Previous month:
August 2014
Next month:
October 2014

Why Are Americans so Cold-Resistant?

1360282556772.jpg.CROP.article568-large

Over on Facebook, Dan asks in a comment:

'Gibt es eine Theorie, warum Amerikaner weniger kälteempfindlich sind? Diese eiskalten klimatisierten Räume überall. Im Sommer nie ohne Schal in die USA reisen. Bei 15°C rennen sie mit T-Shirt rum.'

In English, 'Is there any theory why Americans are less sensitive to cold? These ice-cold air-conditioned rooms everywhere. Even in summer, always take a scarf to the US. They run around in T-shirts when it's 15°C/59°F.'

This is one of the most glaring cultural differences Europeans and Americans immediately notice when they switch continents. Europeans see Americans walking around in the cold seriously underdressed, and marvel at the fact that Americans not only don't seem to care about drafts at all, but actually generate artificial drafts with omnipresent fans and air-conditioners. Americans in Europe watch fellow-passengers in overheated cars and trains sweat into their clothes without complaint, and grimace in horror as the only open window in a stuffy bar or restaurant is shut by a draft-hating German. And many interior spaces in Germany seem over-heated to Americans. As soon as the temperature drops below 20°C or so, Germans switch on the heaters.

Now, the first thing I will say is that I think this cultural gap is narrowing -- Germany is moving towards greater acceptance of fans and air-conditioning, just as Germany first ridiculed the puritanical American idea of smoke-free bars and restaurants, then quietly adopted it wholesale. But there is still a formidable divide in how people perceive temperature. I have a few theories about the American attitude:

  1. America is a much hotter country than many Europeans imagine. The American Northeast coast has colder winters than Europe, but hotter summers. Most of the country, though, including the south and midwest, get extremely hot and humid in summer. Every state in America gets more sun each year than Germany, with the sole exception of arctic Alaska. I'd say it's basic human nature to appreciate a drastic change from temperatures that are uncomforable to most humans. And most humans feel comforable between 22 and 25 degrees Celsius. So when it's 10 degrees outside, as if often is in Germany, Germans will breathe a sigh of relief in entering a room (over)heated to 27 degrees. And if it's 32° outside, Americans will breathe a sigh of relief entering a room (over)chilled down to a comfy 19°.
  2. This also explains the prevalence of air-conditioners. But there are other factors at work here. First of all, America in the 1950s and 1960s was wealthier than war-ravaged Europe, so business and private people could afford air-conditioners. This led to a general cultural norm that most interiors would be air-conditioned. Energy costs in the U.S. were low in the 1950s and 1960s, so nobody was really that concerned about how much juice air-conditioning used. Air-conditioning also drastically improved office productivity during hot months, adding an economic argument to adopting AC. Spaniards take a siesta because it's impossible to work effectively when it's really hot inside, and they're abolishing the siesta because it's a drag on productivity. But if they really want to boost productivity, they will have to install air-conditioning, not just expect people to work when it's 35° inside and sweat is streaming down their forehead. Air-conditioning would also have reduced the death toll of 15,000 French people during the heat wave of 2003. It should surprise no-one that air-conditioners are increasingly popular in Germany (g).
  3. Americans are fat. 31.8 percent of Americans are obese, making them the 2nd-fattest nation on earth, behind Mexico but just above Syria. If you know that 1/3 of the people entering your store or restaurant are going be fat, you'll adjust the temperature accordingly to keep them happy, keep them inside, and keep them spending money. Thin people can always put on a sweater, but there's only so much clothing fat people can remove before the police have to intervene.
  4. European culture has a tradition of folk-wisdom that drafts are bad for your health. No 19th-century novel would be complete without a character blaming a draft for anything from a headache to evil nightmares to consumption. And in Germany, this belief still exists. As the German-language wikipedia article on drafts notes, there is still 'a widespread superstition in German-speaking countries that drafts can cause illnesses'. This belief is not unknown in the U.S., but it never became as widespread as in Europe.
  5. Americans do not like to sweat during nomal daily activities and are extremely concerned, if not obsessed, about personal hygiene. They spend enormous amounts of money and go to great lengths to ensure that their bodies do not emit unpleasant odors, and anyone who fails to do this will be ostracized as surely as a German crossing the street against a red light. Once again, this is a cultural norm that Germany has, in the last 20 years or so, quietly adopted. Sales of chewing gum, routinely mocked by intellectuals as mindless cud for bovine Yankees, increased by 600% in Germany between 1972 and 2012. Deodorant use in Germany skyrocketed in the 1980s and has increased notably even in the period 2010-2013, which has made train travel much more pleasant for all concerned. If you place a premium on smelling good (or at least not stinking), that means you place a premium on not sweating, which means the cooler the temperature, the better.
  6. And finally, perhaps population genetics may play a role. The majority of Americans are still white, and immigrated predominantly from Northern European countries. Although all humans can adapt to all climates, studies have shown that Europeans who relocate to hot places sweat more than indigenous people there.

