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French windows

I had no idea my mother was French because wherever she sat in a restaurant or – well, anywhere – no mater what the season, there was invariably a courant d’air, or a draft. For all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never really though about winds, drafts, or too much air movement nowadays. Especially since, as anyone who’s lived in a San Francisco Victorian house knows, if you don’t want to sit in a drafty house, you’ll have to move to another city. One that isn’t essentially an ongoing, ever-present, courant d’air.

It’s quite a contrast to the city where I now live, Paris, where doors and windows are closed most of the year due to the weather. But come summer, when the temperatures rise to sometimes hazardous conditions, the outdoors is an enemy and windows are kept closed to protect ourselves from – well, I haven’t quite figured out what. But in a curious paradox, people flock to the outdoors, especially to the café terraces – and not just because they can smoke there – but to soak up any precious bit of sunshine that we’ve been missing for the past 10 months. And probably because their apartments are so hot because all the windows are closed.

Belleville cafe

All of this is relatively new to me. But since living in a top-floor chambre de bonne for many years, right under a zinc roof that was hotter than en enfer, I’ve learned that during periods of intense sunshine bearing down, closing the windows can keep the inside of a building cooler. But when the sun isn’t bearing down and there is a cooling breeze flowing? Open ’em up, folks! I went into a shop that I like during the heat wave last week and the owner was sitting behind his desk in the sweltering heat, with a smoldering sheen of perspiration on his brow.

The place was hotter than a smoldering inferno, and frankly, I don’t know how he was able to sit there because I was in there no more than 12 seconds and nearly stopped being able to breathe. The door and windows were tightly closed and before I left, I suggested maybe crack a window or leave the door open. (Which might actually lead to more customers coming in, and him selling something. But that’s a subject for a whole other post…) “Non, non! That will let the hot air in!” I didn’t mean to contradict him, but I mentioned that the hot air had – indeed – already gotten in.

closed windows

Visitors not used to the closed-door and window policies are often sweltering in restaurants, in stores, on public transit, and in buildings, which aren’t ventilated. Maybe that’s how the French allegedly stay so thin – because they are constantly sweating it off? But I have a backlog of shopping to do, which I’m holding off on ’til October, or perhaps November.

The fear of fresh air could be the result of ancient fears of air-born diseases. Malaria, which is probably derived from mal (bad) air (air) is just one example of its dangers, even though it’s caused by mosquitos. But old habits die hard and plagues and so forth had been passed around by air, so there’s likely a certain amount of holdover from the Middle Ages. Which, arguably, happened ages ago.

close the window

And as smart people now know, diseases are passed around by people sneezing into their hands then grabbing the bars on the métro. To mitigate the dangers of les courants d’air, even though we live in a society ruled by égalité, priority treatment is given to people who like the windows shut: On the buses, there are notices that the windows can be opened. But if someone complains, they take priority, and they must be closed.

The other night I was at a dinner party. The temperature was a lovely 82ºF (27ºC) and there was just a gentle breeze in the air, a truly welcome relief after the intense heat during the day. In other words, it was the perfect summer night. As we sat down to eat, the hostess, who was dressed in long sleeves and wearing a scarf, went over to close the windows which overlooked the tree-lined boulevard.

A few minutes later, I started to realize that I couldn’t breath. I don’t smoke, nor do I have any respiratory problems. But I could feel myself about to pass out. I don’t know how the others were able to sit and continue through dinner, but I politely excused myself, went into the other room, and leaned out the open window to take a few deep breaths, which made me feel better. Paradoxically, I was getting sick from a lack of air.

French windows

But in spite of the official reluctance, I think I’m on my way to becoming my French mother’s son. After a yoga class, it was time to lie down after the workout, and time to pat myself on the back for a job well-done. (Well, I would if I could. But since I’m hardly flexible enough to touch my toes, patting myself on the back is kind of out of the question.)

It was then that I felt a coolish breeze come over me, courtesy of a nearby open window, and I found myself waving my hand in space, looking for the source of the courant d’air. I was going to say something to the teacher, but I couldn’t bring myself to mouth the words. So I stayed there, lying in stillness, worrying about what maladies I was being exposed to. Which was the only thing keeping me from drifting off into bliss.



    • Linda

    I’ve had the same experience at a dinner party in Paris where it was 100 degrees outside, no fans, and they closed the windows because of traffic noise. I kept putting a corner of my napkin in my water glass and putting it against my neck to try and get my body temperature down. Their children were put to bed with t-shirts under their flannel pajamas.
    When we renovated our apartment all of the French thought I was crazy getting ceiling fans. On a vacation in Corsica with French friends, doors were closed if the slightest bit of air was breezing in and they closed their bedroom door and windows at night even though little a/c units were in each room. I’ve gotten used to no a/c but a fan is a must for me. My husband has finally gotten used to it but French women ask for it to be turned off. Life in France….

    • Tess

    And all this time I thought only the Germans were this nuts about the dreaded “Zug”. Windows should be kept closed, except in the middle of the winter, when all the windows in a (class)room must be thrown wide open every hour or so and the heat turned off, so that we don’t die from lack of fresh air. Needless to say I spent my school years in Germany either freezing or being baked in a classroom.

    • Monica Eisenberg

    Very familiar with courants d’air, drafts, corrientes de aire…my mother was obsessed. Thankfully though she did open windows in the summer. But only those in the front of the house as opening the ones in back at the same time would create a deadly courant d’air.

    • Christy

    So funny David! I was an exchange student in France years ago and I can still remember my host Mom complaning about ‘les courants d’air.” So much so that when she came to visit us in Florida twenty years later, we drove around in the Florida summer (hot, humid, no clouds) in our car with the windows up and the A/C off. I’m not a fan of gale force winds, but a little breeze is something nice on a hot summer day!

