Written by: CLAUDIA HANNA
Back in the US, we tend to agree on some basic cold and flu preventative measures. We wash our hands; we get our flu shots; we drink plenty of water; and we stay inside, protected from the frigid outdoors as best we can. I figured these would translate pretty much everywhere else in the world. But I was wrong. Not so on my rock.
Did you know that in Cyprus, you can catch a cold in your belly? Or through your feet? Or better yet, through your rear end? Yup. Butts can catch colds here with the best of ’em. After living some time on the island and hanging out with my new in-laws, I’ve come to realize that you can catch a cold through practically any part of your body if you’re not careful.
In the Mediterranean, houses are made of concrete: stone slabs, if you will, to keep the rooms as cool as possible through the blazing hot summers. Believe it or not, those gorgeous marble and travertine floors are actually more function than fashion. When it’s 100°F (37°C) outside and a mere 85°F (29°C) on the inside of a home, it’s not uncommon for me to wear a bathing suit or a light, flowy dress all day, especially considering I hail from the Land of Central Air-Conditioning. (Keep in mind: central air-conditioning does not exist in Cyprus, nor on most other islands for that matter, as electricity prices are astronomical.)
But cultures clash when West meets East on the relative importance of keeping already toasty-toes warm. My in-laws are horrified by my bare feet walking around the house, always advising me to “cover my feet” (direct translation). Are they culturally offended by the presence of my toes, you ask? No, this request isn’t one of modesty. They are genuinely afraid for my health. The permeating belief here is that a cold will sweep in through the bottoms of your feet and seize your body.
And it’s not just your bare feet that are at risk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve casually sat on the floor only to watch my husband’s family’s faces fall in fear. This reckless American will surely catch a cold through her rear! Somebody save her!
Unlike the tropical islands that many of the writers of this site live on, Cyprus has a Mediterranean climate, which means hot, dry summers and cold, rainy winters. It is unfortunately not 85°F and sunny year-round, but the definition of “cold weather” is highly subjective.
In Virginia, where I am from, “cold” means anything below 59°F / 15°C. On the island, however, “cold” can mean anything below 75°F / 24°C. In truth, the windchill factor does make a difference. Being on the north side of an island where the nearest body of land is about 130 miles away, this gives wind enough space to really whip things up. So while it’s not necessarily cold to my standards, it can feel cold due to the windchill factor.
Considering that, it is hilarious to watch nervous parents pile on winter boots, stockings, and coats onto their children once the temperatures dip below 70°F / 21°C. These island tots are raised with an extremely low tolerance for cold and get sick! They have their beliefs and I have mine – to me, it’s all a weird, psychological cycle the Cypriots have created for themselves. To them, the body must be covered or you WILL undoubtedly get ill – the head, the nose, the feet, the stomach, the shoulders, the ears, and – most definitely – the rear end are all portals for sickness to enter.
Who needs science when you’re on an island anyway? The best way to prevent catching a cold through your butt? Sit on a pillow, of course! And your feet? Wear slippers!
One interesting note: it is considered a bit rude to wear your shoes into other people’s homes here (dragging the dirt from the outside in). In more traditional homes, an extra pair of slippers sit beside the doorway waiting for guests. It is implied for you to slip off your shoes and into the slippers in these homes. While they don’t want you to bring dirt in, the host certainly doesn’t want you to catch a cold. Because that would be rude.
But for now, until it’s proven to me otherwise, I’ll continue to walk on the wild side in my own home on my rock. And by wild side, I mean barefoot.
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Are there any funny (to you) cultural quirks surrounding illness on your rock?