While there are countless reasons to despise Americans, whether for their obsession with all that is hollow or their proud declarations of having “the best” of everything (except, as manifest in their conversation topics, education, and in their physical appearance, health care), there was one in particular that finally compelled the Europeans, at long last, to ban the nation. Although the continent had been kind to these doughy dolts for so long, knowing that, yes, there could be no denying they brought a noticeable economic boon during the summer months, they also brought an incredible drain on resources as well. Resources that Europeans themselves could do without. Had, in fact, grown so accustomed throughout all their lives to not having that the average American’s inability to function sans these supposed “needs” seemed utterly incongruous to them. Along, of course, with their marked lack of fashion sense beyond the XXL t-shirt and cargo shorts.
One such “amenity”–a word that, the way the American saw it, ought to be changed to “inalienable right”–was air conditioning. To the European, this innovation remained, indeed, an amenity. An added bonus if it was around, or could be afforded beyond the simple addition of a fan to one’s home in the hot and insufferable months. So when the Americans started trickling in for the postwar prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s for their vacations (you know, more riffraff type than those who traveled in the prewar era… not artists like F. Scott and Zelda or rich, well-to-do types like Edith Wharton, also an artist by the helpful virtue of having time on her hands), the Europeans, in turn, started to notice just how much everyone had been keeping up with the Joneses (a phrase believed to derive from Wharton’s own rich daddy, George Frederic Jones). Just how much America took being the “land of plenty” and “opportunity” seriously in choosing to disseminate Willis Carrier’s modernized invention to the umpteenth degree so that even the likes of the poorest folk could expect to have some version of A/C in their “home” (even if only a box air conditioner hanging out of the window of their ramshackle).
To the European, air conditioning seemed the height of frivolous excess, especially during the era before the world turned too many degrees hotter to be sustainable for even the most resiliently-skinned, sun-loving person. It also seemed a blatant disregard for others who did not take advantage of it when the Earth wasn’t constantly en fuego, because pervasive A/C was, indeed, a major cause for climate change, with ninety percent of U.S. households being equipped with the amenity compared to the five percent in Europe. It was the pinnacle of decadence: needless, just another benchmark for Americans to prove their country was the most luxurious, therefore the greatest. But there is nothing “great” about constantly disregarding the long-term consequences that unconsidered actions will have for the larger collective as a means for one of its factions to assert their worth via grandiosity and puerile pageantry. Of a kind that only ended up doing them a disservice anytime they “deigned” to visit another part of the world. For most parts of the world do not operate under their absurd expectations and demands. Nor would they want to. Many, even to this day, still believe air conditioning is bad for you. That which is not natural always is (for yes, the unquestioningly worshipped A/C can negatively affect the respiratory system).
What’s more, the expense of running an air conditioner comes across as profligate to the European who would do well to simply open the windows and plug in a fan that they pull out every year when the time comes. Being that Europe is so much more ancient than the U.S. as well, even if A/C was as much of a priority for Europeans as it was for Americans, the task of retrofitting many old buildings for the purpose of A/C installation would be too obscene (in its costliness) to even consider.
Yet still, the Americans expect it. Every year, summer after summer–always with their whining and incessant conniptions over a lack of cool air with which to feel comfortable while they toured ruins that had nothing on what they did with their own destructive debris to humanity by merely existing in their American bubble (even when geographically outside of it).
For a tour guide like Marco, who had been suffering in silence against the heat waves of Rome for the past five seasons on the job, or Father Alexandre, who often welcomed pilgrims into his own “intimate” version of the Sacré-Cœur and could barely get through a sermon without a complaint about the temperature, enough was enough. There were so many Europeans, in every country of their continent, in every facet of the service industry, forced to deal with the huffy irascibility of air conditioner-craving Americans that were like zombies feasting on any cool form of a refrigeration cycle they could absorb. Marco was a shining example of the sort who had to deal with their pugnacity when it came to reconciling that Europeans simply did not take air conditioner as a given, even in the twenty-first century.