    • Georgette

    Growing up half of my family was french as well as having a french gouvernante. Courant d’airs were always under discussion especially for my brother’s and my cous. So your blog entry made me laugh.

    We just returned from the heat wave in Paris. We stayed in my parents’ apartment. No AC of course so we left the windows wide open if we were sure it wasn’t going to rain AND used a fan, thanks BHV. I’m sure we were the talk of the block.

    • maura

    Oh no, it seems the dreaded air current is the fear of all Europeans. In Italy the dreaded “colpo d’aria” is the cause of everything from sore necks to upset stomachs.

    • melinda

    even new build apt dont have ac it seems, as my daughter just moved into one in Bayonne, so I had great hopes……

    • Mike

    David, this post helps explain to me why last week at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles only one of the many windows was open, even though the room was stiflingly hot!

    It seems that Parisiens are accustomed to warmer temperatures than Americans. I never saw a French person fanning themselves and the “air conditioned” buses and Metro trains were definitely warmer than I’m used to in the U.S.

    On our Air France fly back to the U.S, I noticed two things: first, while waiting for the plane to leave the gate, it was very warm and the Americans were fanning themselves while the French were patiently waiting, reading, or sleeping. Once the plane took off, gained altitude and cooled off, the Americans looked comfortable and the French looked miserably cold. The French woman across the aisle had her scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth like she was expecting snow.

    The other thing I noticed about the plane (an Airbus A340) was that there were none of the adjustable air nozzles that I’ve seen in every other airliner I’ve flown in. Perhaps, they are eliminated to reduce the risk of courant d’airs?

    • Susan

    Dear David,

    I live in Italy and we have the same situation here! We call it a spiffero d’aria and it is very dangerous! The Italians are changing though and getting air conditioners! They keep them at such a high temperature that you sweat anyway or else they get turned off for fear of having cold air on their necks and getting sick :-(

    I have gotten used to them and thier closed windows, their over dressing in winter and the mothers who yell “don’t run! You’ll sweat!” to their children.

    Must be old wives tales that stay in their blood……!

    • Kim B.

    I know this all too well. My husband is Italian, and as a couple of the previous posters have noted, the same aversion to fresh air strikes fear in the heart of the Italians, too. during these past few weeks, I’ve laughed every time my husband feels a breeze in our luckily two-exposured apartment and cries “Courant d’air!” I want to say, “yes, isn’t it glorious?!! Aren’t we so lucky?!!” But I know that he means it [i] strictly [/i] pejoratively.

    • Christiane Gelormino

    This is hilarious!!! My mother, who is not french but german had the same fear of drafts!!! Windows in cars, trains and apartments had to be firmly closed during the sweltering heat! And absolutely no open windows at opposite ends of the apartment!
    I had no idea that this was a nationality related phenomenon…

    • Three-Cookies

    Very thought provoking. Being born in the tropics, our windows were always open except at night, otherwise the thief would get in!
    Anyway, its the wind/breeze that keeps people cool in the tropics, as well as many cold beers of course. The wind helps evaporate the sweat, which then cools us. Opening windows brings the warm air in, but it also activates our natural air conditioner

    • Robert Bush

    The French fear of the courant d’aire must come from the Middle Ages or at least from centuries ago. What is especially interesting to me is that their concern is that if the draft touches their neck, it’s curtains; the next step is death!! – hence the French love affair with the neck scarf. You see it all damned year long. I have a collection of photos that I have taken on the metro and trains of people “scarfed-up” in all the hot months. Well, I don’t have August yet because I usually don’t visit then. Of course, they do don their scarves with great élan, but then that is their nature as well. I had lunch many years ago on a hot Sunday at le Bistrot de Bréteuil, and I sat in the greenhouse part that has been added to the front of the resto. It was hot inside and the sun blazed in from the south. A woman seated near me almost fainted and she was carried to the shade, patted with iced towels, etc. As the sliding glass door was behind me, a man across the room suggested that I open it a bit and I did. A near-fist fight immediately ensued between the man at the next table and him – courant d’aire: the Grim Reaper is on his way! Hey, Dude. Where’s my air conditioning?

    • Alessandra

    Ah, la corrente! Italians are a bit obsessed too, but not so much in my house, thanks to a very good pediatrician who taught us not to overdress (no wool shirts for us in the winter) and not to be afraid of la corrente, but of germs.

    • Bernadette

    Okay I am not well traveled and live vicariously through your posts David and some of your followers but this, for some reason surprises me. It’s baffling and, well, kind of clueless. I would think they would be open to the openness of fresh air and inviting nature in. I can relate to your feeling ill, though, as I have experienced that myself as well–air so stifling you feel you are going to pass out. In tyring to keep expenses down, we turn the air conditioning off when we can in the summer heat but if it gets too hot, I find closing the blinds but keeping the windows and doors open for any ventilating breeze helps. My father said it looked like a funeral parlor because it was so dark but it does help.

    • Maria

    So… it isn’t only the Germans who fear drafts… Maybe this is a European thing!

    • Katie

    It’s supposed to be 106 in San Antonio, TX tomorrow and I thought we had it bad — at least we have a/c in homes and businesses. This morning I had to shoo a cat off my the top of my outdoor a/c unit…things are tough all over.

    • Kay

    Or the opposite here in the States: shoppes leave the doors open all day and night with the A/C running, the cool air pouring out into the streets where it will cool the outside air down – right! I try to close the doors behind me of these foolish and wasteful establishments when I walk in, and they always end up back open. As a customer we expect you are open most of the day, if your doors are closed I would respect you more that you care about the energy use and environment. If it is 6:15 p.m. and your door is closed, I would try it and then look for your hours on the door. No need to keep the doors open to show you are open. Unless you are showing us you are an donkey’s behind. .

