Thursday, July 17, 2008

Would someone please shut that window!

A while back, one of my readers made a comment asking if we had noticed the Brasilian obsession with fresh air and what our thoughts were. We have been plenty aware of Brasilian's desire to have their windows open, but I hadn't been moved to write about it . . . until this week.

We tend to chuckle a little as our friends wear their heavy winter coats and complain about how bitterly cold it is here in Belo Horizonte when the overnight low only gets down to 51 degrees F. Normally they then inform us that, sure it doesn’t get as cold here as it gets in Iowa, but here the buildings are not insulated and they don't have heaters! So while it might not get as cold here, they reason, the buildings are the same temperature as the outdoors, so you are always surrounded by the cold.

Earlier this week, we were invited over to supper at a friend's apartment. It was one of those cooler nights in BH, so it probably was in the 50's. Since we are in winter/the dry season here though, the sun had been out all day and it got up into the low 80's. We noticed it was a little cool in the apartment, and our friend even put on his winter coat because he was sitting at the table shivering. I would have been a little more sympathetic towards him being so cold, but about half the windows in the place were wide open! He went on to tell us how hard it is to get out of bed in the mornings and take a shower - he said he just freezes! When I went to wash my hands before supper, I noticed the bathroom window was also open - and so yes, it was quite cool in the bathroom!

Given that brick and concrete are the building material of choice here, and the fact that they don't insulate buildings, and the non-existence of double pane windows or doors that seal, I agree that the interior temperature tends to rise and fall with the exterior environment. But no amount of insulation would do a bit of good here with all the windows open! I try to use our windows to my advantage in the "winter" time. I open all the blinds and shutters during the day (except for those in my bedroom) and let the bright sun warm the apartment. I also make sure to keep all the windows shut pretty much all the time. (I am not a big fan of city noise either, so keeping my windows closed also cuts down on the squealing brakes, honking horns, people shouting in the street, and other general noisiness that comes with living right in the middle of the city!) As the sun goes down, so does the temperature in our apartment, but it never actually gets cold in here. On the cooler nights, it still stays in the mid 60's at night - perfect sleeping temperature, I think.


This picture of an apartment across the street from us was taken early this morning. It was 59 degrees F with a very cool breeze blowing right into their open window.

A few other open-window notes from our months here:

- Eric's office has air conditioning, which would be quite nice in the summer. The A/C will be working hard trying to keep the engineering area cool on a hot sunny day, but no matter how hard it works it never quite gets cool thanks to everyone having their windows open.

- Emissions are a real issue here, especially from the diesel trucks and buses. It is pretty unbearable during rush hour with tons of vehicles puking out black stinky fumes. Yet, anytime one of our friends rides with us in our car (which will always have the air running on a warm day), they immediately roll down their window, inundating the car with exhaust fumes. (Which I think totally kills the case for desiring open windows for the sake of "fresh" air!)

- Now that I've got the system figured out, I use the public buses several times per week, often in the evening to go teach English classes in another neighborhood. Quite often I observe people get on the bus, open any window near them if it happens to be shut, and then sit there shivering from being so cold.

- We took a two hour (round trip) day trip in our car with another couple a while back. It was an especially hot and sunny day. Despite having our A/C cranked up the entire trip, Eric still sat in the driver's seat sweating. Our friends were in the backseat with the windows cracked the entire trip. We asked several times if they were too hot or too cold and the response varied from "I'm comfortable" to "I'm a little warm", but the hot breeze continued blowing in from the open windows in the back.


While we're getting quite comfortable in our understanding of most all things here, this open-window business still confuses us to no end! We've always written off the open-windows-when-it's-hot thing as people not being used to having air conditioning and it just being a habit to open windows. But having the windows open when it's cool outside and you're already cold? We're completely befuddled on this one!

8 comments:

Bru said...

hey Emily! just to defend the "bus thing"... I didn't use to take public transportation in Brazil, but when I came to Paris, there was no choice and besides, it's cheap and very efficient. Anyways, in the winter, I would sit there in the bus, during my 20 minute ride to college thinking how disgusting it was to have all those people breathing the same air, sneezing, blowing their noses, not to mention other incidents not related to breathing that could make it even more disgusting... I would definitely rather have some windows open and bear a colder environment to get all the germs away. But then again, I'm known as a little "clean freak" so...

