North Carolina in the summer is not usually a nice place to be. The heat and humidity attack and you start sweating the minute you walk outside. The afternoon thunderstorms cool everything down for a bit, but the oppressive heat returns within an hour. The shade may prevent sunburn, but it’s hardly more comfortable. Without fail, there will always be a week where the temperature doesn’t drop below 30, not even at night. Being out in the sun when it’s 37 and the humidity is 97% is about as pleasant as being in Chicago in the winter without a coat – that is, not pleasant at all.
Over the last month or so, though, I’ve found myself complaining as much, if not more, about the heat here in Prague than I ever do at home, even if it’s not so extreme. Having spent five summers as a lifeguard in North Carolina, I should be used to the heat, right? It shouldn’t bother me when I walk into my living room and see that the thermometer says 30 degrees. I should be able to get through the days without feeling like I’m melting, I should be able to mobilize myself to be productive, I should be able to get to sleep in the heat just as well as I do when it’s cool. In short, though, I am not.
The difference is that in North Carolina, we have relief waiting for us behind every doorway. We walk inside knowing that a wave of cool air will engulf us and dry the beads of sweat that are snaking down our cheeks like tears. Our houses, our cars, our offices, our restaurants, anywhere that we are – with the touch of a button, we manipulate our habitats to make them, well, habitable. Air conditioning – the great savior of the South in the summertime.
When we moved into the new Respekt offices, I was highly entertained by the wave of complaints regarding the new building’s ventilation system. It’s not the chemical, manufactured, and sometimes harshly cold air that you would feel in an American office or at a hockey rink—and I would know, having spent two summers working at an office that was connected to a hockey rink—but it’s definitely cooler than the air outside. To me, it’s a comfortable working environment – I feel awake, I’m not sweating, and if I have to put a scarf on, so what? That’s normal.
One of the beauties of life over here, though, is that for my coworkers, it’s not normal. It’s never been normal. Whereas we barely blink at the 15-degree drop in temperature that comes with walking into a restaurant in the States, the Czechs that I know seem baffled by the idea that you would have to carry around an extra layer, not for when you’re outside, but for when you go in. It highlights America’s culture of waste, where we do things excessively just because we can. We drive big cars because gas is cheap. We get huge portions of food because they’re being offered. We heat and cool our buildings to the point that at my public high school, we would keep extra sweatshirts in our lockers that we would only use in the warmer months when the AC was turned on.
Several recent reports have indicated that in the coming years, the world’s population will be expending more energy on cooling rather than heating. If that’s going to be the case anyway, then my coworkers’ complaints are completely valid. Why make an office colder than it needs to be? Cool it to a comfortable level, and if the employees are sweating too much in their three-piece suits, change the dress code, not the temperature. The States would do well to do the same – even raising the average office temperature by a few degrees would help the environment and bring down costs for the companies. I still stand by the idea that my state would be uninhabitable in the summer without AC, but we would all do fine without keeping our buildings below 20 degrees.
Even through my complaining, I’m learning how to deal with the heat. I’ve embraced cold showers, sleeping without covers, eating cold meals. Also, in a globe that’s heating up, the South has a few lessons to teach Europe – plentiful (and good) iced tea! Screens on the windows! A pool in every neighborhood! And I suppose that I even have the heat to thank for a few things. Once, when I was working at that office/hockey rink, I walked into the excessively cooled elevator at the same time as Ron Francis, a hall of fame hockey player, and what did we talk about? The heat wave. Thankfully, the building was cool enough that he could comfortably be wearing his suit and tie.