Those are my theories. Feel free to dispute them or add your own in comments.


East Germans On East and West

Ddr-parole
Neues Deutschland
(New Germany), the former official press organ of East Germany now turned left-wing journal, reports (g) on a poll of Germans from both the West and former East on their attitudes toward reunification. A few of the more interesting findings:

  • 75% of East Germans see the reunification of Germany as bringing them more advantages than disadvantages, as opposed to only 48% of West Germans. 25% of West and 15% of East Germans say reunification had mostly negative consequences.
  • East Germans under 29 have a 96% favorable view of reunification
  • 78% of former East Germans believed the school system of the former East Germany was superior to that of West Germany -- up from 76% who believed this in 1995.
  • Majorities of former East Germans also have a positive view of East Germany's social insurance system, equality between the sexes, and healthcare. 57% of East Germans find the West German political system superior, but 19% of East Germans still prefer the ways of the German Democratic Republic.

I don't have much to add here, except that nobody should be surprised that West Germans have a mixed view of reunification, given that they have been paying a special additional tax (the 'solidarity surcharge') for the past two decades to assist in reunification. Nobody likes taxes, and many who supported it in 1997 think it's time to get rid of it.


The Real-Life 'Lives of Others'

43 Israeli intelligence officers in Unit 8200, Israel's NSA, recently signed a letter refusing further service, citing their constant surveillance of the private lives of Palestinians:

In a telling admission, one reservist said he first questioned his role after watching The Lives of Others, a film depicting life under the Stasi, East Germany’s much-feared secret police. The Stasi are estimated to have collected files on five million East Germans before the Berlin Wall fell.

According to the refuseniks, much Israeli intelligence gathering targets “innocent people”. The information is used “for political persecution”, “recruiting collaborators” and “driving parts of Palestinian society against itself”.

The surveillance powers of 8200 extend far beyond security measures. They seek out the private weaknesses of Palestinians – their sex lives, monetary troubles and illnesses – to force them into conspiring in their own oppression.

“If you required urgent medical care in Israel, the West Bank or abroad, we looked for you,” admits one.

An illustration of the desperate choices facing Palestinians was voiced by a mother of seven in Gaza last week. She told AP news agency that she and her husband were recruited as spies in return for medical treament in Israel for one of their children. Her husband was killed by Hamas as a collaborator in 2012.

 From the English Wikipedia entry on Zersetzung:

Beginning with intelligence obtained by espionage, the Stasi established "sociograms" and "psychograms" which it applied for the psychological forms of Zersetzung. They exploited personal peculiarities and penchants, such as homosexuality, as well as supposed character weaknesses of the targeted individual — for example a professional failure, negligence of parental duties, pornographic interests, divorce, alcoholism, dependence on medications, criminal tendencies, passion for a collection or a game, or contacts with circles of the extreme right — or even the veil of shame from the rumors poured out upon one's circle of acquaintances.[20][21] From the point of view of the Stasi, the measures were the most fruitful when they were applied in connection with a personality; all "schematism" had to be avoided.[20]


Bleg for Facebook Solutions Please?

As I noted, I now post mainly to Facebook. This blog is a hobby, not a business, and I only have spare time in which to maintain it, so I am not going to waste time copying identical content from Facebook to here. I did add an RSS feed to my Facebook profile, apparently, but I'm not sure how that works.