    • Vanya Stoler

    I had the same experience during the dreaded fourth of July week in 2008. We were @ Frenchy which kept the windows closed, had 1 fan, no ac and direct lighting. Man did that make the meal unforgettable, forget about the food. We remember schvitzing like we never have back home.

    • Dawn | KitchenTravels

    The French would hate visiting the Hawaiian islands, where many homes and hotel rooms are specifically designed to allow the air to waft through, front to back. My husband and I thought it was wonderful… but I can only imagine the anxiety it would cause a French tourist. Thanks for the laugh!

    • susan wing

    What happens when French women hit menopause/hot flashes (sorry David!)? Yikes

    • Kathryn W.

    Ha! I lived in Moldova, in Eastern Europe, for two years and there they are dreadfully scared of the “curent.” No matter how stiflingly hot it is, you never open up windows on the bus, in the house, nowhere. Every time I got a cold, it was because of the “curent.” I’m glad to hear I wasn’t the only person suffering through this!

    • Jane

    That is so funny! I couldn’t believe how scared people were about drafts when I arrived here twenty years ago. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be scared of fresh air. When my mom came to visit a year later, I asked her what she thought about the idea. She looked at me as if I was nuts and said , “You don’t get sick from DRAFTS” . Case closed for me. Now the only other problem is that in France, most window are on hinges and so if two are open and there is a draft, they BANG all the time. That’s a real pain.

    • Jennifer

    I really need to move to France. I loathe the courant d’air.

    Unfortunately I work in a hospital where all of my co-workers are obese and the courant d’air is no gentle breeze, but an arctic blast when they crank the thermostat down to 55F.

    • Nadege

    Things might be changing David! My parents told me they were “making courants d’air” during a recent heatwave.
    (Have you been scolded yet because you left the entry door open 1 second too long during a cold spell?. “Gawd! all the warm air is getting out!”).

    • Martha in KS

    I think you’re right about the fear of air going back to the days of airborne illnesses – think “Little House on the Prairie”. The problem was probably mosquitoes carrying the diseases. When my niece was in the Peace Corps in Moldova everyone closed up their houses for fear of the breeze. Not me – I’m a fresh air freak!

    • Lyn Never

    Ah, Korean Fan Death – such a menace that a consumer safety warning was issued in 2006.

    • Marina

    Hilarious! Just a few days ago I was remembering (and sharing with a friend) my late Italian grandmother’s obsessive fear of “correnti d’aria” (and unripe fruit, undercooked vegetables, pork, swimming too soon after eating, etc.) and how puzzling we found this when she would visit us in Montreal. Drafts seemed proven to cause torcicollo/torticollis, sniffles and stomach aches all of which, it seemed, could be prevented by suffocation and various mysterious forms of fine woollen undergarments (in summer!).

    • teawithhazel

    my greek mother in law was always cautioning me about ‘arevmas’ (breezes) but paradoxically she wasn’t averse to having the apartment windows open in summer at all..i got pleurisy after going on a long walk into the hills behind athens one spring..maybe there was a malevolent breeze about on the day.. :)

    • Mark Urbanek

    As always, great insight and humor David. Of course one can argue the equivalent when, on a 90 degree evening, my wife is carrying a sweater as we walk to our favorite US restaurant and in response to my question “what the hell is that for?” she says – “you know it’s always freezing in these restaurants”.

    Ying and yang.

    3 centuries of social practice is always hard to change (although I hope that’s not true of the TV show Glee).

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I used to visit friends in Hawaii, and every night going out to either dinner or the movies, you had to bring a sweater because the air-conditioning was always on full-blast. I’ve noticed that in other places in the states, too. Never figured out why they can’t just lower the air-conditioning a little..

    • Helen in CA

    Thinking now of my Parisian friend who lives in San Francisco. His adjustment must have been something!

    • fio

    another wonderful post, i love you daveeeeeeeeeed!

    • Anne

    The French gave us Pasteur but haven’t gotten the hang of the germ theory. Pfft.

    • EL

    I had the same question as Susan. Menopause? OMG!! Yes, here in the states, the AC means sweaters inside in the summer. I hate it!. But I don’t think I could deal with France. By the way — do they have screens on the windows? What about mosquitos? I think I’d have a problem with that as well.

    Here in the intermountain west if you’re smart, you close the windows and curtains during the day (if they don’t face north) and open everything at night once the temps drop about 30˚F.

    • Rosemarie Penno

    i had an perplexing argument with a Greek friend over an open window because of the draft. I could not understand the fear that was attached to the response he had and it prompted me to do a little investigating, It appears that this is a widespread fear over most of Europe and to do with the possibility of becoming sick. The belief is very deep rooted. He was surprised that it was not based on any science.

    • Michelle

    Aloha mai e David! Here in Hawaiʻi (on Oʻahu to be more precise) Iʻve had the opposite expereince – people and smaller restaurants just leave the windows open a bit – or you can eat outdoors.
    Perhaps itʻs only the big restaurants and theaters that have the ac?

    Tradewinds are a beautiful thing, most homes leave windows and sliding lanai doors open for them (with screens to stop the occasional gecko or bug from coming in).

    • Steph

    When I lived in Paris I was always surprised at the lack of interior breeze ways. I depend on the cross currents up here in Seattle where it’s been regularly in the 80’s (very unusual). My French great grandmother who finished life in S California ADORED air conditioning, especially swamp coolers, and always commented on how her parents would have freaked out over such a thing.

    And yes, hello, menopause??? I mean, scant ice cubes, not much in the way of freezers, and no cool breezes? I would kill someone.

