One of the many things that sets Europeans and Americans apart is air conditioning! Americans love their air conditioning and they are constantly complaining if they don’t have it. Germans pride themselves on being able to get through without it, and most people in Europe are used to offices that are at least 25 degrees. My sister has become very American in her love of air conditioning, and now that I have stayed with her during the summer, I have become converted.
I got a few questions from you about why it was such a big deal for me to install my first air conditioner, and about why Germans are so against it to begin with, so I thought that would be a fun topic to look at today on the blog.
My own take on it is that for at least a few decades, most people in Europe have been either confused or scornful of American air conditioning, which is the most in the world. Americans use more air conditioning than any other country, even though they aren’t the hottest country by a long way. It’s not because they are more developed than anywhere else, because after all, we are just as developed in Western Europe, but we do not use hardly any air conditioning at all. There is some air conditioning in Italy, Spain, and Greece, but here in Germany, it is very uncommon to use. Most people consider it unnecessary.
So, why is this? I think a lot of it is to do with the seasons. We are used to generally warmer seasons overall, so the summers do not seem like such a drastic change. Maybe that is just a theory, though, because I know some parts of the US are hot most of the year. I have also seen that the average temperature that Europeans consider comfortable is much higher than Americans, at least 5 degrees celsius higher. I have also read that Americans do not change their thermostats all year, so they expect inside to be the same temperature no matter what season it is. In Europe, we tend to accept that winter will be cooler and summer will be warmer, even though we are inside. It is especially true in summer. Americans say around 20 degrees is comfortable (in celsius, of course), but we expect at least 3-5 degrees higher.
It is also something to do with being more conscientious about energy usage. Electricity costs a lot more here than it does in America, so anything that is not completely necessary is looked on as frivolous. We are also more concerned about the planet, at least in politics, so using a big appliance like an air conditioner is not encouraged by the governments of the EU. This is also true of our buildings. We build offices and flats to be more energy efficient, and in many cases, especially the newer buildings are very insulated against hot and cold changes outdoors so they stay roughly the same, like a cellar.
Well, whatever you think, I find it very interesting to discuss, because it is such a clear cultural difference. And even though we are becoming more American in many ways, air conditioning is one thing that is staying out of Europe. Except for my flat, of course! Let me know what you think!
Something that my sister and I talk about a lot since she moved to America is cultural differences. I find that they are very fun to talk about, because they are everywhere, and you cannot truly know how different people are until you go and live among them. I suppose we have a view in the West that we are all generally similar, but that is not completely true! One big area of difference that I have noticed especially, and so has my sister, is that Americans do not seem to care at all about efficiency as much as we do here in Germany!
Germany is known for an obsession with efficiency, and some of that is a stereotype of course. But in many ways we do hate waste, and we value making the most of our resources. That is why our trains always run on time and our roads are constantly maintained so that we can drive as fast as we need to to save time and get better mileage. We are concerned with efficiency in nearly everything in our lives.
This is very obvious if you look at utilities. Germans are very obsessed with being efficient with gas, electric, and water. We use LED light bulbs and we are very neurotic about making sure lights are turned off when we are not in a room. Most Americans keep the main rooms of their homes lit all day long. We never take showers longer than 5 minutes, when Americans take showers for 20 I have heard. And we do not use nearly so much heating or air conditioning in winter or summer. We use low-flow toilets, and we have much more efficient laundry machines than you have in America. We have also been using tankless water heaters for decades while Americans are just now catching up.
I think that one must be pragmatic in looking at this to start. Much of our obsession comes from the high prices of utilities. Even in Germany where we produce a lot of our own electricity, things are very expensive, and gas is imported, so it is much more expensive than in the USA. There is also our moral feeling about the planet. We are much more concerned than North Americans with climate change, and so we have more strict rules on efficiency for appliances and water fixtures in homes, and for cars on the roads. And we live closer together, which makes it easier to use public transportation.
I think though that there is more than practicality here. We like neat, tidy things, and efficiency is part of that . We also like public transportation, and we like to have everything run on time and be reliable. Germans especially love when things work perfectly, and we scorn things that do not, like French cars or Italian cars like Fiat.
Efficiency is a cultural value. I think it is something the rest of the world could learn from, since we have very little waste in all areas of our lives. We do not pay more than necessary for healthcare, we have a very tight government budget even though we have maintained our public infrastructure and transit, and we use less energy per person than almost anywhere else in the world, even though we are one of the most advanced countries. It is certainly something for us all to think about!