Deadly Spanish Air Currents

August 26, 2012 By: erik Category: Fighting Stupidity, Science, Skepticism, Spain, Weird 461 views

Rate this post:
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

Curtain in BreezeCultural differences fascinate me, as do superstitions. So naturally I am enthralled by the utter mortal fear Spaniards have for air currents, specifically those running through a house. Every time I open two windows on either side of my house to get a nice current of fresh air running through, I am told to close one of the windows, because air currents (corrientes) are dangerous. When there’s a baby or child in the house – forget about it! – the importance of reducing air pressure differentials goes up by several orders of magnitude. Everyone in Spain knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who died because they had fresh air running through their house.

In South Korea, they have a similar belief, that an electric fan left running overnight in a closed room will kill any humans in the room. It’s called fan death. From anecdotal blog entries I’ve read, it seems that everyone in South Korea takes this as a widely accepted scientific fact. Yet everyone outside of the country regards it as a silly superstition.

I have spoken with maybe a dozen Spaniards about the dangers of domestic corriente, and they all look at me like I’m an idiot for not knowing this basic scientific fact. When I inquire, I am told that, if you are lying down sleeping under a tree in a field with a light breeze, that’s fine. But if you’re lying on your couch with the window open and the same exact wind is blowing over you, that is very dangerous and you are putting yourself at risk of a cold or pneumonia. Eliminating variables, I asked if there were walls but no ceiling, would that be okay? Yes. And if there is a ceiling, but no walls? Yes, that’s okay, too. But once you have a ceiling and walls with a window open, the air current becomes very dangerous.

There is an important lingual distinction here. When you’re outside or don’t have a ceiling or walls, that’s called viento (wind), but the ceiling and walls turn the same moving air into corriente (current), and I am told that they are not the same thing.

I have done an hour or two of internet research into this concept over the years, and the only thing I’ve found is that the Italians have a similar fear of moving air. I can’t find any articles in Spanish discussing the phenomenon, and the only articles in English discussing air currents in the home, as they relate to danger, are ones about how your moldy old air conditioner might be killing you with mold spores and you need to open up all your windows and get some fresh air flowing before you die. In the States, we have attic fans, which we turn on specifically to create low pressure inside the house to generate a breeze.

My wife claims that she was taught the danger of corrientes in school and will invoke terms like convective heat transfer (why moving air feels cooler) and Bernoulli’s principle (why air moves faster through a narrower path) in its defense, but it still doesn’t make any sense to me why air moving at the same velocity over your skin outdoors would be any safer. No doubt the Koreans are taught about fan death in school, too.

Tissue

If this deadly air current phenomenon is real, I would love to understand it, and would convert to a believer in a second with sufficient evidence, but it certainly seems to me like a cultural superstition, heavily laden with confirmation bias…in the same category as not swimming for an hour after eating.

Note that I am not calling Spaniards stupid, just observing this quirky regional belief. No doubt every country has their own version of this. The “no swimming after eating” one, for example, is very prevalent in the United States.

 
  • http://www.latortugaviajera.com/ Erin

    I never tire of these posts Erik. Love it. Jacobo has an aversion to currents coming from fans and A/C. I’ve had to convince him to allow for fan usage at night, but the A/C is out of the question as it will, he says, make it him sick. This must all be related to the corriente.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Fans were deemed acceptable via my line of questioning as well. As long as the moving air is just swirling in the room, that’s safe (outside of Korea), but if it’s entering and leaving the room through different holes, you’re probably going to die.

      • http://www.latortugaviajera.com/ Erin

        Jacobo must prescribe to the Korean fan-death philosophy, then, as he seems OK with currents between wall holes.

  • Lee

    I think this goes along with the Fear of Very Hot Food, which we all know will also kill you. Or at least that’s what I hear in Madrid.

  • http://profiles.google.com/aquariumdrinker Lance McCord

    Is this fear ever used as a plot device in popular film/TV/literature? Like maybe the discrepancy between MOs in a murder mystery is explained when it is revealed that the murderer had been poised to kill one of the victims when the victim was suddenly done in by the corrientes? Or the young parents’ first clue that their child has been possessed by the devil comes when they wake to find him opening all of the windows in the house? And what does it mean that the Argentinians have named a major city Corrientes? Do they not share the Spanish superstition? Or do they believe it, but still wanted to name the town “Malign Breezes?” And is it possible that these obviously rich veins of fart joke humor are going unmined?

    This is a great post, but it points up the need for online documentation of this cultural quirk.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      The flatulent humor angle totally…er…escaped me. How embarrassing!