What would be ideal is to have Facebook posts appear here as well as on Facebook, so that all my readers will be happy. So I've been looking into options.

However, the solutions that have been proposed so far don't really work for me. I could migrate this blog to Wordpress, which apparently has some sort ot integration feature, but Wordpress is a much more time-consuming and technical platform than Typepad, and the migration process is not worth figuring out.

I tried to put a Facebook 'Like Box' widget on this blog but I have tried that and it doesn't show up. Apparently you cannot use this widget for personal facebook feeds, but only facebook pages (which are mainly used by businesses or groups). If I convert my personal profile to a page, according to Facebook, I lose my entire history.

So what I'm saying, dear readers, is that I am out of ideas. I am now looking for is a simple, easy way to have my Facebook feed show up somewhere on this Typepad blog, without moving or migrating or converting anything. I am even willing to pay a certain amount of money (for some sort of app) to make this happen! It just has to be simple.

If anyone has ideas, I would be grateful to hear them in comments. And not to be too shirty about it, but if you're considering posting yet another comment about how Evil Facebook Is, don't waste your time. That train sailed long ago.


German Cash Love and a Housekeeping Note About Facebook

The average German has €123 in their wallet at any time, and 80% of German transactions are paid for in cash. Quartz delves into the psychology:

One explanation is that, as researchers have found, memories of hyperinflation have quite a bit of staying power. People in countries that suffered banking crises quite sensibly often prefer to save in cash—though typically in foreign currencies such as US dollars—rather than put money in the bank. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists found that demand for US dollars rises for at least a generation in countries after they suffer a searing experience with high inflation.) And countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, which have recent histories of currency instability and financial crises, also are quite heavy users of cash.

But the real point isn’t that Germans love cash. It’s that—for the same historical reasons—they loathe debt. (Armchair anthropologists have also long noted that German word for debt—Schulden—comes from the word for guilt, Schuld.) 

Levels of consumer debt in Germany are remarkably low. German aversion to mortgage debt is part of the reason why the country has some of the lowest homeownership rates in the developed world. Just 33% of Germans said they had a credit card back in 2011. And most of those hardly ever get used. In 2013, only 18% of payments in Germany were made via cards, compared to 50% in France and 59% in the UK. 

The national preference for cash, then, seems to be the flip side of aversion to debt, which, in turn, can be interpreted as a sign of deep-seated doubt about the future. (German businesspeople are also notorious for their pessimism about the future.) And fear of the future, of course, is rooted in the past. 

In other words, the German tendency to settle up in cash undeniably reflects the fact that for much of the last century, Germany has been either on the brink of, in the midst of, or struggling to recover from, disaster. And traumas like that are bound to leave, if you’ll excuse the pun, a mark.

As I just posted on Facebook:

'I'll tell you why Germans still use cash using cliches you hear everyday on the volatile German Street™: 'I've paid cash for things since I was 4. Why change now?' -- 'With cash, you know what you've got. Who can tell with these crazy new chips and cards?' -- 'Giving up the Deutschmark was the biggest mistake Kohl ever made' (off-topic but then again Germans go off-topic a lot) -- 'This way at least those bloodsucking bankers don't get rich from their fees and interest' -- 'I'll pay cash as long as the cashiers are smart enough to make correct change. Which most of them aren't anymore.'

And, apropos Facebook, that's why this blog has been dormant lately -- I've moved most of my online activity to Facebook. You can follow me there under my name, Andrew Hammel. If you're concerned about privacy, you can just create a fake name. I'm aware that some people dislike or distrust Facebook, but it's much, much, much, much more convenient and interactive than blogging, which is why blogging is kind of dying out, or at least changing.

Facebook is a commercial enterprise that sells your information and you also have to be careful about privacy. To me, those concerns, however valid, are outweighed by the fact that 80% of the people whose opinions I care about are on it, and we can share ideas and videos and music and cat content instantaneously.

I may still blog here occasionally if I have something to say or link to that won't fit in a Facebook post, but that may not be very often. But I'm usually quite active on Facebook, when my schedule permits.