Beware of the Island Butt Cold



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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Claudia Hanna

About Claudia Hanna

Born a typical Type A stress-basket, Claudia followed all the rules until she spent her final college summer internship working at an import-export firm in Cyprus, which she dutifully quit after a couple of weeks and took up a job as a barmaid at a kick-ass bar in a yacht harbor. It was during that fateful summer (more years ago than she likes to admit) she met her future husband. A dozen years and a couple kids later, the dimpled Adonis convinced Claudia to quit her grueling corporate America finance job and head for the Med. Ah hell, who was she kidding? With fanciful thoughts of being bohemian and breastfeeding naked on the beach, the diaper bags were already packed.

After realizing her two options for a social life on the rock were either drunk tourists and retired expats (looking for a quick lay, endless sunshine, and cheap beer) OR the local Cypriot community (with their shiny cars dotting dusty dirt roads and perfectly manicured brows), Claudia followed the eyebrows and stilettos. And she has never looked back. With their warm culture and pop-in-anytime policy, Claudia finally relaxed and learned to live like an island girl.

If she's not stepping over lizards and tarantulas in her home, scuba diving with sea turtles, or teaching drama to kids, Claudia loves catching up with friends over multiple glasses of large, chilled wine on her balcony. She spends her days writing her blog and broadcasting her radio show "The Morning Show with Claudia."




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12 thoughts on “Beware of the Island Butt Cold

  1. Wow, who would believe this, on my island Curacao, the Caribbean, they tell us in the morning after we wake up and the floor is still cold (from the AC mind you) not to walk bare foot cause we will catch a cold. Walking in the rain is a no no too, you will catch a cold, so when it rains everyone is late going to school, work etc. Having lived in the Netherlands for many years, to me that is still so funny, cause if that were true in Holland everyone would be sick all the time, as it rains a lot! Gotta love rock living!

  2. Hello, Claudia and welcome! This post is quite humorous and I’d have to say the same that anything below 59F is chilly and cold. I hail from northern Illinois and it gets down right COLD. Looking forward to more posting and I’ll check out your blog 😉

  3. oh you go girl! While on St John I’m culturally ignorant most of the time. (Covered in the shopping/public areas as required by locals) You know in Bosnia I was requested to sit on a piece of cardboard- rather than the “stoop” doorway stone- to protect my ovaries from freezing and becoming unfertile. (I wasn’t going to use them again anyway but I humored the ladies), In Romania I can’t go outside with wet hair or I’ll get sick and die. But it was ok to go swimming and have wet hair. in Russia we smothered in a car because you can’t roll down the windows or you’ll get sick and die. We US Girls know this isn’t so, but they have limited resources for healthcare and any illness is potentially fatal. I choose to live dangerously sitting in the doorway on the stones with bare feet, wet hair, and windows down!

  4. Walking in and out of air-conditioned buildings will make you sick. Actually working in AC is almost guaranteed to make you sick. Likewise ironing when it’s raining or walking in the rain.
    Oh! And sitting on a hot rock can get you pregnant!

  5. LOVED the article. Brought a smile to my face as I STILL live with the ” put some shoes/socks on! You might be english but you will get ill” . just the other days i was walking in kyrenia with the kids, all wearing shorts, on a balmy 23 degree day and overhead a Turkish woman saying ” look at that woman and her kids, aren’t they cold?!” Been here 30 years and it still cracks me up;)) miss u Claudia!

  6. very funny and well written!

    another reason people get sick on the Caribbean islands is obeah/voodoo. I can vouch that even some quite educated people believe in it here. in our oh so “advanced” countries of origin, placebos can be at least 40% effective in curing “diseases.
    The term psychosomatic refers to diseases and symptoms that are “real” ( If not treated by real medicines, one can die from them) but their causes are as much psychological as physical….Just like in the States, the month the biggest percentage of people die is, if my memory is correct, January. People’s body-minds wait until after they get to celebrate holidays!

  7. Hi everyone, I’ve been following this blog for some time now and while not at this time living on a rock (soon hope to be) I felt I should add to Claudia’s post with some of the ways you can get deathly ill on my original island. (Cuba)
    Never go in the water for 3 hours after eating. This will cause a “patatu” which is a horribly painful agonizing way to die, though no one can say exactly how this happens. Some people will not even shower or go out in the rain for 3 hours after eating for fear of this mysterious dreaded condition. Of course no one can name a person who actually dies from this but everyone knows of a cousin of a friend of a friend who went in the water after eating a mango (just to rinse off) and died flapping in the sand while everyone stood around helpless to stop it.
    Interestingly, this condition only affects Cubans. While on the beach in the US, I would observe American children running in the water after consuming hot dogs with no ill effect. The Cuban kids however had to sit it out in the hot sun, our parents solemnly stating that heat stroke was the lesser of two evils.

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