Beat the Heat Like a Spaniard

Maintaining sanity when you’re standing in a puddle of your own sweat.

Katlyn Roberts
Jul 20, 2019 · 11 min read

I moved to Spain two years ago, so this will be my third summer of complaining loudly to anyone who will listen that I’m “sweating my fuckin’ balls off” and “Is my face really red right now? I feel like my face is probably really red right now” and “There is so much sweat in my butt crack right now omg can you see it through my pants?”.

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona — where I would complain just as obnoxiously about the 120-degree weather (48.8 for you celsius dweebs). It wasn’t the higher temperatures that made Tucson worse, though. It was the fact that people would always inevitably give me this nails-on-a-chalkboard response:

They’re lucky I was so dehydrated or I might’ve had the energy to punch them in the face.

I hate all heat, ok? I hate wearing shorts, I hate chub rub on my thighs, I hate that my sweat attracts mosquitoes. I hate that, when I get bit by a mosquito, my skin swells up like I’m covered in extra nipples — areolas and all. I hate applying sunscreen, I hate wearing sunglasses, I hate getting sweat in my eyes, I hate the sweat that builds up on my upper lip and in my eyebrows, I hate not being able to drink my tea hot, as God intended it.

But, since moving to Spain, I finally understand what people meant about the dry heat being the better option. I know what it’s like now to walk around in a thick cloud formed of my own (and everyone else’s) hot, evaporated sweat*.

*Don’t check my science on that, just appreciate the imagined sensory experience you’re having right now.

Spontaneous Poop Combustion.

This year, Spain has already seen record-high temperatures. A recent heatwave caused a European weather map to scream out in pain:

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Photo via @korben_meteo on Twitter

That same week, firefighters in Catalonia (a semi-independent region of Spain with Barcelona as its capital) struggled to contain wildfires which ended up burning over 14,800 acres. Officials say the fires likely started when a pile of manure self-ignited in 100-degree heat.

Take a second to let that sink in… It’s so hot here right now that poop is spontaneously combusting. Honestly, that’s the most Catalan thing I’ve ever heard. Catalonian people looove poop jokes and I can only imagine they felt a lot of conflicting emotions when the story got out.

I could get into a lecture about how clear it’s becoming that climate change is rapidly killing our planet and how we must all prepare for the End Times, but I don’t feel qualified to give that lecture, so I’ll just tell you about some tricks I’ve learned over the last few years and we’ll all pretend together that we have some control over this situation. Sound good?

1. Have Better Genes

I’m being a smartass, but I also brought this up to explain some fundamentals. How we handle extreme temperatures comes down to a mix between our genes and our ability/determination to adapt.

The University of Arizona did a study in 2014 to determine why some people are more comfortable in extreme climates than others. They determined that it’s complicated.

I recently happened to meet a British genealogist at a bar and, when he noticed that I was fanning myself with a drink coaster, we got to drunkenly debating this very topic. The crux of this random stranger’s argument was that genes are no excuse and that adapting to your environment is very possible if you put your mind to it.

“D’you have air conditioning in your flat?” he asked, his drink sloshing around in its glass as he gesticulated at me.

“I have a portable unit with a big hose that I stick out the window,” I specified because I, too, was drunk and I wanted to say the words “unit” and “hose” together in a sentence.

“Don’t touch it this year. I’m serious. Drink a lot of water, of course. Nasty business, dehydration. But you’ll never acclimate to it if you don’t acclimate to it. Your genes will help you or they’ll slow the process down, but you’ll make progress either way.”

And you know what? He might be right. I’ve been slightly more stingy with my AC this year and I seem to be doing a bit better than I have in previous years. Maybe I’m acclimating!

(NOTE: If you are elderly, sick, pregnant, or don’t have access to/don’t intend to drink lots and lots of clean water, don’t try to acclimate yourself. And if temperatures are at dangerous heatwave levels, AC it up. Signs of heat exhaust are confusion, dark-colored urine, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headaches, muscle or abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rapid heartbeat. If you stop sweating entirely despite the heat, you might be in heatstroke territory.)

2. Dress Better

Barcelona is one of the best-dressed cities in the world. People don’t exit the house in sweatpants and flip flops here — it’s simply not done. In the summer, women wear beautiful, flowing dresses made of thin material that catches the occasional breeze and makes them look like floral angels.

I don’t normally present quite so femme, so I tend to wear wide-leg jumpsuits and rompers made of the same thin, breathable material (usually cotton) and I’m just as comfortable, but Barcelona has certainly allowed me to play with my more feminine side.

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Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I never saw that many maxi-dresses in the states, not like I’ve seen women wear them here, and I’m honestly not sure why.

Is it because maxi-dresses aren’t considered suitable for the office?

Is it because we reserve them for weddings?

Is it because a lot of us live in cities or communities where we’re just going from our house to the car to our destinations and, therefore, never have a chance to show off our outfits?

Is it because our society is so sexualized and sex-crazed that a pretty floral dress that gently brushes our skin in the breeze will only bring us more strife than pleasure?

It could be a mix of all of those things. But I’m telling you, whether you present as masculine or feminine, get yourself something flowy and light. Pay attention to the breathability of the material (looser knits = better airflow). If the outfit also happens to be flattering and fitted in only the right places, you’ll feel like a dream. A slightly less sweaty dream.

3. Put water next to your bed at night.

I get it, it’s hard to remember to drink water. Water bottles are a nuisance to carry around and, if you’re like me, you hate buying plastic bottles that may or may not end up in a landfill. Your life is busy, you’ve got other things to think about.

So take the hassle out of it! Get yourself a giant, reusable bottle. Every night while you’re brushing your teeth, fill that bottle up, then place it in the special space you’ve made for it on your bedside table. When you wake up in the morning, before you even put a toe out of bed, chug the entire bottle.

