Tuesday, December 1, 2009

lessons from the laundry room

I declared today a Depaysée holiday, declining to go to class for the first time all semester. The way I’ve passed my “leisure” time has been a little anticlimactic. First I defrosted my freezer, which was time consuming but oddly satisfying. My fridge has been getting progressively less cold over the last few weeks, so I'm hoping it's not, in fact, broken, and that the ice was just throwing off the temperature sensor. Fingers crossed. In between working and procrastinating on my essays I also did some laundry, which is always an adventure.

Laundry is one of those basic chores that you’d assume would be the same from country to country. It’s not. A surprising (to Americans) percentage of the world doesn’t use—-or even own!-—dryers, and instead relies on clotheslines and drying racks. I have fond memories of riding my bike while mom hung my sister’s cloth diapers on our line in New Zealand (despite the frequent rain where we lived), and it was much the same in England. I don't think dryers even existed in Tunisia, where our washer was in the kitchen and disguised under a decorative cover and a bowl of fruit. French households also tend to use dryers infrequently. Their washers accommodate only very small loads, but for irritatingly long wash cycles at alarmingly hot water temperatures. The only theory I can come up with is to link this phenomenon to the smelly Frenchmen stereotype (lower hygiene standards = less frequent washings, so smaller machines, but a more thorough washing cycle for the dirtier rags) but who knows. At any rate, when I do my laundry here I set my loads on the lowest temperature and they still come out steaming. You’d think colors running/fading would be more of a concern in a country obsessed with black. Although maybe that explains the secondary obsession with gray…

Here's the knob on the washing machine. Note that the numbers are degrees Celsius, and not minutes or anything logical like that:

I'll be the first to admit that Americans are hyper-obsessed with cleanliness and should probably be wearing their clothes longer rather than wasting water with unnecessary loads (and showers, for that matter), just as we should be trying to do more air-drying and cut down on dryer usage. But on the other hand, the French waste energy with unnecessary water heat. And although I can deal with air-dried shirts, crunchy underwear and socks and stiff, stretched-out jeans are a thoroughly unpleasant experience, green living be damned.


  1. I remember riding your bike round the bottom of the driveway... the laundry not so much. :)

    I can tell you that you do get used to "crunchy" jeans and undies pretty quick... The last time I lived in a house with a dryer was 4 years ago. Here I have an outside clothes line, a rack hanging above our fire place and several fold out racks also, which are great in the sunroom, except for the usual 2 or 3 pairs of socks that stay wet because they were under the leak in the roof...

  2. I remember you riding the bike down the hill and not being able to break when you got to the four food drop. I'm still amazed you didn't break anything as a child.

    Yeah yeah yeah about crunchy undies. I have a giant drying rack here too...the problem is that it takes up my entire room and makes it really humid while i'm using it. The main issue is the stretched out jeans (i like it when they tighten up in the dryer), although with as many pastries as I'm eating it shouldn't be a problem for long.

  3. I love crunchy towels and there is nothing better then the smell of sun dried sheets. We do have a dryer but have maybe used it half a dozen times in the last year...just when the rain lasts for more than a week non stop : ) Drives me nuts in the US to have a glorious sunny day and still be running a dryer just because there is no clothesline!!!!