  • http://www.rainyspain.com/ Mother Theresa

    Lol. Luckily my in-laws don’t suffer from that fear. They do hate doors slamming shut because of those “corrientes”, but that’s just annoyance, not fear. I have come across quite a few people here who say that keeping plants in your bedroom is deadly, but there is a sort of scientific basis for that, since plants release carbon dioxide at night, but I doubt the amount of CO2 they produce would really be dangerous.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      I suspect – and this is wild speculation – that the amount of oxygen used and CO2 released by a plant at night is about the same as what an animal would use and release. Plants, however, release ten times more oxygen during the day than they use up at night, resulting in a net oxygen surplus.

      • http://www.rainyspain.com/ Mother Theresa

        Yeah, that’s what I figured, but people here seem to have a great fear of their plants killing them in their sleep. Maybe they’re worried about them turning into giant carnivorous monsters during the night. ;D

  • http://gotravelzing.com/ Jeff Broman

    This is interesting. Now I have something to quiz my Spanish friends about to see what they say. Do they also believe that you should not swim after you eat?

  • Sally

    When visiting the U.S., my Spanish boyfriend said he felt ill and attributed it to the table fan that was in the room he slept in during our visit to my parents’ house. No amount of rational discussion about the corrientes would dissuade him from the idea that he had accurately pinpointed the source of his illness.
    The no swimming after eating standard seems to have been dispensed with in this new generation (I’m 50yo and my kids are 14 and 12), but it was certainly so in my generation.
    When I lived in Spain (for six years in the 80′s), I was fascinated by the Spanish fixation on the health of the kidneys, which I had theretofore never considered at all vis-a-vis my health, sources of pain, etc. I was also told not to drink so much water at meals, that it would make me fat.
    I love your blog and these posts especially – thank you!

  • Lucia

    i think this is not only a supersticion, today there are antibiotics, but in the past if you get a cold, flu, pneuomonia and you can die..especially little kids..so people in the past didnt know about germens or virus, but they know that when you are warmy and dry you are more healthy than if you are in cold, wet places..so you dont have to get your feet wet, you have to fear of corrientes and wind(and not only at home, mi grandmother always tell me to put my scarf over my mouth in the winter when i go out)
    by the way im not used of air conditioning or fans, and when i sleep in a hotel room with it i get up with my throat and mouth dry, and feeling bad, so maybe its not only supersticion.
    (sorry for my bad english)

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      I agree that, like most myths, it does have some foundation in reality, and that being cold does weaken our immune systems, and that, overall, you might really be healthier if you stay away from corrientes, especially in the days before modern medicine. But the fear has definitely been amplified beyond reason, and the implication that a breeze inside your house is worse than a breeze outside your house makes no scientific sense.

      Your English is very good. Only a few mistakes. :-) Thank you for commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/sgazzetti John D. Stephens

    I have encountered this belief in the malignity of breezes in Italy, Argentina (though not in Corrientes per se), Slovenia, and Bulgaria, and my wife confirms* that it’s prevalent in Poland as well, so it seems to be pretty widespread. My own Anglo-American grandparents had a morbid fear of drafts, too, so maybe it’s just being/been phased out in that culture, like the hour-after-eating-drowning-from-cramps one that seems to have died out in my generation.

    Here’s one I had never heard of before moving to Bulgaria: mixing natural and artificial light will ruin your eyes. RUIN THEM. Say you’re in a room with a moderate amount of natural light coming in the windows, you must not turn on a reading lamp to supplement it. This will destroy your vision. Everyone knows this.
    *Hey honey, are drafts dangerous?No.Are they dangerous in Poland?God yes, you will get sick and die!

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Fascinating!

      Don’t supplement the light source, just eat more carrots! Oh, right, that’s an urban legend, too.

      I wonder if there’s ever been any longitudinal studies about the long term effects of sitting too close to the television?

  • José

    Here in Uruguay my grandmother says air currents coming from your back are dangerous.
    I definetly don’t like to sleep with a fan on in the same room.
    Actually I think there is a difference between air currents outside and inside. Outside air is somewhat fresher and inside it is somewhat dirtier and more contaminated. Even if you clean you don’t kill every little mite. Surely it doesn’t make it deadly dangerous.

  • bawa

    Have spent a month in a country where everyone is trying to create “corrientes”! Mum complains bitterly that the new house they moved into was designed very badly because it does not allow for them. Older houses had small windows high up near the ceiling (apart from normal ones) in order to get this effect.

    We always sleep with a fan on in the summer, even in Northern Spain, and have not died-fallen ill from it so far.

  • http://twitter.com/passtheham Hamatha

    Yes and yes on this post! I have been talking about this forever! I love a nice breeze of fresh air moving through the house, but my Span fam thinks I’m completely suicidal for doing it.

  • ozz

    Every Romanian knows the deadly effect of CURENT (but it has more to do with ears and tooth aches). A foreigner in Romania will notice that in summer most of the older people have cotton bulbs stuffed in their ears, so that the draft “won’t catch them”. When in Romania, beware of cold drinks also. They also have the power to make you ill instantly. :) P.S. – sorry for my rusty english