Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Surviving the summer in the city (sans A/C)

When we first moved here a few years ago and began our apartment hunt, it never occurred to us to ask the agent showing us our apartment whether it had air conditioning or not.  This was for several reasons, 1) it was around 35 degrees Fahrenheit outside so A/C was the last thing on our minds 2) we had no idea how hot and humid Barcelona gets in the summer and 3) the Professor and I are from Miami where air conditioning is as prolific as palm trees and flip flops. 

Fast forward three summers and here we are, sitting around the house in our unmentionables with a fan on high pointed right at us. And I'm telling you, it's still not enough. The Professor and I have practically turned complaining about the heat into a hobby--we do it all the time! ¨Ugh, my shirt is sticking to my back¨, ¨My hair is so frizzy!¨ ¨Is that the highest the fan goes?¨ 

You might think our behavior and complaining is a little extravagant since Barcelona is hardly any hotter than Miami. It's just that as native Miamians, we've never been exposed to the heat before. This sounds so strange to people from here and probably it will to you too. People here are always amused and bewildered by our whining, ¨But isn't Miami hot year round?¨ they ask.  Yes, it is. And that's why every single place you go has central air conditioning and it's on all the time. Also we don't have to walk anywhere in Miami. We go from our air conditioned house, to our air conditioned car, to our air conditioned destination. As a matter of fact, in the summer months, when it's especially hot and humid outside, many places turn the air conditioning so low you need to bring a sweater with you. So even though the Professor and I have been living in a tropically hot place almost our whole lives, we have been accustomed to living in Scandinavian temperatures. 

That's why we were thrown for a loop when we discovered that in Spain, it's not that common to have air conditioning and what's more, people don't really mind. It's been explained to us that most apartments are too old to have central air-conditioning and since it only gets hot for three months of the year (during one of which everyone's gone for vacation anyway), it's not really that necessary. Also, it's expensive. I remember a few years ago when we stayed at a hotel in Valencia, the hotel management informed me that they don't turn on the air conditioning in the rooms until July. When I complained that it was already tremendously hot even in late April, they advised me to open the windows. 

We've also discovered that apart from these practical considerations, there's another, unspoken reason why people don't have A/C: they're suspicious of it. Many Spaniards, indeed many Europeans we've encountered, think that A/C is bad for you; it'll make you sick. I remember that when Roman was born, smack in the middle of a scorching hot summer, anytime we went to a restaurant they would seat us as far from the air conditioning as possible, fearing that the cold air would be too much for a wee baby. But since then, we've also seen adults, who assuredly have heartier immune systems, trying to avoid sitting or standing in front of any cold air source. 

But there's something else too. People here accept the heat, sometimes even embrace it, because it's fleeting. In a few months, the leaves will turn brown and the temperatures will dip down. In Miami, we don't embrace the heat because we always have it. We take it for granted. We live in the summer exactly as we do in the winter--wearing socks, sleeping under blankets and with the A/C blasting. It's not only wasteful from a conservation standpoint, it's also a rejection of nature. As my friend said, ¨It's summer. It's supposed to be hot.¨

Since I've realized this (and it took me some time to accept it), I've made more of an effort to enjoy the season while it's still here. We eat lots of cold salads for lunch, keep our windows open all day trying to tempt in a breeze, and make daily trips to the ice cream vendor on our street. We also try to spend as much time outside as we can where it's actually cooler than upstairs in our apartment. But we still bought a portable air conditioning unit. It's big and bulky and only cools the area immediately around it, but we love it dearly. 

(Photo: The Sartorialist


  1. Hello Kiana,

    I loved reading this! I now live in the US, but am originally from Germany and spent a year in BCN a few years back. This post struck a chord with me. Germans also believe that drafts and blowing cold air will make you sick. I'm not sure it does, haha ;) but I know that to this day I dislike having an AC blowing cold air at me.

    We went back to Barcelona this summer for a few days and one thing that I never noticed earlier is how many (especially middle-aged) women wear white. It looked like it was a seasonal thing. Maybe another strategy to beat the heat? Just speculating…

    I am glad I found your blog (via a comment on A Cup of Jo). We surely miss Barcelona and reading your blog brings back so many memories. Thank you!

    1. Hi Eva! I'm glad you found me and thank you so much for your kind words. It's funny reading about your reaction to air conditioning--totally the opposite of me! Who would have thought that our feelings about this would be culturally derived?

      I actually haven't noticed that women wear white a lot during the summer but you may be right. When my father visited me in the winter, he remarked that everyone seemed to favor darker colors, so maybe we dress seasonally? I'll have to pay more attention!