Why do Russians hate ice and Americans love it?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Lots of ice at the Olympics, at the venue anyway. But if you're in Sochi and you order a coke at a restaurant, you'll probably get it served to you with no ice, even if the drink is warm. Water? Same deal. Kinda weird for a country associated with fur coats and, current conditions in Sochi aside, lots of snow. So why don't Russians like ice? We asked Russian-born journalist Alina Simone to explain that for us.

Alina Simone: I think that it's actually an attitude that dates back more to my grandmother's generation. She just treated a glass of ice water like it was a weapon of mass destruction, like God forbid I should defy her and take a sip of the ice water at a Chinese restaurant and then, a week later, come down with a headache or a cold or like athletes foot or anything because the cause would be crystal clear - it was because you took the sip of ice water.

Werman: So the cause and effect thing, it wasn't anything like right in the moment? "It tastes bad. It's hurts my teeth. It's going to make me throw up and not digest my food," what's the reason?

Simone: Well, I mean I think that most Russians have this attitude, feel that it causes illness. You'll get a cold basically. But I did this little mini investigation where I went to Brighton Beach on the hottest day of summer and I got this very wide range of response. One guy said, "Well, it waters your drink down," and I said, "Well, OK. But why don't Russian's put ice in water?" and that really stumped him. That kinda ended that conversation. Another person said, "Well, you don't know where the ice came from." You know where the water came from usually if you're getting it from the faucet or bottle with a label, but you have no idea where the ice came from, and so I don't know. That could be. But I think that the health issue is the predominant concern.

Werman: Right. Those were your findings from your little anecdotal investigation in Brighton Beach. In Russia, I gather that in even in Sochi that ice has had an impact on the Olympics.

Simone: Well, I dispatched a fellow writer friend of mine, Steve [??], who is a correspondent for CBS. I sent him to the McDonald's in Sochi to try to get some ice and he came back fifteen minutes later, we were online and reported no ice at the Sochi McDonald's.

Werman: Mission not accomplished.

Simone: Mission not accomplished. But that the NBC Commissary does serve ice and that people are joking that it's the only place in Russia that you can find ice. That's the report from Sochi. But when I dug a little bit deeper into the history of the ice trade, I found that Americans had sort of this sinister incentive to peddle ice and that perhaps we're really the weird ones and that many countries, in addition to Russia, do not like to ice their drinks.

Werman: Right. I was gonna say I think most of the world doesn't like ice, like West Africa. Ice is rare in most places because it's just usually for keeping food and medicine cool and not for consumption, so it might even have all sorts of biology growing in it. Why do you think Americans love ice so much? What's going on with Americans' incentive to push ice?

Simone: When I looked into it I found that the ice trade was invented by an American, by Frederic Tudor in 1806, and that almost every ice-related invention comes from an American - the ice box, the first refrigerator, the first refrigerator car. Nobody knows who invented the ice cube tray, but the first mass-produced refrigerator with an ice cube tray was developed by an American, so I'm starting to feel like it's a capitalist thing. We want people to buy more ice.

Werman: But ice is our friend, right? I mean it keeps food longer.

Simone: Well, sure, but I was on a flight this weekend and I found myself shouting at the stewardess, "No ice," because I just wanted to thwart this insidious plot to reduce my portion of tomato juice to like this thimble-sized proportion. I was reminded of my grandmother and I was kinda like, "Yeah, I'll take my lukewarm tomato juice, thank you very much."

Werman: And is that your usual approach to ice, Alina? I mean generally feelings about ice are "don't dilute it"? How do you feel about ice?

Simone: I'm pretty pro-ice in moderate quantities. I got some ice water here in the studio. I feel like in moderation, you know, I mean now, on the airlines they don't even provide you with pretzels and that tomato juice is my sole source of nourishment. I'm like very greedy about volume and I don't want any ice in it.

Werman: Journalist and frequent contributor to The World, Alina Simone. Thanks very much. Stay cool.

Simone: Thanks, Marco.