May 23, 2024

I hate the heat. And anyone who knows me knows this to be true. “So why in the heck did you move to Madrid?” people always ask me. The short answer is that I love it here. I love Spain. And I can put up with 3 months of hellish conditions for 9 months of otherwise wonderful weather.

Today, they say, it got up to 97ºF/36ºC. That’s pretty darn hot. But it truly is a dry heat – and I say that without smirking. The worst hours of the day, at least in Madrid, are from about 4pm to 8pm. Before and after that it’s pretty much bearable indoors. Sure, you sweat hauling heavy bags of groceries 5 blocks – and then up 5 flights of stairs, but those tasks are best done early in the day. It’s funny seeing hoards of people on the shady side of the street while the sunny-side is totally abandoned.  These people ain’t dumb!

Someone told me recently that the gym they patronize seemingly doesn’t believe in air conditioning as it’s bad for your health, exercising in cool air. Another person told me that a Spaniard told them that one shouldn’t use a fan while sleeping because your bones will freeze and you’ll die. Others have told me me they never turn on their air conditioning (if they have it), even on the hottest days, because they don’t want to catch a cold. And another, and this is a goody, they say you should always put a blanket over your mid-section while taking an after-lunch siesta in order to aid digestion. If you forget this mid-section cover-up, you might have stomach  or intestinal problems later. These are just a few of the “old wives tales” I hear constantly. But even “old wives tales” have a grain of truth, don’t they?

How many times have I gone to the cinema here in Madrid only to have to complain to the manager/clerk about it being too hot? Okay, that only happened twice, but it happened. TWICE! You won’t likely find a U.S. cinema with warmer than sub-arctic temperatures. Why is that?

I think all this goes back to those “old wives tales” which are still generally accepted in Spanish culture. The uncomfortable truth is air conditioners are terrible on the environment, which is why I don’t like to use them at home unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, I use fans.

And unlike in other countries, a very few Spanish homes have central air conditioning, except for the most modern. Where I live there are TWO air conditioning units, one in the living room and one in the computer room – none in the bedroom. These units are really intended to cool just these rooms and not the entire house. Why in the world would you want to air condition the bathroom, kitchen, or hall? Okay, I’m with you, I would truly rather have the entire house at a comfortable 72ºF all year around, but that doesn’t work here.

Here, it’s all about fresh air. Are you surprised to hear that nearly all hotel, hospital, and office building windows, even in high-rises, can be opened? Okay, MAYBE it’s not so much about “fresh air” as it is/WAS about allowing cigarette smoke to escape the premises. But now that you can’t smoke in any public spaces maybe those construction guidelines will change with time. Who knows.

More and more stores, restaurants, and even gyms are turning down the heat and turning UP the cool, particularly when the entity is in the business of making money – and a lot of it. The chain stores always have the air conditioning turn on, even with their street-side doors wide open, blowing cold air onto the overheated bare legs of passers-by. The smaller, individually-owned stores like newspaper shops, convenient stores, and even some of the neighborhood markets don’t use A/C – or if they do, you can barely notice.

Many Spaniards return from a summer holiday in the USA, say to New York City, and complain how everything, every place there is TOO cold. That’s probably true, but there’s nothing better than walking in from a sun-baked, asphalt parking lots into a cold mall or restaurant “They say” those sudden, extreme changes in temperature are what causes summertime colds and flu. Oh, I don’t know. An old wives tale, maybe?? But we, in the USA, do over-do it when it comes to the air conditioning.

My first visit to Europe was in September 1993, traveling through Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. I don’t recall if they had/used air conditioning there much then (and it was HOT in Italy), but I do recall making jokes about how the soft drinks and beer were served at, what we joking called, “Euro Cool” temperatures. Luckily, Spanish beer are always served ice-cold and the soft drinks are almost always served with ice-cubes.

So…. summer JUST started. Wonderful. (ugh) That means I’ve got another 3 months of sweat-moist desk chairs, morning and nighttime showers, lots of laundry, and constant patting of the forehead with one of my many cloth handkerchiefs (which I only use for “patting” and never for “blowing”).

It’s nearly 7pm. Another hour and I’ll turn off the A/C and stick the box-fan in the window for the night. Hope my bones don’t freeze.

