Temperature Comfort is Not Universal

Hot & ColdRaynaud’s sufferers know that defining a comfortable temperature is a debatable question among family, friends and co-workers.  But the definition has historically varied across countries and cultures.

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine tracks the history of how some cultures have come to relate to temperature comfort in their societies and how globalization is now challenging early customs.  For example, Mexican siestas – breaks of 2 to 3 hours in the middle of the work day – originated in order to shift work hours from the sweltering heat of the afternoon to cooler evening hours.  After the Mexican government stopped sanctioning the practice in 1999, the Mexican population changed to become more dependent on air conditioning, and the definition of comfortable temperatures among the Mexican people changed, too.

The article states, “There’s no universal definition of comfort, especially as it relates to temperature…different people experience the same temperature differently.”  (Hello – it took two decades of research to come up with that conclusion – why not just ask a Frostie?)  Research documents a broad range in the comfort zone – from 43 up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Raynaud’s sufferers may think to shun Oslo for its cold climate, but the cultural norms in Norway call for koselighet, meaning coziness – with the emphasis on making your home a place where others want to visit and spend time, including not being cold.  The norms in Oslo are so oriented towards achieving this level of coziness that a large percentage of households don’t turn down the heat at night, and nearly a third keep the heat on in the house even when they aren’t home.

This desire for social coziness extends to lighting.  Ceiling lights “feel cold” to Norwegians, so none are used in living rooms where guests are likely to mingle.  Instead table and floor lamps are more popular, particularly for how they create visual golden pools of light throughout the room.

Oslo is compared to Fukuoka, Japan, a city similar in demographics and economic development.  As winters are milder in Fukuoka, and the climate in general is warmer, the culture around temperature maintenance is very different.  Most homes don’t have central heating.  Families stay warm by gathering on heated rugs or tables with built-in heating elements.  Living rooms have fewer lights than in Oslo, and most are based from the ceiling.  Globalization is having an impact on the use of space heaters and air conditioning in Fukuoka, but it’s still revealing to see how these two cultures have historically been so extreme in creating comfortable living environments.  Who would think Raynaud’s sufferers could be more comfortable visiting Norway than Japan?

Here’s the full article online.