“Mummy, that man’s smoking,” says Ben, a sense of outrage tingeing his voice as we sit in a French bar. “He’s not allowed to do that.”
It’s an illustration one of the many differences between our country and this, but one which is soon to be eradicated. French bars go non-smoking in January, but I doubt a change in the law will make an iota of difference to this nation of personal freedom fans.
When I walk past a French tabac, the whiff of Gauloises and paint-stripper coffee takes me back to any one of thousands of similar tabacs that I’ve passed in all my years of coming to France.
It’s reassuring to think such establishments still exist, although I wouldn’t want to spend much time in one. Apart from anything else, it would mean washing my clothes earlier than I might otherwise bother.
Getting off the plane in a foreign country, catching your first whiff of all those alien smells, is one of the exciting sensory experiences of travelling. Even if you stick to Europe, moving between Greece, Turkey, France, Spain, they all have their own particular aromas, and cigarettes have always made up a large part of it.
Now, as we all become more health conscious, what we gain in extra years on this earth will be lost in diversity while we travel around it.
I’m more anti-smoking than many, having never inhaled more than a couple of Consulate when I was about 14, and even they made me choke and feel dizzy.
But I fear a future where all difference is smoothed over for the sake of a California style, organic ciabatta homogeneity, where right-thinking folk retreat in a huff at the merest whiff of a lighted cigarette.
Collectors Gazette (blame Mike) has an interesting snippet of information about past attitudes to smoking.
Apparently at the turn of the 20th century, “cigarettes were even sold at chemists’ shops. Boots sold cigarettes for asthma and catarrh with directions on the back instructing people to inhale the smoke and retain it in the lungs as long as possible… some brands were even recommended by doctors.”
It would be interesting to find out how those patients fared after their diagnosis and prescription fags. After all, leeches are in use again now, after years of pooh-poohing their efficacy.
Apparently they’re very good at cleaning up wounds.
I await the first Daily Mail article to extol the virtues of inhaling deeply on a Marlboro to combat throat cancer.