    • Cristina

    God, this post and comments really made my day! I think Maura is right, it must be an European thing. I’m Romanian and I recognised my fellow compatriots in all your German, French and Italian comments.
    On the other hand, I have to admit it’s not so fun working in an office with at 18 C when outside is over 40 C! We are all dressed as it’s autumn already!

    • msmarmitelover

    Haha love this post. Soo reminded me of Paris. And I could just picture your mum!
    Of course the French are absolutely paranoid about their health, which is why they take 3 times more ‘medicaments’ than any other Western country.
    Every time I went to the doctor, I’d get two pages of medicines I’d have to take for the slightest ailment. I grew adept at scanning them and crossing off the unneccessary ones.
    I brought up my daughter in Paris until she was 2 and she had so many courses of antibiotics in that short time. As a worried first time mum, I went along with that, I feel so guilty now!

    • Jennifer Dyson

    This is my first summer living in France. As someone who has always hated air conditioning, I was pleased to discover the breeze in our apartment when I opened all of the (huge) windows. Then my French husband came home from work and shut them all complaining of the noise and the draft and the honeymoon was over! ;-)

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Fortunately my French other-half loves fresh air and is always opening windows, even when people keep insisting he close them.

    • C

    Salut David,
    Here in the tropic, some gentle breeze is always welcome, but too much of a good thing is rarely good. Oui?

    I call it wet breeze, since it’s so humid here. The wet wind trapped in your body makes every part of you sore. Annoying but not life threatening.

    I say it’s high time for a nice and firm massage. Finish it off with a hot (and sweet) ginger tea. I like mine flavoured w/ brown coconut sugar. Or if i’m feeling rather borjouis, maybe with a few stalk of lemongrass and a slice of lemon. ….or even chilli (non?)

    • adele

    In Bosnia we have a saying – ‘in the Western world illnesses are caused by stress, in Bosnia by draft’ and how we follow this belief!!! We are not allowed to open two windows in the hose no matter what temperature just in case of draft :):):)

    • Ed

    This practice of not opening windows is alive and well in certain areas of the U.S. I lived in Washington State for nearly 50 years before moving to Chicago. Whenever the weather was nice in my home state, people would have their windows open. Many people sleep with the windows open at night unless it’s really hot. In Chicago, people simply don’t open windows. They just have the AC on all summer. It is almost as if they are allergic to fresh air.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      When I travel in the US and stay at hotels, I’m always dismayed by the dependence on AC, which is on sometimes even in the winter. Often the windows are bolted shut (for safety reasons) and you have to rely on the AC for “fresh” air, which is often noisy and overly chilly.

    • Julia

    Oh this made me giggle and reminded me so much of my childhood in Russia where the stoic people of the North are absolutely terrified of the draft, especially when they are sweating buckets! It’s quite funny to watch my Italian friend do the same with her children because I myself have definitely thrown caution to the wind!

    • Always Wright

    David, just had to write and say how much I am entertained by your words about life in Paris. What a great city! Would love to go back!

    • ron shapley(NYC)

    Wow…………Maybe it’s best to visit Paris in Winter………….non ???

    • Judy

    Shalom David. I have just found your site. I was born in England. I remember in the winter you could suffocate in the big stores in winter from the heat. I really don’t remember much but I don’t think we were scared of air currents. However if I’m at my sister’s in England I suffer from lack of air. Winter and summer. Here almost everybody has ac. When I first arrived here only the rich had them. We would open every thing and hang wet sheets? I think maybe the breeze came in cooler. I’m suffering the heat right now as my last electric bill was ginormous forhhaving the sc on for nearly all day. It is now nearly 4.30pm and I will put my ac on now.

    • Chandler In Las Vegas

    Daveed, people would be horrified to learn that here in Las Vegas, where it is both hot and dry, we have contraptions called Swamp Coolers that create a breeze that is cooled by spraying water into it. They are evaporative, refroidisseur par évaporation, coolers. I believe the French would have us dying in the streets. But we are comfortable.

    • Anne

    What??? and all this time I thought that when someone told me “fais attention au courant d’air”, it was because they were afraid of the doors slamming (and the big noise that comes with it). I’m pretty sure that’s what they meant some of the times.

    Closing the shutters can really cool a room down. My living room bay window points West, South/West and before during summer, it could get really hot in the afternoon. But this year, I have shutters and when you put them down in the afternoon, it’s a lot cooler than outside and I haven’t had a need for the portable AC. Even (especially) when it was 35-36°C. But of course, at night it’s better to open everything wide. I think sometimes some people don’t know when to shut or open the windows.

    • Jayne

    (In Northern Europe 27 is sweltering!)

    • Karen Rush

    I have central evaporative cooling in my house in Canberra to cope with our hot dry summers. Wonderful and it means one must have the windows open. I love it. Give me fresh air any time.

    • BajaBlonde

    Aha — it’s not just Mexicans! My theory is that babies are so swaddled and wrapped that their thermostats never get into proper working order and they are always cold, from infancy onward.

    • EM

    The Austrians have this same fear of breeze!

    And while we are at it– we are having a heatwave here– temps in the upper 30s C– and AC is practically nonexistent. The Austrians will tell you that it is unhealthy as the inside temp would be so much cooler than outside (hm– it might actually be comfortable then!)– but then I ask myself why they use so much heat in the winter?!

    • Victoria

    As others have commented, it’s a pan European thing, not just French. In Eastern Europe, draft is the worst thing you can experience. It’s guaranteed to make you sick, dizzy, tired, stressed out, etc. Same goes for drinking cold beverages. Even on a blisteringly hot day, my grandmother would never serve anything ice cold. “You will get a sore throat!”

