The Accidental Smoker
I staunchly believe that smoking is a vile, wretched act. Raised in L.A., I was aghast when I moved to NYC and spied spandexed crowds huddled outside of gyms, puffing in between Pilates and mat classes. I’ve since abandoned my SoCal sanctimony, preferring to make like a New Yorker when I travel internationally. My When in Rome… ethos gives me license to smoke when I’m off gallivanting in places where cigarettes are as fundamental as bread and coffee. It’s a sacrifice I “selflessly” make for cultural immersion, which is why I am so confounded by France’s ban on smoking in public places, which was announced this week. Quell horror!
It may be hypocritical, but I’m as pro-smoking when I travel abroad as I am anti-smoking when I’m Stateside. I reach for the Galois in France, the harsh, roll-your-own tobacco in the Middle East, or whatever cheap sticks they have at the bus stations in South America. I love how my body is jolted by the nicotine, the way it snaps me out of jetlag and shoots adrenaline through my otherwise healthy system. Even after roaming around museums and ancient ruins in a stupor all day, cigarettes can restore me to an alert and energized state. I am no longer my husband’s cantankerous travel companion. The spring returns to my step, and suddenly, all is right in the world.
But, that’s about to change because smoking bans are sweeping through places that have traditionally been safe havens for my occasional dirty habit. I’m the first to admit that the quality of life has drastically improved here in NYC since Bloomberg introduced the smoking ban in bars and restaurants (to think what it has done for my dry cleaning bills alone). But aren’t cigarettes—and Vespas, and copious amounts of wine, and eating pasta at eleven o’clock—the slightly naughty indulgences that make places like Rome, Rome? Yes, there’s laughably a ban there too, though it seems they forgot to tell people.
Smoking is so ingrained in our perception of Gallic life, that when we were children, my friends and I pretended to be French by “puffing” on plastic soda straws while affecting a Pepe Le Pieu accent. These days, we may have to adjust our comic impressions of Parisians: First there was the baguette crisis, and now a smoking ban. Something tells me Louis XVI would advise against this.
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