Smoking/No Smoking

May 13, 2008By Paris UpdateWhat's New Potpourri

Indoor Smoking Out, Outdoor Smoking In

smoking paris
Outdoor smoking can even be enjoyed while playing boules. Photo: J. Gascoigne

Until the beginning of 2008, most images traditionally associated with Parisian life involved cigarettes: self-important intellectuals puffing away in Left Bank cafés, smoke-filled brasseries, cigarettes dangling from the lips of sophisticated ladies who lunch and so on. But all that changed with the ban implemented in January. Now, five months on, it is worth considering how Parisian life has changed.

Before: when walking into a restaurant, you were engulfed in clouds of smoke. A visit to a restaurant invariably meant that one’s clothes would reek of smoke for hours afterwards.

Now: when walking out of a restaurant, you are engulfed in clouds of smoke on the sidewalk. It is a definite health risk walking down a street lined with restaurants, as there is likely to be as much cigarette smoke in the air as traffic fumes. For those living in the vicinity, noise pollution has become a real problem too, as smokers in the streets chat each other up late into the night.

Before: when walking into a restaurant, the dominant smell was that of stale cigarettes.

Now: when walking into a restaurant, the dominant smell is that of cooking fat or washroom cleaner.

Before: seated at a neighboring table, smokers considerately held their lit cigarettes away from the people at their own table and under your nose.

Now: it is hard to know whether the empty table you see in the corner is in fact empty or simply temporarily vacated by those who have gone outside to smoke. One advantage at apéritif time, though, is that one can help oneself to one’s absent neighbor’s peanuts with impunity.

Sitting in a café the day after the ban went into effect, I was amused to see a young man walk in, sit at the counter and unthinkingly light up. When politely asked by the café owner to put it out, the man stared heavenward in despair and uttered the wonderful French oath, “Putain!” (literally, “whore,” but probably best translated as “shit!”). Smokers have been uttering similar curses ever since.

James Gascoigne

© 2008 Paris Update

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