    When my Ukrainian family came to India for my wedding, they were shocked that nobody cared about drafts. Indian houses usually have means to roll the windows all the way up, thus creating an air flow (a very good thing on a 50C+ day).

    • Brenda Calvert

    I guess I should consider myself lucky. I have visited Paris twice and both times my hotel, even though they had AC, saw the wisdom of airing the rooms during the day. I really liked coming into a room of fresh air with windows wide open. I was there in June and July so maybe missed the really hot times. However, I really liked opening the windows to the air and never had trouble with bugs. And, yes, David, open doors and open windows always encourage tourists like me to enter.

    Thanks so much for your blog. I really enjoy reading.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      A lot of stores in big cities in the US have the AC on full-blast and keep the doors open, because people are more likely to enter. (The New York Times did a story a few years back about how the more expensive stores in NYC were the coldest in the summer, which was interesting.) Curiously, it was really hot yesterday and we were walking by Monoprix (a supermarket/variety store) and felt s cold blast coming from the doors that people were going in and out of, and it felt nice to get cool for just a minute before going out in the heat : )

    • mary lynn

    David, A great post and I have had multiple laughs reading all the posts. Here in Phoenix, we know hot (but at least it’s dry). If it cools off (below 90 degrees F) we open up at night, because where we live, there is usually a breeze at night. But what I wondered about, is what would the Europeans think about the misters that are all over in the SW. You get misted walking down the street, sitting at an outside restaurant or going into a mall. I bet we must be exposing ourselves to multiple germs by walking under them! I don’t remember seeing any in Europe.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve seen those misters at 1 or 2 cafés, mostly in the tourist-centered parts of town. I don’t know how people would feel about them or not. But the café I was at last week, when the temperatures were nearly 75ºF had their heaters on full-blast outside, and no one seemed to mind or said anything. We did before we sat down because we didn’t think we could eat underneath one of them. (And they must cost a fortune to run, and it was pretty unnecessary to have them going, since the weather outside was glorious.)

    • Angela

    I got a huge kick out of this post. My husband and I returned yesterday from a three-week visit to France. As many have remarked, Paris was brutally hot last week. We had lunch in an elderly friend’s apartment. The room had two beautiful, full-length French windows. Imagine our horror when she closed them AND closed the shutters. Oh là là. My husband told me afteward he thought he was going to pass out at one point. I agree that we overdo it here in the States, but surely there’s a happy medium!

    P.S. We went to La Graineterie du Marché last week. Thanks for that wonderful tip! The gentleman who runs and I were singing your praises.

    • debbie in toronto

    absolutely insane….there is nothing nicer than lying in your bed and having a breeze coming in while you sleep….and all that stuffy (smelly) air would make you sicker.
    I’m an open window freak…can’t stand them closed up….I probably would have run out of the room of that dinner party with you….

    • Dianne Jacob

    My mother-in-law, an Oakland born Jew, always complained about the possibility of getting a draft on her neck, which would lead to illness. Only on the neck, not on other parts of her body.

    Whenever I had a cold or massaged a stiff neck, the draft was a possible culprit, in her mind.

    I never understood this logic, but your post made me think of her with fondness. She passed away a year ago.

    • Parisbreakfast

    I hung out so long in Picard trying to cool off when I finally bought something the pissed server gave me my change in centimes…
    The movies are pretty good for low key AC if only they weren’t all noisy US blockbusters..
    Carrefour has superbe AC and they don’t care what you do in there..
    When I tell people how thrilled I am to have a decent fan they think I’m nuts.
    Go figure

    • suedoise

    The thing for ladies is to carry a pretty fan.
    The prettiest fans are handmade in Paris since 1827 by Duvelleroy ( weigh nothing and unbeatable gifts.
    I have also noticed local French television this Summer encourage arranging courants d´air during night and closing shutters and windows in daytime.
    Chez moi there are courants d´air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To avoid winged insects mosquitoes included, thin curtains are necessary night and day.


    • Susan

    This is the reason I try to only visit France in June or early July.
    I almost passed out in a small boutique in Aix one very humid day in late July. I was only in the store for about five minutes but I was gasping for breathe.
    I understand pulling the shades or shutters closed to keep the heat of the day out…but pleeeze!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    how funny, my dad was the opposite and was always opening windows constantly even in the middle of winter in Canada. He claimed that we needed fresh oxygen always even though I’m pretty sure the oxygen molecules inside the house were the same as the ones outside in the -40 air…

    • Gina

    If I sit in a draft for more than two minutes, I get the worst case of “torticoli” (stiff neck) — I didn’t realize it was because I’m French!

    • Amanda Sommers

    I couldn’t let this post go by without commenting…being Canadian I had much the same experience as J.S @ Sun Diego Eats the house was aired out regularly in the middle of winter too. I married an man from Iran and finally got him acclimatized to the point where we could sleep in the winter with the window cracked but no fan breezes allowed! lol His family would come to visit & they would constantly turn off the air and the ceiling fans…it made me nuts and miserable and then they would complain about the heat ;P In Southern Ontario we are infamous for our unbearable humidity too…not too mention the fact that not every culture believes in or uses antiperspirant and shaving their armpits ;P My motto is ‘You can always put more clothes on but you can’t take your skin off!” ;-)

    • Sharon (on the western edge of Marin County, CA)

    Our condominium has a direct Current of Air courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. The Heavenly Breeze wafts in, over the balcony, through our living room, across the dining room table, and out through the kitchen window. It is bliss. I wake before 6am and open the double balcony doors to ocean fog and temps in the low 50s. Two hours later my husband, wrapped in layers of garments suitable for a trek to Antarctica, cautiously enters the living room where I’m on my computer, and asks if I am cold. This is totally rhetorical. What he is saying is: “It’s freezing in here and I’m going to catch my death.” I close the doors. We have breakfast. He retreats to his oxygenless office with its space heater next to his desk and strips to his T-shirt and khakis. I reopen the balcony doors to the Mighty Pacific and her dark grey fogs.
    Ah, marriage!

