La clim

Almost three decades after moving to France I have finally done it. Got the thing I swore I could not live without yet somehow managed to survive sans all these years.

When we first decided to move outre-Atlantique, discovering that France is a country where people live, for the most part, without air conditioning gave me pause.

“No A/C? Seriously? But it gets hot in the summer. How do you sleep?”

The answers were always nonchalant. Prefaced with a Gallic shrug. It’s no big deal. We open the windows. Close the shutters during the day to keep the sun out. Go away on holiday to the sea.

I had little choice but to give it a try. Adapting to life in a new country while working and raising a family took every bit of my energy. But I have sweated my way through too many French summers. Struggled for years to understand why there are no screens on windows, except for a few especially mosquito-prone regions. Kicked off the duvet and the sheet and slept in my birthday suit as the curtains billowed in the breeze. Worse, as not a breath of air stirred the still heat of an August night in the furnace of a city apartment. And I still don’t understand why the French don’t have air conditioning.

For some reason people here always found the idea of a Canadian coming to France and demanding air conditioning funny. I’m not sure why. Any humour in the situation completely sailed over my over-heated head. I’ve posted before about my faulty thermostat. In my family we go lobster red as soon as the temperature hits 25C (75F) and don’t cool down until the first snow.

I tried to explain to my French friends and family that in Toronto we are less concerned about the cold in winter than the heat of summer. “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” I said, trotting out the old refrain from my childhood. My arguments fell on deaf ears.

Mais…it’s only for a few months a year.
So’s winter.
Oui, mais… we are generally away on vacation for a month.
That still leaves two months.
Oui, mais… the really hot weather only lasts a few weeks.
Define hot.
Yes but it’s expensive. It’s a waste of energy. It’s unhealthy. It makes you sick.

In fact the only thing that held me back, other than the cost, was believing that it wouldn’t be effective, would be too noisy or create a different set of problems.

Then, last year, we sweated through our hottest summer yet in the Haute Savoie. This is far from being France’s hottest region but let me tell you, it was warm. Most nights found me tossing and turning and finally sleeping in the basement. I skived off work most afternoons as the temperature in my office on the second floor became unbearable.

This April, I began to look for a supplier of ‘climatisation’. Found two in our area, one of which actually showed up, told me it was entirely feasible to cool the two hottest rooms of our house and provided a quote for a split system – that is, with an outside unit on the balcony and an inside unit up on the wall.

To my considerable amazement, we now have two of these systems in our house. They are quiet and efficient. The temperature is comfortably maintained at 22 C.

I would be tempted to break into the hallelujah chorus at this point but for the fact that the weather has so far been cooler than expected. As mentioned in last week’s post, I turned on the A/C anyway. And last weekend we had a massive hail storm.

But I won’t let it rain on my parade. The advantage of a split system is that it also does heating.

Bring it on!


  1. phildange · June 20, 2019

    Ah, nobody had told you the antique Occitan prophecy ; ” As soon as the Caribou Man opens a demonic cold well in his hut forever over will be summer.”. Say goodbye to summer days and nights sister, and for your own sake don’t tell anyone YOU started the feared doom chain reaction .

    • MELewis · June 20, 2019

      The masks are off! I can now reveal my true identity: Meldemort, Evil Queen of the Caribou who has come to release her polar vortex over the land of the Gauls. Beware her chilling breath! 🥶

      • phildange · June 20, 2019

        Outstanding reply, I didn’t expected so much . Vive SuperMel !

  2. francetaste · June 20, 2019

    I’m in the anti-AC camp. I hated having to swaddle myself with pashminas in the office. I even wore gloves. And that was with suits, not sundresses. I find I get used to the heat and just learn to move more slowly. But it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Down here, it gets bone-dry in summer, nothing like the hammam-like conditions I grew up with in the Midwest.

    • phildange · June 20, 2019

      Completely agree . I suffered more in NY City summers than in Moroccan Sahara summers .

    • MELewis · June 20, 2019

      Ah, so you’re one of them, eh? 😂 Honestly I envy people who can ‘get used’ to the heat. Some of us just have a different metabolism, and the extra heat of the hormonally challenged doesn’t help! I do remember those midwestern summers though from my years in Minnesota.

  3. 355101pkl · June 20, 2019

    Our UK neighbours at the location where we have a holiday apartment in Spain mostly have air con specially in the bedrooms but we are not there frequently enough to justify the expense . We have mosquito nets fitted over the windows and also fitted to the ceilings draping over the beds and find the air blows through and keeps it fairly cool . Although we tend not to go there in the very hot months . This year I have bought a self closing mosquito net for the balcony door and will be taking it along so we can leave it open as well . If we were to live there permanently I would definitely get air conditioning installed .