On the bus to Positano (all the Americans just love Positano, in a classic case of ruining something that was once pure and untouched with their infection of it), Marco could feel himself bristling when one of the rotund (therefore ostensibly genderless-looking) tourists said in her or its rapacious and impatient lilt, “Can you turn on the air conditioning?”
Marco, for the millionth time to the millionth American who had insisted whatever Europe was offering, this wasn’t real air conditioning, returned, as gently as he could muster, “Madame, it is on.”
She or it scoffed from beneath her or its visor, “Oh no. That just can’t be. I could get my dog back home to blow more of a breeze on me than whatever this is supposed to be.”
Marco wanted to scream, “Then why don’t you fucking go back to your dog so he can fart his air on you? You entitled cuntrag so uninformed about culture that I could show you a pile of shit in the alley right now and you’d believe it was Pompeii!” Of course, he wanted a tip at the end, despite knowing they would all be stingy in their anger about the perceived lack of air conditioning. So he bit his lip and repeated, once again, “Madame, it is on.”
She or it made a sound not unlike that of a garbage disposal (the American kind, of course) as a guffawing response, then insisted, “Do you have a manager I can speak to?”
Marco was gobsmacked. Did she or it think he was going to be able to pull out a manager from somewhere underneath the bus?
“I can give you the number and email of the company to get in touch with customer service, if you’d like.”
She or it rolled her eyes. “What I’d like is to get off this damn bus and back to America. Where we have basic luxuries.”
Her or its voice seemed to echo throughout the time-space continuum the way Marco was hearing it reverberating in his ears. That scratchy, grumbling tone causing his cochlea to quake in indignation. It was as though her or its sentiment was serving as an incantation to the universe. For it continued to ring throughout the vehicle and beyond the windows toward the skies of the Mediterranean, like it was baiting some invisible force to deliver on the doughy dolt’s Veruca Salt-esque wish.
There was a reason Henry Miller called one of his books The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. That was the most succinct, to the point description of America there could be. Marco had, indeed, been studying Miller’s work as part of a thesis he was working on for his studies in American literature, an oxymoron for the most part, but there were flashes of brilliance in some early to mid-twentieth century writers. Miller was one of those flashes, and he had started to see just how crystallized his own sentiments about Americans were through the lens of how Miller saw it in the 1930s.
In any case, Marco didn’t think much about what the doughy dolt had said, her or its level of tantrum being so garden variety to him by now that all he did was give her or it another small bottle of water to suck from (so she or it might suck less of his energy) and then turned on his heel to go back to the front of the bus where he was at least mildly shielded from her or its complaints.
It was only less than a week later that the disease hit. Although talk of it had been looming on the periphery of the Italian-centric headlines for the past month or so, once it touched down in California from China, it sent a shockwave of infection throughout the rest of the United States–exploding in the news in Europe along with it. Paranoia began to mount about the ramifications of continuing to let American tourists run rampant in their usual drunken, daft stupor throughout the continent. So accustomed to having their free reign over the entire world, it would be unprecedented to tell these people they were no longer welcome. And yet, that is precisely what the leaders of the EU and the European Council decided would be best to stop the pandemic from spreading in their own dimension. One that was better served both without air conditioning and the Americans who insisted upon it.
Had the doughy dolt spurred on some kind of conjuration with her or its petulant pressure on Marco to materialize an A/C of an American caliber tout de suite? Or had the collective thoughts both internal and spoken of Americans as they “traveled” through Europe (even if their form of travel was carefully guided by the confined niches they sought) effectively invoked a pandemic that would end up getting their annoying (and when in Europe, particularly sweaty) asses banned from the continent for the foreseeable future? Marco would like to believe so. For he was a genuine proponent of the saying, “You reap what you sow.” Or, in his language (which Americans never bothered to learn), “Chi ben semina ben raccoglie.”