    • Kristen

    David – I was crying from reading your “courant d’air” post it was so funny. Made even more so since I’m an American woman living in Paris with a French husband who is very opinionated about (and I think fixated on) when we should have the “volets” open or closed and how to make “courants d’air” go through our apartment by combining a strategically-placed fan with open or closed “volets” depending on the weather. If you need a consult, I can ask him.

    • Lisa from Indianapolis

    Unbelievable! We don’t get sick from DRAFTS; we get sick from closed up rooms and germy people spreading their sickness. I love opening windows to get a breeze, especially watching my pretty Irish lace curtains swaying and smelling the sweet fragrance of my window boxes’ petunias. Even cracking the bedroom window in the winter and burying under the quilt makes for great sleeping. I have fans in every room ‘cuz I have to have my “face air” to keep from being cranky. Indianapolis has pretty hefty breezes almost daily, which is a surprise since we’re “in the middle” unlike my home state of Delaware an hour from “the shore” which rarely has any circulating air! As for Parisians… why would they be concerned for their health and the drafts when they smoke like furnaces and strolling the streets guarantees an encounter with a “pet land mine”! Another reason not to travel to Paris, etc. Ugh!!! OPEN the WINDOWS!

    • Samantha

    WOW! I am waiting for the days the AC can be turned off and the windows open both day and night! It is 104 degrees here in Austin, Texas but feels 110!

    Off to the pool!

    • Nancy

    My mother-in -law is French and my husband is British/French. We lived in Paris for 15 years and then moved to Toronto.

    Anyway there was heat wave in france one summer and I think about 10,000 (if not more) elderly died).

    My mother-in-law was living in the south 80 years old and we wanted to buy her an air conditioner for the next summer. She didn’t want one because she might get a draft and get a cold :-)

    • kathryn

    Always a pleasure to read your thoughts, David. I once ate at a restaurant in the country near Montpelier (Auberge de Berange). The dining room had sliding glass doors and management opened them and the family dogs wandered through during dinner. It was so lovely. Maybe things are different in the southern countryside.

    • Heather Smoke

    How funny! I always have the windows open. Even in the winter, I like to crack a window open for a little cold fresh air to relieve the hot dryness of the heater. When I lived in China, there was no AC in my apartment, and I would never have been able to stand keeping the windows closed in the summer, so they were always open, with a fan blowing to try to get some air moving, even though it covered everything with a thin layer of coal dust.

    • Ruth

    David: One of your best posts. Every expat I know in Italy (including me) is still laughingly trying to figure out how come all Italians are deathly afraid of “il corrente” but Americans just think “wow, great, a breeze!” Now you confirm France as well. C’est la vie…..

    • Debra Sunshine

    I am American, but I don’t like fans or breezes. I’ve always known I was French in my heart.

    • Maureen

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the lovely diversion from my day. This post is exactly why I love to read your blog-I was transported from my sweat-soaked day to yours-halfway around the world. There is comfort in sameness.

    • Lee

    This brought to mind my (British-American) grandmother’s firm belief that going from the hot outdoors in summer to the air-conditioned house/store/hotel would give you a cold. It wasn’t the drafts she objected to so much as the change in temperature, so she’d open windows and refuse to run the A/C even when the rest of us were about to expire from heat exhaustion. But she lived to be almost 96, so maybe she was on to something.

    • Cheryl

    I am also from San Francisco now living in Budapest. I long for those cool breezes or the bank of fog that would come in every evening — but alas here, the breezes don’t come. So I wander down to the street cafes for a little extra air. This is my first summer here and I am enjoying it but I wonder if I will ever be able to sleep well without the fog. Love your blog, David!

    • Mary

    I encountered this same attitude on a train in Great Britain, traveling from York to London. The train car was packed to standing room only, plushly upholstered, and staggeringly hot. Granted, it was late October, and a little chilly outside, but there was no need to blast the heat so much! Sadly, you can’t open train windows…

    I asked the girl next to me if it would be a good idea to ask a conductor to turn the heat down a bit, since I couldn’t take any more clothes off without being indecent. She said, well, yes – but someone might get cold!

    • Susan

    This takes me back to my initial (pist off) reaction to the change in the design of front car door windows. There was a little wedge of a front window in the old cars that could be opened just a crack so stuffy air could exit without allowing rain in or air to muss you hair, Turned full open, it allowed the rushing air to blow directly on you on wretchedly hot days before air conditioning was standard in cars and allowed you to pass money to the toll taker before crossing a toll bridge. It was given up for (cheaper and) sleeker looking design. Now, when I open my “sleek” car windows, I have to hope I don’t forget to shut them when I drive past the neighbors gardener blowing the newly mowed grass and loose dirt off their lawn or an errant wisp of water sprayed in from my own car windshield washer. With these sleek windows, driving miles on a rainy day or through snow on the way to Tahoe allows even more water or freezing air in when you only wanted just an option for a breath of fresh air without opening your interior up to a puddle. I could go on and on but I need some air…

    • Idiosyncratic Eye

    Love it! :)

    • Ingrid Kassler

    I had almost forgotten about the draft issue in France and Germany. Finally, after
    many years, this explains why I almost passed out in the fast train from Paris to
    Angouleme. Of course there was air conditioning somewhere in this luxurious train car, but no one wanted it turned on! We were absolutely soaked in sweat by the time we arrived…and all these years I thought the air-conditioner had been kaput!

