birth.
I’m French and I want a AC so bad !
Unfortunately it’s too expensive to buy and run and also many landlords don’t want renters to install one in their apartments.
But I do have mosquito screens (aswell as shutters of course) on the windows of where I live.
As far as I know pretty much all stores, movie theaters and offices are indeed air-conditioned at least in my area.
Joven Ruthford says
I think during hot summer spells in Denver I regularly went from 68 degrees in my office to 100 degrees outside with no ill effects. My productivity did not wax and wane with the whims of the weather.
You wouldnt need airconditioning either if you had a french work ethic and were always looking for the next excuse to bouche lantement the entire day
Absolutely! Many a foreginer has looked on in bafflement while a frenchman/woman has tried to explain the great affliction possible due to the legendary courant d’air.
It reminds me of my first job, I worked at an electronics repair place ,a tiny place with a penny-pinching boss, we had A/C but refused to use it.We were uncomfortable, mean to each other to our customers, were miserable on the sweltering hot summer days.I finally had enough and told my boss I will pay for the electricity to run the A/C,he agreed and we were all happier,we got more work done, and nicer to each other, the cost of running the AC wasn’t very much, Of course, he didn’t learn, when left he went back to his old ways.