(Pro Tip: If you have any pills you need to take daily, keep those next to the bottle. You’ll never forget to take them ever again.)

I firmly believe that my morning guzzle has significantly increased my tolerance for this year’s heat. I’m not sweating as much, I’m not as short of breath, and I’m not getting headaches.

Yes, I pee a lot. …Like, a lot.

It’s worth it.

4. Get yourself a cooling towel.

It’s a genius invention. A scarf-sized strip of special water-retaining fabric that stays refreshingly cool in the heat for hours. There are plenty of brands out there, so I’m not going to endorse one in particular, but you can buy them online or find them in any sports store.

Barcelona has public drinking fountains all over town. You can’t go more than a block or two without finding one. I soak my cooling towel in a fountain, ring it out just enough that it stops dripping, then wrap the towel around my head like a headband and make it the final, cute-as-hell addition to my look-of-the-day.

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Photo by Cesar La Rosa on Unsplash

Temperature regulation in the body is an interesting thing. When your brain gets too warm, it sends a signal to your sweat glands to begin the sweating process — not because the sweat itself is cool, but because the process of evaporation cools us down.

When you place a cool, wet towel around your head or neck and create your own evaporation halo, you’re essentially “tricking” the hypothalamus region of your brain into believing it’s not that hot and it’ll refrain from triggering the sweat response throughout your entire body.

But is it dangerous to trick the brain like that?

Nope. As long as you’re drinking enough water, you should be fine. The real danger is letting your brain cook inside your head, so the more you can cool it down, the more comfortable you’ll be.

A note on nighttime temperatures:

Often, the worst part of a heatwave is when it doesn’t cool off at night. This can be really dangerous because you’re not paying much attention to your body temperature while you’re sleeping.

I recommend wrapping a damp cooling towel around your head before you go to sleep. Or just drape it around your neck and shoulders. And if you don’t have AC, you can hang a damp towel in front of a rotating fan to fill the room with cooler air.

5. Gazpachooooo.

Spicy tomato soup served… chilled? Perhaps I’m an uncultured yokel, but I’d never tried it until I moved here. It’s freaking delicious. In the summer, Spanish markets sell it by the bottle and it’s the easiest lunch I’ve ever prepared. Take bottle out of fridge, pour into bowl, put bottle back into fridge, slurp it up.

Actually, you probably don’t even need to bring the bowl into the equation.

If your grocery store doesn’t sell bottles (I honestly never looked for it back in the states, so I don’t know), it’s super simple to make:

*If you’re gluten-free like me, just skip the bread. It doesn’t make much of a difference in the texture.

6. Avoid The Metro/Subway/Tube.

This will only apply to city dwellers, of course, but the metro here in Barcelona has a terrible airflow problem in the summer and I remember the New York subway being similar. It’s like descending into a muggy hell where everyone around you is dead-eyed and sighs a lot.

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Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky from Pexels

I’ve taken to giving myself enough time, whenever possible, to walk to my destination. I figure if I’m going to arrive sweaty and red-faced either way, I might as well stay out in the open where there’s at least an occasional breeze and some fresh air. This also forces me to get some much-needed exercise at a time in my life when I can’t afford a gym membership.

Barcelona is a tiny city, relative to other cities, and there aren’t a lot of hills, so it’s not so difficult for me to walk to where I’m going. But I understand that there are much larger cities where public transportation is a necessity. If that’s the case for you, pay special attention to my next tip:

7. Get yourself a gorgeous hand fan.

When I first moved here, I avoided all of the flamenco-style hand fan kiosks and displays in the touristy parts of town. I assumed hand fans were a Spanish stereotype, not used by locals, and I didn’t want to out myself as a foreigner so easily.

But then I spent a summer down in the metro with the locals and I discovered that hand fans are not just a stereotype.

They’re a goddamn necessity.

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Image by rovyyy from Pixabay

My first-grade teacher, who I won’t call out by name even though she deserves it, banned hand fans in her class. We had been making them out of paper from our three-ringed binders because our public school apparently didn’t have enough funding for decent AC. This teacher was so sick of finding discarded papers all over her classroom that she straight-up lied to us.

“You know you waste more energy moving your wrist back and forth to fan yourself than you would if you just sat still, right? I’m doing this for your own good. Anyone caught making fans gets written up.”

I’m apparently not the only American who’s been told this. I met a girl who moved here from Los Angeles whose teacher taught her the same thing.

So just to make this clear — It’s bullshit. Faulty science at best. Fans are awesome and they will ALWAYS make you more comfortable.

You can get yourself one of those Disneyland, battery-powered, squirts-you-with-water kinds if you want, but I stan a traditional wooden hand fan. They need to be incorporated into more modern fashion looks because they are stunning. And if we can bring back secret flirting via fan signals, that would make subway rides far more interesting.

Though we may need to update these a bit:

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Image via the National Trust for Scotland.

Two-thirds of the U.S. will be going through record heatwaves this week and Europe’s not going to be faring much better.

The world is getting hotter and we’ve got to get used to a new normal.

I joke about my disdain for the heat, but it’s not so funny for a lot of people. These high temperatures are going to put a lot of people in danger of heatstroke, so be careful out there. Check on your parents, grandparents, and pets, stay hydrated, and don’t get too close to any piles of manure.

That shit can get lit.

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Katlyn Roberts

Written by

Katlyn writes about history, travel, and culture… with some snark. www.KatlynRoberts.com.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +717K people. Follow to join our community.

Katlyn Roberts

Written by

Katlyn writes about history, travel, and culture… with some snark. www.KatlynRoberts.com.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +717K people. Follow to join our community.

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