Czechs vs. Air Conditioning: Debating the Healthiest Way to Cool Off

Czechs vs. Air Conditioning: Debating the Healthiest Way to Cool Off

Cultural dividing lines are quickly drawn around the subject of room temperatures; the fierce heat in Prague this afternoon has surely given way to countless interoffice debates about the healthiest way to cool off.

The Czech language describes any days where the temperature exceeds 30°C as hic or pařák. Finding relief from heat that is unrelenting, at least according to an informal poll of the Czechs here in our office, involves everything from going for a swim or walk in the forest, to that perennial favorite, grabbing a cold one at the zahrádka.

My Czech spouse insists that the correct way to cool down one’s living space means strategically opening and closing the windows at the proper time of day based on the sun’s location—we also subsist on a steady diet of watermelon, white wine, and Míša bars for much of July and August.

Blasting the air conditioning (klimatizace), however, is not usually among the local solutions to the problem of temperature control.

Czech anti-AC sentiment seems to be based on an entire set of beliefs that says chilled beverages, sitting on a stone floor, sleeping in an artificially cooled room, or leaving the house with wet hair can have adverse health effects. And that’s to say nothing of the entire country’s aversion to ice cubes.

The Czech Ministry of Health even weighs in on the topic of reckless air conditioning use, calling it a “sensitive subject that is still under investigation,” though the Ministry does seem to agree that transitioning between environments with a temperature difference of 5-6 degrees has the potential to cause colds in “sensitive individuals.”

So who’s right? Should we yield to our Czech colleagues who insist that our need—and by “our” I mean the British/American contingent in the office—for powerful cooling to the point of arctic discomfort is going to kill them? Or do we laugh off their belief as nothing more than an old wives’ tale?

It would seem that a compromise is in order.

Research from the International Journal of Epidemiology says people in air-conditioned buildings are more likely to show signs of illness than those from buildings without AC—but not directly because of air conditioning. The study blamed the presence of microorganisms in the condensation in the system. 

Another current study lands in favor of the keep-it-frosty camp, finding that a cool office improves work efficiency during summers as well as sleep patterns, and even reduces mortality (it’s also a proven energy guzzler that helps drive up production of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming).

Chances are the disputes, both scientific and philosophical (“One person’s cold is another person’s hot!” a chilly Czech colleague recently exclaimed), will continue, having become as much a part of summer in a Czech office as okurková sezóna and Friday afternoon chata traffic.


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