In this Friday's Sweatiquette, there is a theme. Air conditioning etiquette questions, they abound! There's a little bit of anger, too. I guess it's that time of year. Read on for the queries, and my best attempts at etiquette-forward answers. (Have other concerns? Email me.)
The Many Questions of Air-Conditioning Etiquette
What's the proper token gift to bring somebody if you're just going over their house to use their A.C.? —Chadwick Matlin
Presumably this person is a friend of some sort, because it's not proper etiquette for any season, really, to go busting into homes to blast a little freon-infused air on oneself, even if one is exceedingly hot. So say this is a friend or at the very least more than a complete stranger. (Once you hang out in a person's home eating ice cream surrounded by cold air or whatever it is you plan to do, said person has risen to the bare minimum of pal.)
This friend has invited you over, or you have (successfully) managed to invite yourself, which means that this person is planning to foot a not insubstantial bill that's going to come through in some weeks from our friends at Con Edison. You should acknowledge that in deed if not in word (don't, actually, acknowledge it in word other than to say thank you). But do say thank you, and do the basic polite thing one should do when invited over to anyone's house, air conditioning or not. Bring an inexpensive bottle of wine, or whatever it is your friend drinks (it may be something enjoyable to share in your moments of air conditioned bliss). If your friend does not drink, bring something small but quality: a bar of good chocolate (less romantic and cheaper than a box but still a pleasant gesture), or maybe grapes or berries to nosh while sitting around and shooting the proverbial breeze. Cheese, too, can almost never be a wrong choice. And anything's more polite than going empty-handed.
I don't own an air conditioner. How long can a person reasonably expect to stay in an establishment with air conditioning and not order anything, or slowly sip just one drink? —Waiting for Guffman in a Heat Wave
Unless you are really about to faint, don't go into a bar or restaurant without the intention of buying anything. You can, however, "pretend to shop" in an air-conditioned boutique or drugstore for as long as you can stand it. But bars and restaurants exist for a purpose that involves you actually consuming in them. Further, they require a certain amount of transition in terms of tables and barstools, and their waitstaff function with a certain understanding of timeframe and tips. So it's not really cool to park yourself without placing an order.
That said, you can certainly sit, drink a cold glass of water, check your iPhone for messages, peruse a menu, and finally order, say, one drink, which you may drink slowly and luxuriously as you page through a magazine or book for less than one hour. To stay longer without a refill or additional order is excessive, and if you see others waiting, finish your beverage and leave. And be sure to leave a good tip.
How does a guest handle staying in a home where the hostess thinks A.C. is unnecessary despite the red sweaty faces around her? —Beth O'Donnell
If you have offered to host people, you need to be as sensitive to their suffering as you are to your own, if not more so. Otherwise, very simply, don't invite them to stay with you! If you are so intent on keeping your A.C. off, or at a temperature barely different than the outside air, while also wanting to house guests, you should set that forth as a reality prior to them traveling to your place and unpacking their bags. Given the options, they may prefer to stay at a hotel where they can enjoy freezing temps as they will.
If you, the guest, have muscled your way into staying with a friend or family member, however, and you note that they refuse to make the accommodations comfortable, you may want to ask yourself if perhaps you've outstayed your welcome. What may be happening here is a passive-aggressive temperature tug-of-war that indicates other factors at work. We here in The Atlantic Wire's Etiquette Department believe in being agreeable but direct—as polite as we may be within reason considering our own self-interests. Nobody needs to be a martyr. If you don't want someone to stay with you, tell them politely and reasonably that it's not going to work for you this visit rather than torturing them with heat stroke. And if you find yourself in this situation as a guest, ask once, nicely, if your host doesn't mind setting the temperature a bit lower as you are in a state of discomfort. If they say no, check neighboring hotels for vacancies.
A friend put my A.C. in for me. What should I do for him in return? —Grateful
You should certainly buy this person dinner on the night he or she does the install, choosing restaurant based on level of difficulty. (Every stair flight upon which an A.C. unit must be toted deserves another glass of the finest of whatever your friend drinks.) Also, say thank you, repeatedly.
