Lifestyle & Belief

Why do Russians hate ice and Americans love it?

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Two summers ago, I wrote an article for the New York Times about why Russians hate ice. The subject originally came up when I was reminiscing with a Russian friend of mine, recalling my own grandmother’s apocalyptic view of forcibly chilled liquids.

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Like all the Russian grandmothers I knew, mine loved Chinese food. Unfortunately, this love of Dun Dun Noodles also brought her into direct conflict with her sworn enemy — the obligatory, pre-meal glass of ice water.

Woe be it to me should I ever defy my grandmother and risk a sip on a sweltering August afternoon. If I dared come down with a headache, the measles or athlete's foot a week later, the cause would be clear: ice.

I grew up resenting being condemned to summers of lukewarm drinks, and considered the Russian aversion to ice weird, if not downright medieval. Surely the news that germs — not ice — brought on illness had managed to penetrate even the Iron Curtain by 1987?

But in the wake of my article, it became clear that Americans, with their ice-loving ways, were actually the weird ones. People wrote in from all over the world to denounce ice. Or, at least, its widespread overuse.

Recently, I found myself shouting “no ice!” at a bewildered airline stewardess. I was rebelling against what I saw as an evil plot to reduce my quotient of tomato juice to a thimble-like portion.

When I did a little research, I found our love of ice — and the capitalist incentive to peddle it — has deep historic roots. It was an American who first launched the ice trade in 1806, an American who built the first refrigerator in 1844, and an American who patented the first refrigerator car for trains in 1868.  Somehow, in the boom years of what was then known as the “frozen water trade,” the name of the genius who invented the ice cube tray was lost to posterity.

Whoever it was, I’m going to guess it wasn't a Russian.