Air Conditioning: The Root of All Evils

Stereotypical French women of a certain generation, among other things, possesses a deep mistrust of air conditioning. I know one of these quintessentially French women. According to her, air conditioning is responsible for every malady and most wars. You have a cold? It was the air conditioning. Your husband cheated on you? C’est à cause de l’air conditionné.

I grew up in the southern Arizona desert without air conditioning. We had evaporative cooling, an ineffective but cheap way to “cool” a home. One year, it leaked through the vent, creating a huge puddle on our tile floor. My mom slipped in it and sprained her ankle, costing us our summer vacation to Disneyland.

I’m a huge fan of air-conditioning. I also got my undergraduate degree in microbiology. But it didn’t take four years of hard sciences to learn that a cold is caused by a virus.

Recently, this French woman caught a cold. She explained to me that going from the warm weather outside into an air-conditioned room made her ill. My daughter got a cold because we put her to bed with wet hair. Name any old wives’ tale, and this woman believes it, and is preaching it to anyone within earshot.

Okay, okay, there are some experts who point out that the drying effect of air conditioning may possibly make our mucus membranes more susceptible to viral invasion. But that’s a far cry from believing that air conditioning somehow spews out germs.

I used to earnestly attempt to explain basic biology to her. I would tell her it was more likely that she picked something up on the airplane, where people are packed in and where the rule for cleaning surfaces seems to be: If you can’t see anything on it from the other side of the plane, it’s pristine. Or that my daughter probably picked up her cold in preschool. Or, the most obvious, that she probably got her cold from my daughter. I used to point out that air conditioning would save lives in France every summer. So would drinking water. Americans are unique in our efforts to keep ourselves hydrated. I’m amazed at how little water the French people I know drink, while my American friends’ water bottles are attached to them twenty-four hours a day. I know French people who go 5, 6, 7 hours without needing to use the facilities. This can’t be healthy.

But I digress. This is about air conditioning. I’ve given up on convincing my dear Frenchwoman that there’s this amazing thing called science. Now I just have a running bet with my husband about how long it will take for her to blame the air conditioning for something. Speaking of which, my week-long hiatus from blogging was unintended; I tweaked my neck and have been unable to sit at the computer for longer than a minute or two. I am sure it was the air conditioning that did me in.

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