What's the best place to stand or sit on the subway for maximum air flow? —Jen Bokoff
Presuming that this means, essentially, where will you be the least hot and sweaty?, I turned to MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz for an answer to his question. He says "Any spot on the train furthest away from a door is typically the coldest," which makes sense. Further, "temperatures are maintained anywhere between 58 and 78 degrees depending on the season of the year." Related quick tip: If you see a largely empty car on an otherwise crowded train, chances are that the air conditioning on that car is broken. Either that or someone on the car smells rather awful, and possibly, both of these factors may be in play. Be wary.
Personally, I enjoy standing in the doorway, where you have an easy escape route if need be and you can keep a watch on the doings of everyone around you, but I am someone who tends to be both nosy and cold. And I HATE to have air blowing on me, so I avoid any positioning below vents that creates that sensation. To each her own, and, of course, trains and temperatures vary.
I've heard urban legends of air-conditioner-based hook-ups, in which a person goes home or even has a relationship with someone else simply because he or she has A.C. Is this ethical? —Just Curious
Curious, these legends of which you speak are not legends at all but truths. At some point in the summer, after so many heat waves, it either becomes impossible or just "not worth it" (I'd argue it's always worth it, there's always next summer!) to purchase an air conditioner, or perhaps your heaving old A.C. finally gives up the ghost. It is then not only wise but also necessary to seek alternative air solutions. One such solution is to identify a person with "better" air conditioning than your own lack thereof, and to make that person the object of your many affections, or just the one affection—cold air. This is a fact of life that goes beyond ethics; to some extent, it's more about survival. As with dating, though, there are ways to do it well and ways to do it badly.
The right way to do this is to choose someone whom you may be interested in aside from the simple but important fact of the air conditioning. Otherwise, you're just "using" them, and that is something we as a society frown on. If you find yourself moderately attracted to this person, if you laugh at least once at any of his or her jokes, if you don't find him or her morally, physically, or mentally repugnant, you're safe to go home with this person at least once. But be a gentleman or gentlelady: Don't leave in the middle of the night when the heat breaks; don't never speak to them again, unless they do something truly terrible; and, at the very least, thank them for a nice time if you had one. Also, don't spend the whole evening with your legs propped up on the A.C. cajoling them to let you turn it down a little lower and demanding more ice cubes for your cold neck compresses. Have some decorum.
Summer Sound and Summer Fury
Am I allowed to be cranky and full of rage because it's summer and I'm hot and everyone suddenly seems to be unable to walk properly on the street and get out of my way? Is it OK if, upon confronting a slow denizen (or tourist) of the city, I shove them out of my way and stampede past and shout "Idiots!"? —Anonymous and, Frankly, Angry
I feel your pain, Angry, oh, do I. Often on my way into my SoHo office in the morning I feel so intensely aggravated by people who are walking slowly and/or as if they have not a care in this very world that I have to hold myself back from twitching and screaming and trodding on the backs of their soles. When I am hot, I am more prone toward irritation and intractable anger (according to a recent informal Twitter poll, most of you agreed that you felt the same way); according to science, "summer rage" may or may not be an actual thing.
But we are all, mostly, humans here, and the same way we believe that the justice system should exist to keep us from a vigilante existence in which we are all lesser than ourselves, so also we should not be rude to others, no matter how inconsiderate and oblivious they may be. Plus, honestly, the only person who's bothered by your anger is you, and if you shout something on the street, you will only make the day of tourists who delight in finally seeing a bona-fide crazy New Yorker on their vacation to the Big Apple. In such a moment, take a deep breath, locate the nearest air-conditioned bodega, and buy yourself an ice coffee or your favorite flavor of Vitamin Water or whatever it is you like. Keep calm and carry on. Eventually you'll be storing your air conditioner for the winter.
Images via Flickr/Tony; Flickr/Brent Moore; Flickr/AndyRi.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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