21 Mar Staying Cool: Americans and their ice cubes
What does the use of ice cubes reveal about a culture? Lots it seems. We Americans expect to see a cool glass of water waiting for us at the dinner table. Our drinks should be chilled, and ice readily available, especially during hot summer afternoons. We wouldn’t think of heading for the beach without a cooler and drinks. Hydration is a national obsession really. We chug mineral water, H2O water (a redundancy that is playfully accepted), flavored water, spring water, and tap water, all of which we enjoy with ice.
Why the obsession with drinking cold drinks? Well, I believe it is because of the fascination with being cool, calm, and in control. Think about it, cool people always have an edge. Would you rather be seen by a physician who is hot and sweaty, served by a perspiring waiter or attended to by a flushed hairdresser? No, we prefer air conditioning even as the first wave of warmth lands on our kitchen windowsill. We exclaim passionately that the humidity is killing us. By August, it is a personal assault on our very being to have to spend time in any mall, office, home or building that does not welcome us with an icy chill. Perhaps we like things cold in the summer because it shows we are defying the elements, reconstructing our environment so that it doesn’t make us hot, languid, and lazy. It is a Puritanical idea perhaps, this fascination with controlling our environment so that we function at peak performance. Ice keeps us from dissolving, melting into uncontrollable sloth.
Europeans don’t seem to be afraid of this dissolution as they enjoy their wines and beverages without polluting them with ice. Try to slip an ice cube in a Prosecco or a vintage Chardonnay and you will be met with the eye roll, the one that says, “These Americans, how they ruin a good glass of wine!” Beverages are to be tasted and enjoyed; adding ice just dilutes the flavor, so say European wine connoisseurs. They tell us that wine should breathe, but Americans generally aren’t keen on our drinks “breathing” and refrain from letting our beverages say anything at all. We are all action and determination, uncomfortable with letting the nature of things speak to us. Who has the time really? We know what we want: to gulp our drinks or sip judiciously pacing ourselves through dinner. Finally, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a good example of our cultural leanings. So, according to Wikipedia, “The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving the dumping of a bucket of ice and water over a person’s head, either by another person or self-administered, to promote awareness of the disease.” This Challenge became an obsession several years ago where people would tag their friends who would have to complete the challenge or contribute money. What would Europeans say about this? Dumping ice water over one’s head, recording it for Facebook posts and walking off proudly as if you had just achieved an Olympic feat, your wet clothes plastered to your body like crumbling wallpaper? No self-respecting European would ever agree to such chilly indignity? “What does such a bizarre ritual accomplish?” They ask as they shrug, smugly shaking their heads in disbelief. In fact, the challenge says that we don’t mind being uncomfortable to promote a good cause. Furthermore, we are hearty and strong enough to withstand a shower of ice. We, like our Pilgrim ancestors, can face the cold wilderness and do so even as our inadequate clothing offers no protection from the freezing ice bath. We like our lives preserved in cool comfort, our drinks cold, and our heroes cool, calm, and collected. Bring on the ice!