Paris may be Burning but it ain`t Smoking




Employees smoke outside the entrance of an office building in the complex of La Defense
Photo Credit: Jacques Brinon / AP

French smokers say c’est la vie to ban, PARIS - A ban on smoking in public spaces came into effect Thursday, a change that may alter the image of a country defined in part by its smoky cafes and cigarette-puffing intellectuals.

I have been to Paris a dozen or more times. There were two incidences that have stuck in my mind all these years.

  • The first time I went there was in 1967 to study French at the Alliance Francaise in the Sorbonne. I stayed in a University Dormitory for 50 cents a night in an area called the Place Pigalle which was a red light district with some very attractive hookers. On the way back to the dorms from class I would always have to pass a gauntlet of propositioning harlots.

    After a few months of intensive French language instruction I thought it would be interesting to see if one of them would be able to tell if I were an American or not (I worked harder on accent than on grammar). So I sidled up to a pretty young thing and asked her "How much?" in French. I was 22 at the time , so she had to eyeball me a bit to make sure I wasn't underage, and she answered in French, "Forty Francs," which was about 10 US dollars.

    I then said in English, "I'm sorry, how much did you say?" I did this hoping to impress her that my French accent fooled her, but instead of commenting on my fantastic language skills, without missing a beat she quickly replied in English, "I said fifty francs."

    "Whoa, you said forty francs!" I retorted.

    Shamelessly, she said, "That was before I knew you were an American."

    I will stop now - one day I will write on what happened after this conversation.

  • The second incident involved a bunk-mate at that same dormitory. There were students from all over the world staying at the dorm and it happened that my upper bunk-mate was an Arab. Now this was a few weeks after the 6 day war and so Arabs were in general not feeling happy about Jews. He knew I had just come from Israel and when I asked him if he was from Egypt (his accent gave him away - plus he looked dead-on Egyptian) he denied it. He said he was from southern France but not Arab. I figured he was too embarrassed to admit being an Arab at that time.

    A few days later I was coming out of a cafe when I saw him standing by a kiosk. I snuck up on him and in my best Egyptian accent said, "Kief halachk, habibi" which is like saying "Hey, how's it going buddy" to a well-known friend. If you have seen the film The Great Escape you may remember the German SS saying "Good Luck" to British escapees to get them to unwittingly respond in English. Well, I got the response I planned on. He turned around quickly and replied in Arabic to the effect "Great - and how are you?"

    I saw his face turn color but I kept walking on as if nothing happened, smugly happy that I had seen the film only a few years earlier. That night in the dorm, he moved from my bunk all the way to the other end. What did he think, now that I knew he was Arab that I was going to steal his organs while he slept?


I returned to Paris many times in my youth but stopped after I quit smoking. Now that most of Europe is smoke-free I can finally travel there again; however, the smoking ban in France is only half the solution. They still have a few million Muslims. I'll have to think about that.

I know many of my readers think smoking bans infringe on people's rights. Well in the old days you could piss and crap wherever you wanted. I'm sure the first time someone stood up and said "I think we should ban pissing and crapping in the cave - do it outside!" that a small bunch of inconsiderate oafs said, "I have the right to piss and crap wherever I like. Pissing and crapping are normal bodily functions - why do I have to do it outside where it's cold?"

Well, there are rights such as freedom of speech and worship, the right to bear arms and so on that are fundamental and necessary for a free people. Then there are the rights to piss and crap and smoke wherever you like that is a matter of convenience and doesn't stifle basic liberties at all. In some societies it is perfectly reasonable and proper to let blast a good fart when you finish eating. Although we don't specifically outlaw flatulence in public, if a significant number of Americans suddenly decided that gassing it up at eateries was a fun thing to do, I would certainly support a ban on farting in restaurants.

The Smoking Situation Back Home

New Jersey banned smoking last year and I can finally eat in a restaurant in my own home town. Before the ban when I complained about not being able to eat at a smoke-free facility I was told to go to New York and eat there. Well, now it's my turn smokers: you want to eat at a smoking-allowed place? Drive to Pennsylvania and eat there. Or go here to find places where not to go. Not fair? That's right. It wasn't fair when I had to put up with your filthy, disgusting, smelly smoke. What goes around, comes around. The world is now in perfect karmic balance.

Fun Facts:

There are less than 25% smokers in most of Europe.

The less educated you are the more likely you are to smoke which is why Asians who are generally better educated than the rest of us are one of the smallest percentage of smokers, contrary to popular views. [source]




Caption for photo at top of page:

Employees smoke outside the entrance of an office building in the complex of La Defense, a congregation of office towers where many of France's major corporations are based in the west of Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007.

France's health minister expressed optimism that the public will respect a new ban on smoking in offices and other public areas set to begin Thursday, but acknowledged there could be violators. Pro-smoking groups complain that the ban tramples on individual freedoms, and say enforcement will be tricky.




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