My two weeks with the lawyers reminded me of one way in which I have become very unAmerican: I hate air conditioning. Actually, I don’t really mind A/C as such, but the way Americans overdo it. The law and support team from Florida was baffled by the relative lack of air conditioning in Milan’s hot, sticky summer weather (and it’s not even that hot yet). They kept the A/C running at full blast in the conference room where we were working, obliging me to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts every day – which made the contrast all the more unbearable with the temperature on the streets and the non-A/C train going home to Lecco.
When I was working in the US in the summers, I never got to wear my summer clothing; it was always too damned cold in the office. But at least there I was going to and from work in an air-conditioned car.
So why don’t Italians use A/C more? The trains are in fact supposed to be air-conditioned, but often the A/C simply isn’t working, or doesn’t work very well (other times it works too well – there seems to be no happy medium). At home, it’s just too expensive. We pay twice as much for electricity in Italy as people do in the US. And the grid here won’t stand up to everyone running A/C at the same time: in last summer’s record heat, everyone rushed out to buy air conditioners. The nation’s electrical system overloaded, so we had unannounced rolling blackouts, with people stuck in elevators and so on, and nobody got to enjoy their new air conditioners very much. Personally, we use ceiling fans and, when it’s really awful, standing fans as well.