Is Your Electric Fan Trying To Kill You?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Jan. 22 2013 5:45 AM

Is Your Electric Fan Trying to Kill You?

Fan death in Korea, the dangers of wearing red in the Philippines, and other momisms from around the world.

Fan Death Myth

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer.

“Is it really true that if you clip your fingernails while your relatives are flying somewhere,” the radio producer asked, “their plane will crash?” I was being interviewed about my new book, Because I Said So!, which fact-checks 125 classic parental clichés: breakfast is the most important meal of the day, don’t sit so close to the TV, don’t swim right after you eat. You get the idea. During the commercial break, a producer asked me about this particular bit of wisdom, passed along by her mom.

I took a long look at her; she seemed to be in dead earnest. “Where does your mom, uh, happen to be from?” I asked as innocently as I could.

“She grew up in Russia.”

Advertisement

I told her I’d never heard that one before—maybe it was more of a Slavic thing. I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that Mom, in this case, had been raised outside the United States. In writing the book, I’d spent the past two years soliciting parental nags from friends, acquaintances, and Internet strangers, and I’d learned very quickly that these bits of folklore tend to be extremely culture-specific. A classic Mexican momism might bear no more resemblance to a Scandinavian one than huevos rancheros do to lutefisk.

In China, for example, it’s widely believed that sitting on a seat recently warmed by someone else’s behind can give you hemorrhoids. The Brits, on the other hand, attribute hemorrhoids to sitting on cold surfaces. But sitting on that same cold concrete would lead to a different lecture from a Ukrainian mom: She’d be sure it would make you sterile.

Some Peruvians are told that lingering too long in front of the fridge can cause cancer. In the Czech Republic, everyone knows that drinking water after eating fruit leads to painful bloating. Filipino kids can’t wear red when it’s stormy out, since that would attract lightning. Germans and Austrians live in mortal fear of drafts, which get blamed for everything from pneumonia to blocked arteries, so summertime commuters routinely swelter on 90-degree trains and buses rather than cracking a window through which a cooling—but lethal!—breeze might pass.

In South Korea, however, the concern about ventilation is exactly the opposite. Koreans will only use electric fans if a window is cracked, because leaving a fan on in an enclosed room, it’s almost universally believed, can be fatal. The mechanism behind the threat is a little vague: Sometimes it’s said to be a lack of oxygen that kills you, sometimes it’s a chill. But either way, you won’t care. You’ll be dead.

I actually grew up as a child in Seoul, South Korea, and fans were no laughing matter. Everyone took the Great Fan Menace for granted and had a hard time believing that other cultures were ignorant of it. An apartment of Americans I knew teased their lone Korean roommate by going to bed one summer night in an enclosed room with six electric fans turned on. He pleaded with them not to throw their lives away and slept in the hallway. When, in the morning, all three had survived the ordeal, the Korean roommate was still not convinced. Obviously, he said, they had been playing a practical joke on him and had cracked a window as soon as he was out of the room.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.