Some like it hot

shutterstock_135377552Let me preface this by saying I was born with a faulty thermostat. I may be genetically predisposed to heat stroke; my mother also became red-faced at the onset of warm weather and fell apart in a heat wave. If she were still here this post would be for her.

I believe the greatest invention of the modern era not to be space travel or the internet but air conditioning. It allows the thermostatically challenged to continue to function when the temperature climbs above the dew point (mine). Nay, it enables us to survive the summer.

As living in France means mostly living sans climatisation, I’ve had to learn to adapt.

The French are convinced that air conditioning is hazardous to your health. So even if a place has A/C, it’s rarely set to a point that keeps me cool. Besides which, there will likely be a window wide open just next to it. That is how my fellow countrymen moderate the evil effects of la clim.

Air conditioning is viewed with skepticism at best and at worst as a devious plot to get people to work when they should be bronzing on a beach. If anyone gets a summer cold, they blame it on the air conditioning. Never mind that I am literally melting in the corner, sticky and red-faced. This is the summer – you’re supposed to feel the heat.

When the temperatures soar, most French people close the shutters and live like bats, hiding away during the day and emerging only at night. As soon as the sun starts to go down, they fling open the shutters and let the cooler air in.

Along with the mosquitoes. And flies. While virtually all French houses have shutters, few are equipped with screens, or moustiquaires as they’re called here.

The French have a special word for heat wave: la canicule. Like most things in France, there is a specific framework for this exceptional meteorological event, a Plan Canicule including hotline, emergency measures and survival guidelines. Unfortunately it doesn’t include air conditioning.

For everyone who wants to stay cool without A/C, here’s my essential survival kit for summer à la française:

       A fly swatter. Due to an extreme intolerance for things that fly in my face and go buzz in the night, I keep one in every room. I have become a veritable samurai with the swatter. My family calls me the terminator. My personal ambition is to make my home a no fly zone.

       A fan. If you can’t cool the air you can at least create a breeze. The movement of air gives the illusion of coolness and enables you to catch a few winks of sleep between mosquito bites.

       A water bottle. Staying hydrated is the only way to survive the heat. Beer doesn’t count – it has to be H20. I down liters of mineral water to stay cool. And beer to stay cheerful.

       A hat. Keeping the sun off the head is perhaps the best way to stay if not look cool. Et oui, I know my couvre-chef makes me look ridiculous. I’m just too hot to care.

       A spray bottle. Among the keep-cool strategies preferred by the French, the Evian brumatiseur is the most chic. Following the killer heat-wave of 2003, it was suggested that residents of old-age homes be equipped with these to prevent further deaths. Seriously.

Perhaps the best strategy of all to survive the heat is to take a vacation. When you’re enjoying a sea breeze or perched on a mountaintop, summer is really no sweat.

I’ll be by the pool if anyone needs me.


  1. · August 1, 2013

    Very funny and true

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  3. MELewis · August 15, 2016

    Reblogged this on FranceSays and commented:

    To buy myself a bit more time on this atrociously long ‘pause’ (I am, after all, une Française!), here’s a post I published a few summers back. A très bientôt!

  4. Mmm. It was 21 degrees here today in Sydney. We’ll be at 24 by Thurs and it is winter. Perhaps Australia is to be avoided…unless you are on holiday!

    • MELewis · August 15, 2016

      Very good point, Catherine. Australia is on our bucketlist for a trip one of these eons but I did not realize it got quite so hot in Sydney. Will have to strategize our travel plans accordingly. Merci Madame!

  5. Alien Meo · August 15, 2016

    Oh my God… I never knew that in France they (almost) don’t use the AC. Under the heat, I’m the worst version of myself ;__;
    Thanks for the post! It will surely be of great help when I come to France. ^_^

    • MELewis · August 15, 2016

      Glad to meet a fellow heat sufferer and hope this provides a helpful heads up for you! Indeed, if you are coming to France in the summer months, you should keep it in mind….most good hotels will have some A/C but rarely will it work to North American standards!

  6. acflory · August 15, 2016

    I hate the heat too – especially when it soars about 40 for days on end – which is why we have aircon…and use it. But only once the heat becomes unbearable and only until we go to bed. I think this must be a throwback to my childhood when we didn’t even own a fan. I can’t work out if Australia has grown significantly hotter or my thermostat has broken down as well. C’est la vie. -shrug-

    • MELewis · August 15, 2016

      Probably both. 😉 Being smart about how we use our energy is probably the way to go.

      • acflory · August 15, 2016

        I do feel guilty but I’d feel worse if I melted away into a greasy puddle. 😀

  7. Osyth · August 15, 2016

    My youngest daughter is one of you! She’s coming out to Boston next week and I’m watching the weather like a hawk …. humid as hell and 90 won’t suit her a smidge. But now I have your rescue pack to fall back on – all shall be well!!

    • MELewis · August 15, 2016

      I feel for your youngest – ‘It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity’ was the theme song of my youth in Toronto, where the humidex borders that of Boston… It is truly a kind of handicap to suffer so in the heat – for both ourselves and others. (Just ask my husband! 😉 Hope the survival pack helps!

      • Osyth · August 15, 2016

        It is a shame and people don’t understand. You are do right about the humidity …. It is the bad fairy at the party 😳

  8. francetaste · August 15, 2016

    No A/C folks here, living in the south of France. It gets very hot. But we use shutters to keep the sun out, and it makes a huge difference inside the house. The nights usually are quite cool, and we take advantage by opening up for a while, especially in the early morning, to cool the house down. And nothing strenuous in the middle of the day.

    • MELewis · August 15, 2016

      Sounds like you have the system mastered…I like the additional excuse for a nice long siesta in the shade! Enjoy!

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