    • Adriana

    Great post. Explains why my British husband, who has a French mother spends an enormous amount of time scotch taping our front door. We live in an old and seriously drafty house and he is forever getting the scotch tape out making loads of noise whilst he merrily seals us in for the night. For years I thought this was just plain weird, but now thanks to your post, understand, it’s in his genes!

    • Monica Schultz

    A few years ago I visited France in February and again in December. As I am from Sydney I am not used to proper winters but found everything so hot and stuffy that we slept with all the hotel windows wide open as the rooms were so stuffy/hot and airless. Heaven help me if I ever visit in summer!! Monica.

    • J.T.

    Don’t know exactly how to say this, but here goes. America could learn a lot from Europe. But when and how to open a window and turn on a fan is not one of them. I recently moved to the U.K. and find it to be just fine except for this bizarre aspect of European life. Sometimes I want to move back home just so I can enjoy the occasional breeze. I bought my flat two fans this summer to cope with the heat waves and people thought I was so ahead-of-the-curve/out there that I might be have enough credentials to work on the space program.

    • Terry Covington

    Loved this post, and love reading the comments as well! The French would have fainted if they had seen the day in hot summer long ago, when my two toddler daughters escaped out the kitchen door NAKED (just after their bath) and went racing down the sidewalk. I had to grab the baby out of her bath, tuck her under my arm like a football, and go after them. The neighbors enjoyed it immensely. The French (and Germans, and Italians, and Koreans, judging from the comments here) would have been afraid they would all catch their death. (Hmm, interesting phrase; perhaps it, too, dates from the Dark Ages.)

    • Sandy

    This post is so funny. I never knew about this behaviour of the French (or so many other nationalities as I read in the other comments!).

    We in Singapore have summer all year round where temperatures are around 32,33 degress celsius all year round and humidity is high. Our public places have aircon at full blast and in cinemas or libraries, we sometimes have to pile on jackets and scarves, its ironic. But no one will keep their windows closed, not even at night, unless you have the aircon on.

    My apartment faces the highway and because of the noise, I open only a tiny gap in the 2 of the windows (among total of 14 windows). My parents are always complaining that they had no idea how I can live without opening all the windows for proper ventilation in the house and I seem to be the only one in the social circle who is able to tolerate it. Perhaps some part of me was French in my previous life, ha!

    • Cris

    Ed – it isn’t a fear of fresh air that keeps our windows closed in Chicago. It is a fear of what (or who) would crawl in them if we left them open.

    • Jane

    This is hysterically funny and my Mom in law must be French,too.

    • Shana

    Perhaps one (more) reason not to visit Paris in August?

    • Shannon Nicole

    Oh my goodness…my Korean mother in law has expressed so many of the complaints listed here. My father in law once got my kids a childrens’ program/video from Korea with the host explaining to the kids on the show how drinking cold water will give you a stomach ache and how drafts will make you catch cold.
    Contrary, my Norwegian grandmother slept with the windows open, even in the dead of winter.
    Thanks, David and everyone for the laugh :-)

    • Holly

    David, I think you would enjoy Japan. My mother-in-law opens the doors and windows immediately after she wakes up, and often the front door is left wide open for air circulation. My husband tries to do the same, but I have to remind him that leaving a front door open in California might invite burglars.

    • mia

    When I lived in the French Alps, in the dead of winter the doctors there would recommend leaving open the window to stimulate the immune system.

    When I traveled in India, I met people who would argue that the fans stir the germs and cause sickness. They preferred the still hot air, maybe an open window, but no fans.

    • Ginny

    This is spot on ! I’ve been able to convince my french boyfriend a few times to let some breeze in using my architecture knowledge :) I spent so much time studying building air changes and passive solar design, for both if which we even had formulas for comfort as determined by the amount air movement ! Breeze is how I survived every summer in Texas. The air isn’t hot, it’s the sun that creates the heat ! I really don’t get what the paranoia is about.

    • Charo

    Same in Spain! What an interesting and funny post!

    • Brigid

    Your post “cracked me up” being married to a Frenchman. I used to die visiting his parents in the summer with all the windows shut and sitting inside in the dark rooms. (Oh yeah and by the way, what’s up with closing the shutters at night? I once had to crawl on my hand and knees trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night in the pitch black.). They thought I was crazy leaving my bedroom window open (and the open shutters at night.) Hey, I’m from San Francisco where summer doesn’t exist in the summer! I love the heat just as long as there’s a courant d’air.

    • BlinkyTheFish

    I was just in Paris when the heatwave started, and I was pretty incredulous at all the people who were walking around in 30 degree heat with long sleeves and scarves – because there was a hint of a breeze! Now I understand keeping blinds down to keep out sun but tilting them to let in the air from open windows – I live in a old house in the UK with high ceilings, so this combined with stone walls actually makes it much cooler and fresher than outside in the heat, but completely closing everything? I’d start to feel choked up in a minute. But then my parents are Scandinavian and Japanese, so I grew up with windows open wide all summer, and even slept with the bedroom windows cracked in all but the worst days of winter for some ‘healthy’ fresh air – I still do it to this day. My parents were big on fresh air when we were sick – gets rid of the stuffy sick air, they always said! My French MIL is always fully long sleeved and has a scarf wrapped around her neck all year round because of the dreaded courant…not to mention when we go to her place, the heat is cranked up to fainting levels!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It really is perplexing that when the weather is so magnificent, that people prefer to sit in closed-off rooms with the windows shut. I’ve never read anything from any medical source saying that a cool breeze will cause any physical ailments. I guess it is a different tolerance to heat and closed-off ventilation..