    • phildange · June 20, 2019

      As you mention “air con” I remember my incredulous amazement when I arrived in India . Everywhere hotels had outdoors big signs claiming “Air con” ! For a Francophone this supposedly inviting ad was an over the top source of hilarity .

      • 355101pkl · June 20, 2019

        We are conned by many things in life including the air. My late father was a life long socialist until the bin mens strike in London 1979 . Our area was turned into a refuse tip and it was unbearable . He said to me. They ( the unions ) would turn off the air to get their way and they wouldn’t care how many people they hurt . This is why so many people voted for Margaret Thatcher in 1981

      • phildange · June 20, 2019

        Hmm it’s another subject but I often was in Britain between 80 and 84 . I remembered a lot of people were furious against the Witch and her destructions of the masses life conditions, she was going to be sacked for sure in 81 and suddenly the Fascist Argie generals tried an inner political trick in the Falklands, to my surprise Thatcher reacted like an American and to my amazement the Brits reelected her ! That’s when I started considering Britain as a dumb US offspring .

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      If I were on holiday it wouldn’t matter so much. You can always go to bed later and enjoy a nice siesta if the nights are too short. But it’s the working at home that made me justify the expense — the heat just saps my ambition. Even so, Spain without A/C sounds a tad too hot for me. Enjoy the balcony air!

  4. pedmar10 · June 20, 2019

    We prefer the pure air than AC circulated air I know its odds even with the canicule events but is not wanted. And after many years here, it is really a state of mind, we are used not having AC! Salut!

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      Yes, but you hail from Spain, right? Must be even hotter there? I also like the idea of fresh air but the reality is that it often doesn’t cool me enough to provide any comfort, plus you get the noise and pollution of the air that comes in the windows along with the bugs!

      • pedmar10 · June 21, 2019

        Well I have four passports lol!! most of my life spent in Florida with lots of AC; came to France 16 yrs ago and love it, got rid of the AC all natural environment in the country side. bugs? very little, in the countryside of real France no pollution and clean air, and worth the non AC effort. Salut!

  5. kairosia · June 20, 2019

    A Chicago native, no heat has ever matched the summers of my un-air conditioned youth. We ran fans and by earliest morning hours the cool air from the windows swept over our lightly clad bodies so that we even pulled up a sheet. Mornings on the porch were sweet with birdsong and fresh garden scents.

    I love the breezy unscreened wide open windows of France, though I admit a high-floor city apartment can be unnaturally and unbearably steamy. Only then would I opt for la climatisation. These days in our Pacific NW home we hang tough, even when the temps climb to triple digits, preferring the natural heat to unnatural cold.

    On the other hand, why do we find no screened protection against the incorrigible mouches Provençales?

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      Yes, I spent some years in Minneapolis and the heat there was pretty intense too, although many people had air conditioning. Nice memories of waking up in the cool morning air! BTW, those mouches are not just in Provence — they come out in force here in the Alpes region too, although not yet. Another reason I am glad to keep my windows closed when the heat is at its worst. I suppose the traditional French doors don’t really suit screens…other than that I can offer no explanation!

  6. The Pink Agendist · June 20, 2019

    What’s your altitude? Thus far I’ve found the Tarn summers mostly bearable. The year before last was borderline, and we talked about a/c but decided to wait. In Spain on the other hand we had a/c going night and day. Summer electric and water bills were an absolute fortune.

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      We are not high at all — 375 metres. A big part of our problem is that we live in a modern wood house with windows that get the sun all day and have no shutters. Quelle idée! A French concept but much more adapted to higher altitudes.

  7. eyelean · June 20, 2019

    I think it must be hotter where you live than where we are. I admit I had to adjust to the logic of closing shutters during the day and opening at night. But we have a single-floor house with thick walls so in this area it is totally manageable.

    However I’ll laugh in the face of anyone who suggests that you can just “adjust to heat.” These people don’t know heat. I grew up in Texas near the Gulf Coast and it is unbearable. The French would all wither in a pool of sweat. (Which is what I do when I’m in Texas in summertime and venture outside.)

    Likewise they also don’t know cold (I went to college in Minnesota).

    And WHY do they think AC makes you sick? Is it related to their theories about breezes?

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      Absolutely! The cold air makes you sick, didn’t you know that? 🧐 Seriously, if I had a house with thick stone walls and shutters it would be different. We went with a modern design with big bay windows. Great open views but not heat friendly. Texas heat must be unbearable!

  8. eyelean · June 20, 2019

    I should add I did crack and get a car with AC though, mostly for the baby/toddler, and it is appreciated.