For your further reading enjoyment – or distraction, take a look at the blog entries, “MadridMan is a Hot Body!“,  written in October, 2007, and “95º and Vinyl Seat Covers“, written in August 2009.

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5 thoughts on “Madrid Summer Heat: Only the Beginning

  1. I always find July worse to bear than August (or maybe I have just acclimatised by August ?), but it’s the temperature extremes here in Spain that catch me out. Just as soon as you have got used to the Heat the Gotas Frias kick in and catch you out.

  2. Wow dude! I just found your blog as I am moving to Madrid next March and… Severely disappointing it is!
    Do you truly spend most of your conscious time being very unhappy?
    The 5 posts I have just read do nothing but complain about everything around you. Just like the pissing in public for you, it’s a total “turn off” for me and probably lots of other folk.
    Seriously, have a look at what you are writing. It is very depressing.
    Ugh.. next blog to read please.

    1. I’m not sure what 5-posts you’ve read, but if you, by chance, happened on the 5 negative ones, I suggest you read the other couple hundred positive ones. Just so’s you know, living in Madrid/Spain isn’t all peaches-n-cream, flamenco-and-sangria, topless poolsides and beautiful women. There are definitely some negatives just as there are anywhere in the world, but the positives outweigh the negatives by like 20-to-1. When you move to Madrid next March you’ll probably find the same negatives, maybe even more than me because one person’s negative is another person’s positive and vice versa. I’ll leave the nothing-but-glowing-postcard-style posts to the corporate travel outlets. Here, you’ll hear it as it is without the sugar-coating for the great and for the not-so-great. If you like 100ºF heat then you’ll feel right at home, happy as baked clams, in Madrid, Spain in August. For me, for one, I don’t deal with heat well, but I take the winters famously whiles others complain about it. Enjoy your stay! Let’s get together for a beer after you’ve been here a few months and we’ll compare notes.

  3. Hola madridman, llego un poco tarde a esta entrada, pero me ha echo reír (dentro del poco ingles que se) y no puedo evitar comentarla. La verdad es que nunca me había parado a pensar que podía ser mentira que dormir con el ventilador nos enfermaba o que los cambios de temperatura entre las tiendas y la calle también nos pueden resfriar, lo daba por echo, en mi mente es lógico y quizás no tenga ninguna base y sea mentira ya que a vosotros no os pasa, pero lo interesante es que si fuera mentira, nuestros cuerpos se han adaptado a ello, nos pasa, de verdad que nos pasa, nos resfriamos si dormimos con ventilador y las diferencias de temperatura entre la calle y las tiendas nos afectan. Muchas veces me encuentro en la situación de tener que elegir entre dormir con el ventilador o sudar como un pollo y elijo lo segundo porque si dejo el ventilador, al día siguiente no podre hablar y estaré con mocos jajaja. Esa idea ha perdurado y se transmite porque te aseguro que todo aquel que te ha dicho que no duermas con ventilador porque te enfermas, es porque a él le ha pasado. Esto quizás sea como el que puedas evitar sudar mientras todos los españoles van tapados, quizás tu cuerpo nunca lo entienda :D.

  4. I wasn’t entirely surprised to read your post here and since you come from the US, a country who doesn’t know how to get by without air conditioning to beat the summer heat, it’s funny how you think the Spaniard’s reactions to your comments “old wives tales.” It’s even embarrassing for me as an American to read about your experiences which probably further show how ignorant we can be about our understanding of climate and it’s effect on our bodies. It does seem to be a national phenomenon that we Americans do not allow ourselves to acclimate to summer temps. As soon as the warm air comes in, air conditioners go on and ice box movie theaters become hugely popular. This is an AMERICAN phenomenon and just because the rest of the world doesn’t live like this doesn’t mean that what you’re hearing from others are “old wives tales.” When I go back to the States now in summer, I have to pack sweaters with me so I can brave the ice box experience and still enjoy myself while shopping or going to the cinema. Almost every time I return, I come back with a summer cold. Sure Americans are used to the summer ice-box culture but it’s really not healthy. Again, we seem to be a culture that think just because something feels good, it must be good. Maybe you consider that what your spanish friends are saying is true. Just consider it and consider trying out their way too by turning off your AC and attempt to acclimate they way they have. Obviously they are doing just fine and not dying in the streets. You’ll still walk on the shady side of the street but you’ll be fine with this.

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