Westerners are often mystified by the legends of freezing cold Russian winters and Russians' tolerance of subzero temperatures for nine months out of the year. While it is true that Russians seem to have an inhuman ability to withstand bone-chilling cold for extended periods of time, it is not the notorious "Russian Winter" that makes things so cold. What makes things so cold is actually the air conditioning in Russian offices, for all 12 months of the year.
As you can tell just from walking around on the streets of Moscow, Russians are very particular when it comes to air quality. Truly fresh air is highly valuable, but almost nonexistent in the city. As any Russian will tell you, real fresh air - the kind you can only find in the depths of the derevnya -- is magical and will put you to sleep almost instantly.
This is why Moscow's "fresh air" is different than derevnya air. We have work to do! We can't just sit around like Vanya Van Winkle breathing in the magic, sleep-inducing fresh air of the countryside. And yet, Russians are tantalized by sleep almost as much as they are by free things. They are instinctually and irrationally driven to attempt to produce as much fresh air as possible, even if that "fresh air" is just lightly-filtered gas fumes from beyond the window. If it comes out of an air conditioner, it must be fresh. As a result, you will almost definitely find air-related needs conflicting with work and health year-round in Russian offices.
There are a number of aspects that may be combined and monitored by Russian office workers who are highly experienced in the very complex function of climate control in Russian offices. In addition to air conditioning, you will have to factor in open windows, the weather outside, other people's breathing and, finally, the life-threatening draft, or "skvoznyak." These factors are complemented by old wives' tales -- or folk science, if you will - which are naturally infinitely superior to proven scientific facts. Because scientists - especially Western scientists - know nothing.
Arm warmers recommended.
The air conditioner plays a pivotal role in office seating arrangements. Whenever an employee leaves the company, the person who was last sitting directly under the air conditioner will claim the ex-employee's desk. If you're new, guess where you'll be sitting? Despite the unspoken knowledge that constant exposure to air conditioning is not necessarily the best thing for your health, no one in a Russian office will ever admit this out loud, because they truly believe air conditioners are the only way to get their precious fresh air - especially in new buildings where the windows don't open and the interior climate is dank and cold. Just how they like it.
If you are suffering from a cold or other flu-like symptoms, rest assured that your coworkers will be thoughtful enough to ensure your closest possible proximity to the air conditioner, and they will also make sure that it is turned on at full blast and pointed at you for as long as possible. Your phlegmy coughing fits will have no effect whatsoever on your coworkers, who are convinced that the air quality in the office is poor, and that turning on the air conditioner magically transforms "stuffy" rooms filled with the breath of a million peons into "mountain fresh." When that fails -- and it inevitably will - get ready to get caught in the crossfire of various perfumes and body sprays. The end result? A cold that could have lasted 2 or 3 days will now be prolonged indefinitely.
Don't bother trying to ask anyone to turn off the air conditioning. If you do, you will only get an earful about how stuffy it is, and how they need fresh air, or how it is too hot inside. Just wait until no one is looking and turn it off yourself. It will be hours before anyone actually notices.