    • MELewis · June 21, 2019

      AC in cars should be considered a basic safety option. Not just for babies, do you know how many times I nearly crashed when a large bug flew in? 😂

  9. Green Global Trek · June 21, 2019

    Enjoyed this post and the ensuing discussion of air con or not air con. I grew up without it, but really who needed it in Johannesburg South Africa?? But I think if you grow up with or without it, that influences your preference. So I dislike AC. I way prefer ceiling or floor fansMakes me congested and sore throated. Last year though while traveling in Europe during that heat wave I woulda killed for it! Haha. Enjoyed this post.


    • MELewis · June 22, 2019

      Thanks, Peta! So interesting how this post has resonated with people from so many different places. South Africa with no A/C? You are a braver woman than I! 😅

  10. awtytravels · June 21, 2019

    Leaving “l’aria” on during the night is what Italians fear the most. I remember being in Israel with my father and he insisted on not putting it on during the night. I lasted three hours and then quietly switched it to 26C (outside temp: 35). Next morning, when I told him that “l’aria” was on and he didn’t sweat his bodyweight for fear of catching a cold – which he didn’t get – he was the most surprised man in the whole of Jerusalem.

    • MELewis · June 22, 2019

      That’s funny, it seems to be a Latin thing to be convinced that clim kills. Israel must’ve been hot indeed. I’ve been told to keep the temperature within 10 degrees of the outside temperature for greater comfort — no cooler. It has a dehumidifying effect that is huge even if the air stays warm. Glad you were able to fool your father into putting up with it!

      • awtytravels · June 22, 2019

        I have to say that the 4 pints of beer he’d downed beforehand must’ve helped!

      • MELewis · June 23, 2019


  11. weggieboy · June 21, 2019

    As a child, I used to have nose bleeds when leaving the air conditioned movie theatre into the summer heat. The extremes in temperatures increased my blood pressure (I learned later) to a point it ruptured blood vessels in my nose. How bizarre!

    I still dislike AC set in the 60s (16+ degrees C) because while the nose bleeds are history, I now get bad headaches that way for the same reason. I try to avoid that by taking a jacket with me when I go places I know are air conditioned because, in America, it seems people like arctic levels of cold. Not me! The extremes in temperatures are unhealthy.

    • MELewis · June 22, 2019

      That is bizarre indeed! But I can imagine the vessels contracting in the cold and then expanding in the heat, so it makes sense. 16 C is far too cold for me and I think the places that keep the temps so low are what has created the fear of A/C among so many people. 22-23 C seems to work well for me now but just wait until we get to 34 C next week and we’ll see how effective it is!

  12. Heide · June 21, 2019

    Congrats on your new climatisation! So glad you found a workable solution for those sultry evenings when it’s just too oppressive to sleep. Your description of your new set-up reminded me of the system my husband and I installed in our previous home for the sake of our old dog (wink wink). It only cooled the living and dining rooms, but on a super-hot Minnesota summer day that was enough. Bon weekend !

    • MELewis · June 22, 2019

      Thanks, Heide! I think having a cooler room or two as a refuge is a good approach. That way you don’t have to cool the whole house but still can get relief. It never occurred to me to do this before but truly, it is life-changing! 😎 Funny that those who don’t know Minnesota might be surprised at how hot it gets. I remember that baking summer heat from my teens but even the 70s almost everyone had air conditioning. Bon weekend à vous!

  13. Debbie Courtney · June 21, 2019

    LOVE you story and so understand, since I live in Texas and have visited the south of France many times in the summer. 😉

    • MELewis · June 23, 2019

      Right, so you have experienced the cultural contrast, eh? Even places in France that do have air conditioning never set it to cool properly. I’ve never been to Texas but can only imagine it is sizzling!

  14. Joanne Sisco · June 26, 2019

    I’m with you Mel. There is NO ‘getting used to it’ for me either.

    When I first moved to southern Ontario from the north, the first thing I bought was a bed, quickly followed by an air conditioner. I understood my priorities 😉

    I know you are smiling now in your A/C during this current heat wave in France!

    • MELewis · June 29, 2019

      Yep, can you see me grinning? I’m with you, Joanne. Sleep is way up there on my priority list and I must say that is the absolute best part of the A/C — it allows me to get a full night’s sleep even in the 35 degree weather here at the moment. 🔥

      • Joanne Sisco · June 29, 2019

        Sleep can never be overrated. You and I will happily snuggle down into our iceboxes for a good night’s sleep 😉

  15. fatdormouse · June 28, 2019

    Reading this a few weeks later, it’s hit 43° in Clermont Ferrand and our offices are clim-less. I nearly died yesterday. Our house doesn’t have A/C either but we’re up higher and just about managing. I think I envy you!

    • MELewis · June 29, 2019

      Oh, my….43 degrees is beyond acceptable and I’m surprised they didn’t send you home from work! Maybe this will enough to get your employer to put in A/C? I must say, our new clim is so wonderfully efficient and even quiet, I wish we’d done it sooner!

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