    • Amelie

    In Sweden (and in Norway and Finland too) the windows are opened all year round. Fresh air is revered, so we leave the children sleeping outside in the winter too (always at the childcare too to save the children from colds!).
    But we do have a word for draft (drag), but I guess everyone gets old and child with time. ;-)

      • Amelie

      “old and COLD” :-)

    • Catherine

    When I was around 12 years old, I was studying violin with a group of students under the direction of a very sweet, older teacher, who, I believe was Austrian. At the beginning of a lesson one sweltering day in late June, my teacher, Mr. Petersen, closed the windows to our classroom so that the draft from outside would not put the violins out of tune. Within minutes I felt dizzy and raised my hand to tell the violin teacher. He began to ask; “Oh, you’re not feeling well?”, but it was too late. I passed out and crashed in the music stand, breaking some strings and part of the violin in the process. Needless to say, I do prefer the windows open whenever there is a breeze to help cool the inside.

    • Colette

    Wow. This is valuable and curious information. I will be visiting Paris for the first time in early November so the closed windows will probably be appropriate. I’ll be certain to note the difference in the heat tolerance between myself and the Parisians.
    Cultural differences – fascinating.

    • Kristy

    Hi David, It is not uncommon to see people in Colorado running around in shorts and flip flops in the middle of Winter in the midst of air currents laden with snow! The French would disapprove on many levels! :).

    • Laura

    Fresh air is always welcome on a Summer evening in New Mexico. We also close windows mid-day from the intense heat, but everything is open at sundown. Interesting and surprising to learn the French do not take advantage, when a cool breeze blows their way.

    • Barbara

    There were six of us renting an apartment in the Marais district for two weeks in October. The first thing I did upon entering the apartment was to open the windows. I just wanted to feel the fresh air and bring it into the apartment.

    • Claudia

    It is 104℉(41℃) in Dallas today and humid. I would die without a/c. On the other hand, when the winter temp here is 45℉ and I walk outside with wet hair people tell me I am going to get sick. I don’t.

    • amy

    Ok true story about my French in laws. My MIL and her sister were eating outside at the country house and a breeze blew in. Both complained about the courant d’air so the uncle ( a very funny man) gets up and closes the gate ..”There he says, no more courant d’air.

    • Parisbreakfast

    Oh I just got this!
    At the pool this morning they opened the doors to the garden and suddenly a woman is hugging herself and announcing ‘l’aire frais’ and making a face and the tempeture was perfect!?

    • NanPad

    I grew up in South Carolina; in those days there was no air-conditioning. We had an “attic fan” in the hallway that circulated air throughout the bedrooms. Our parents made us take afternoon naps during the summer with the attic fan on, as these were also the days of polio. Room ceiling fans have become available but many people don’t like them if they blow directly on the body. After the initial cool-down which feels great, the breeze then becomes irritating, and you often end up with a stiff neck. There must be a medical explanation.

    • Adi Arifin

    Your post brings back the picture of the years I spent in Europe. I am very fortunate that here where I live now, everybody keeps the house open. More than just opening windows and doors, most houses here do not even have doors and windows, especially on communal spaces like living areas, dining ares, and kitchen. As of bedrooms, all the walls are floor-to-ceiling windows which we widely open most of the time. We close them only when we are away.

    • Jessica

    This was very fun to read! My french grandmother has been living in Venezuela for more than 60 years and she keeps her windows shut no matter what, under the tropical sun… I remember horrible lunches, sweating like pigs because of the heat and the red wine, while she was wearing a shawl to prevent a courant d’air…

    Anyway, I think I’ve inherited the fear, I keep closing my doors and windows, my boyfriend is not very happy about it…

    • Kristin

    I’m an Oklahoman and if we don’t have a breeze I feel like I’m suffocating. I frequently drive with my windows rolled down with the air conditioner going in the summer and with the heat going in the winter. I love fresh air and we consider it cleansing not contaminating!

    • Sandra Tranmer

    Your blog reminded me of my beloved Papi Paul, who passed away from liver cancer a few years ago. Every year, during the Tour de France, he would always do the same thing: every afternoon, he’d close the shutters of the sitting room window (to keep the heat out ;) ) and he’d sit down on his sofa and would watch the étape of the day on TV xx

    • Stephanie

    @Mary Lynn, Last summer in Seville, Spain there were misters at nearly every cafe that had outdoor seating. We would always walk close to those places for a little mist. So nice on a hot day. They also had canvas sun shades hanging over all the pedestrian streets – those Southern Spanish people have beating the heat figured out.

    I was also going to add that Ukrainians fear the draft as well, but someone else beat me to it.

    Such a strange thing for me – a Louisiana girl raised on AC, fans, swinging on the porch when there’s a breeze, and open windows and doors (with a screen, though, to keep out the mosquitoes).

    • Rebecca

    I remember sitting in a stiffling classroom on a very hot afternoon in June one year. When someone went to open the windows our teacher exclaimed “mais non, il y aura des courants d’air, on va tous etre malades!”

    • Janet

    I wanted to chime in as I experienced this in Italy as well. I was traveling from Florence to Venice on a train-and it was hot. I kept opening the window. A lady who sat across from me kept closing the window and glaring at me. This went on for the whole ride. My Italian friends assured me that the lady was right and she was protecting us all from a draft that would have made us sick. I don’t know- I think the draft would have been preferrable to heat stroke. I am a new reader of your blog and I love it. Thanks,

    • Monika

    And here I thought it was a German thing! Sitting in a minibus in the midday summer sun, we couldn’t open the windows (only the driver and front seat passenger had opening windows) because of the inevitable draft that would ensue, that would immediately cause respiratory ailments. Nor could we try to turn on the A/C – as every German knows that you will be immediately inflicted with all forms of respiratory ailments – I mean IMMEDIATELY! So what does a sweating, barely breathing German person do in this “pat”, they just sit there and practice the national pastime – complain, complain, complain.


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