December 10, 2023

“Oh, what a lovely thing Europe, all these little countries are like ‘oh look at me, I have a pretty high GDP per capita’ but then no one has a machine that dries clothes. It’s so cute.” The author of this tweet is Josh Barroa podcaster American provocative line and contrary to Joe Biden, who thus responded to the graphs that indicated how life expectancy in the United States is reducing and widening its gap with Europe.

His thread, which continued along that line (“oh, it’s just a moment, the clothes are drying in the sun right away”, he mocked) soon filled with responses from Europeans (many Spanish) answering that he can keep his dryer in exchange of public health and arms control. Others sent him photos of his clotheslines and told him that, in exchange for hanging clothes like this, they received free treatment for cancer or diabetes.

The tweet and its responses (more than 3,500) would be an anecdote, one example among many of the kind of nationalist antagonism that is practiced on networks every day, if it were not for the fact that the dryers are becoming a recurring issue. There are plenty of other “things America does better than Europe: dryers” tweets; “Americans have big houses, dryers, and a higher chance of early death, perhaps from gunshots; the French have immunity to heart disease through alcoholism.”

On Reddit five years ago someone asked, “Non-Americans: What is it that all Americans need to know?” and one of the answers, which says “dryers are not even half as common as in the United States”, has generated a thread with more than 7,000 comments in all this time that does not stop being updated. From the Canadian who confesses that he has never met anyone who had a washing machine but not a dryer, to an American who is surprised (“I don’t understand how you can’t have a dryer, what if you want to do laundry and it’s raining? What if you want to do laundry fast? Living in other countries must be hell.”).

White House laundry room.  On the wall hangs a calendar for April 1909.
White House laundry room. On the wall hangs a calendar for April (SHORPY)

Also, as the internet is the internet, there are several fights and clashes in this Reddit thread. Europeans who blame energy spending and climate change at Americans and these who answer with arguments such as “in our country clothes were hung outside in the fifties, when racism was on the rise.” It is estimated that in the United States, 80% of homes have a dryer. It is difficult to quantify how many dryers there are in Spain. According to the White Line Appliance Sector Report, some 200,000 are sold a year, much fewer units than washing machines, than 1,700,000 were sold before the pandemic. It is also clear from the report that it is a device that is much less in demand than the refrigerator or the dishwasher. It is very common for houses of all types, whether they are family, single-person, with children or only for adults and of very varied income levels (although obviously, the higher the rent, the more likely they are to have a complete set of electrical appliances) do not have a dryer.

“I have lived in four different apartments in Barcelona and I only had a dryer in one. It was practical but I don’t miss it. I prefer hanging clothes, which last longer and spend less energy and money”, says Lauren Hopkins, an American who has lived in the Catalan capital for years. At her parents’ house, in Chicago, they do have them. “I have asked my grandmother, who lives in Illinois and says that her mother hung clothes in the basement during the freezing winter there. As soon as they got a credit card, the dryer was the first thing they bought,” she explains.

Ted Stresen-Reuter lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria but also grew up between Chicago (with a dryer) and Arizona, in the south of the country, where he does remember seeing his mother hanging clothes in the backyard. “I don’t have a dryer here. We hang our clothes on the terrace and they dry quickly. In Chicago no one would think of hanging outside. Before dryers, clothes were dried in the boiler room in the basement. I wouldn’t buy one right now, because I am aware of the environment and also because I like the feeling of clothes drying in the sun. The sheets are crunchy.”

Clothes hanging in Jerez de la Frontera.
Clothes hanging in Jerez de la Frontera.Guido Cozzi (Getty Images)

Knowing that there are compatriots of his considering the dryer little more than a differential fact and a source of patriotic pride does not surprise him, but it does sadden him a bit. “When I arrived here 30 years ago, I didn’t miss her. On the contrary, I liked that everything was done on the scale of the person, of the human being, being able to walk around the city”. In a few weeks he will return to Chicago to see the family, with his partner and his two children. Like other years, they have exchanged the house with another family and, since they will stay in the center, he did not plan to use a car. “My father called me the other day and told me that he left me one. I told him that it was not necessary and he did not understand how we were going to spend a month without a car. He told me: but how are you going to move?

The size of the cars, like the issue of the dryers, also tends to arise when those discussions take place in tweets and articles, which are actually exposing two models of life: that of the large house for each family unit, the comparatively higher salaries high, geographical dispersion and privatized services in the face of high taxes in pursuit of a somewhat more communal lifestyle.

In many American cities there are local laws that fine anyone who stores clothes in their garden, for aesthetic reasons, in the same way that in many Spanish municipalities there are regulations not to hang clothes on balconies. For a decade the so-called movement right-to-dry (Right to Dry), which is proposing to repeal those laws to make hanging clothes in the sun legal. “California is essentially one giant dryer,” cried journalist and opinion-maker Meghan Daum in a column on Los Angeles Times. “What could be more iconic to California than artificial turf complemented by a clothesline strung between two palm trees? How much do you bet that your clothes will dry faster in the sun in a heat wave than in your electric dryer? In the same article, Daum points out that clotheslines have always been a signifier of class. “In the late 1960s, dryers began to spread through middle-class homes. In 1980 less than half the families had them. By 2009, it was already 80%. Since then, tending to the sun has connoted poverty or lack of sophistication.

Laundry room with washer and dryer.
Laundry room with washer and dryer.imagine (Getty Images)

Due to the evident energy consumption (the OCU classifies dryers among the household appliances that consume the most), but also to the romanticization of the pre-industrial lifestyle, in recent years hanging clothes in the sun has become a signifier of bourgeois consciousness and a gesture of photogenic environmentalism. The tendency cottagecorewhich swept a couple of years ago, also had its share of tiktoks in which young women – almost always white – hung their laundry in front of the cameras, recreating a kind of fantasy of the forties, and not something that millions of people do every day to have clean underwear the next day. It is still possible to enter that social network and find very recent videos recorded without traces of irony that consist of two tall, thin girls in long dresses hanging out sheets in a garden. The text reads: “Inspire Tuscany with Upstate New York” and among the 15 hashtags are counted #cottagecoreaesthetic, #hangingclothes, #clothesline, #summervibes, #swedishsummer, and for some reason #callmebyyourname. Actually, Luca Guadagnino’s film does not contain any scene in which Elio and Oliver hang clothes. But the adaptation of normal people by Sally Rooney it does have its aspirational scene in which Connell and Marianne meet again while she puts sheets in the sun, also in Tuscany. This scene has probably helped establish the idea of ​​doing laundry as an erotic foreplay.

“The idea of ​​hanging clothes outside in cities carries that nostalgic image that in the United States is associated with old photos of immigrant neighborhoods. That is why it is considered something photogenic in Mediterranean cities for American tourists”, believes Brian Rosa, an American researcher and geographer who lives in Barcelona (in a house that does have a dryer, but it is not used much). Before, he also spent time in Manchester and there, due to the weather, he was surprised that the house he rented did not have an electrical appliance. “All day it rained. People dry their clothes on electric radiators and turn them over like a steak. It took days to dry something.” Rosa believes that in the American reluctance to show his clothes in full view of the neighbors, two aspects intersect: the shame of transmitting poverty (the family cannot afford a dryer) and a certain puritanical embers. “Just look at those old movie scenes where a sexy woman is hanging out her lingerie in public. They were the equivalent of the men chasing the Swedes in late-Franco movies”. The complaints of some of his compatriots about the absence of dryers in Europe seem “petty and boring.” Of course, it gives them the reason in something: “Those washer-dryers that are sold around here are garbage.”

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