Ray Adkins said...

Emily,

I am glad you noticed the same issues with "open windows" as did when in Brazil.
It drove me crazy for years, until I started to understand after asking many people in many different situations.
Here are a few answers; Brazilians are "prejudice" against air conditioners, there is an urban myth that they are the cause for many respiratory illness, such as bronquitis and some allergies for example, and there might be some truth to that, once most of Brazil is very humid, most air conditioners duct systems become an insanely perfect breeding ground for bacterias related to mold that thrive in hot and humid enviroments, so I lot of people fear and hate air conditioners at the same time, in offices and cars...
Another factor is that many people are "very" sensitive to cold, they also hate your car air conditioner and won't tell you about it but will keep your windows open to make sure they enjoy the heat they love so much...I used to flat out ask people to close car windows when the air was on, they always complied...
The issue with open windows in homes during the winter was explained to me as, we need fresh air to keep people from catching and transmiting colds and flus...
Ironically enough and what also drove me crazy was the fact that in the summer most windows were closed, the explanation was, the summer is the rainning season, we can't possibly leave the windows "open"...
There is also as you well mentioned, the fact that air conditioner is still not widely used, so it is slowly becoming part of Brazilian culture, and maybe, just maybe, in the future, people will be less "afraid" of the air conditioner "urban myths"...I think this will slowly fad away...
I have noticed many of the new residential apartament buildings in Sao Paulo are being sold with central A/C units with heat and cool, insulated windows and walls, heated bathroom marbles floors...now that is a real change in the culture...of course I have only seen that in the high end apartaments.
Sao Paulo also have many new buses and new subway trains with sealed windows and air conditioners and heaters running according to the season, I am sure this trend will spill over to other important Brazilian cities such as Belo Horizonte.


Take care


Ray Adkins

Mamasphere said...

So that is why my husband insists on having a car window open at all times! It drives me crazy that he wants the window open even when we're on the freeway.

My MIL has a whole system for which window to open at which time of day. I still haven't figured it out. But at night, she runs the airconditioner in her room with the window open.

Rachel said...

Though I totally have seen this, it's also very perplexing to me. I think this also may be a class thing, because air conditioning is a definite constant in upper class anything in Rio. Also in Rio, people roll their windows up for safety reasons, and air conditioned buses are more expensive than non-AC ones. And my boyfriend always closes the windows unless it's above 90 degrees, and I'm the one reopening them!!! Maybe it's a Minas thing?

Corinne said...

I can't tell you how many times I have come shivering into the kitchen to find the door and the windo WIDE OPEN!! Ditto with the bathroom. I run around behind my Brazilian husband shutting everthing!! But the best was yesterday in the car. I had the AC on and my husband rolled down the window. When I pointed out I had the AC on, he just shut it off!! Guess there is just no substitute for bus fumes!!

Crystal said...

Hi Emily! I'm an American married to a Brazillian and I've been living in Campinas for the past week (I'm a newby), but I've been to Minas a lot my husband is from a little city near Belo Horizonte. Anyways, I love your blog and can't wait to visit all the places (the good ones anyway). I've been laughing this week at all our Brazillian friends shivering in high 60's weather. I'm from Utah- so that's heaven to me. Keep up the great posts.

AcesHigh said...

Maybe brazilians fart too much. Better to have our windows open, since air conditioning cant get rid of foul odours.


Btw, if you keep windows shut all the time, how do you get rid of stagnate (sp?) air? You know... odours (fart or not) from human existance?

AcesHigh said...

Emily, I could not resist the temptation, since I also hate the brazilian opened-window-mania, and posted your blog commentary on that website. This time I didnt posted links and even changed some names lol

Anyway, the discussion is heated and interesting, it may be worth to take a look. Dont worry, you are not being bashed for your comments, although I am getting a bit bashed for being against open windows. :)

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=667536