Americans and Climate

DISRAELI said cleverly, that only two things were worth living for, — “climate, and the pursuit of the affections.”

When shall we Americans learn that most of us live in a climate so different from that of England that it is little short of ridiculous to carry on our business and our pleasure at English times and seasons ? Our fashions were set by the early colonists, and they have persisted, with very few modifications, up to the present time. Most Americans rise, summer and winter, about seven o’clock in the morning, breakfast at eight, hurry to business at nine, eat a hearty luncheon in the middle of the day, slave at their work for the rest of the daylight hours, and dine or sup late.

This is a programme suited to the damp and non-stimulating climate of England, or to a country like Holland, but it is preposterous to carry it out to the letter in Boston, in New York, in Washington, in Chicago, in Galveston, in San Francisco, as we do. In the first place our country has so great a variety of climates that no one programme is suited to its whole extent; and in the second place the English programme is not suited to any single region of our continent. The geographies tell us that we are living in the temperate zone, or, as Ptolemy would have said, “ in the fifth climate,” — but it only takes a little intelligence to see that our winters are almost arctic, our summers nearly tropical. We ought to take Stockholm and Sicily as our exemplars, rather than London. Our average summer is not very unlike that of Spain ; and Spanish customs, once introduced, would make American life a new thing.

To be definite, let us think of a season spent in Washington by some one in the government service. In the winter season the English hours just named serve very well, but how about the long summer from early May to late September ? In June the sun rises about half past four, and the mornings are simply delightful until eight or nine o’clock, and not very oppressive till ten or even eleven. At noon the heat is intense, at three o’clock it is terrific, at five there is a relief, and for the rest of the day life can go on without too much discomfort. It would be intelligent to breakfast on coffee, bread, and fruit at sunrise, work at the office from half past five to half past ten (five hours), to return home for a siesta and for a lounge in very light clothing till five, and to finish the day by three hours’ more work.

How differently our government official divides his time, following, as he does, the traditions of England. He is at his desk at nine, having made no use of the enchanting hours of the early day. He slaves at his work steadily, as steadily as he can, until five, and goes home utterly worn out, having wasted his strength and spirits uselessly. The summer temperatures in Wall Street and in a Spanish city are about the same. Wall Street at two o’clock in the afternoon is crowded with people fighting for money and for a breath of air. The Spanish city at that hour is as quiet as the grave. The shops are closed, a few beggars are asleep in the shadiest places of the plaza, and the rest of the world is resting in the cool interiors of houses built with massive walls. As a matter of fact there are more things accomplished in Wall Street than in all Spain ; but it is not because the men of New York make the best use of their time and energy. Their business is done in spite of the temperature. More business could be done, and it could be done better, if the climate were taken into account.

It is noteworthy that Americans in foreign countries quickly learn to adapt themselves to the customs of the country. It is just possible that Cuba, Puerto-Rico, and the Philippines may teach a lesson to our whole country in this respect. If we learn it we shall obtain an increase of material comfort which would be cheaply bought at the whole cost of the Spanish-American war.