Paris Is Burning (for Now)

Sorry, sorry; I’m having a hard time getting back into the swing of things after my trip to Paris. Between that and the holiday rush, there doesn’t leave much time for my duties here on this blog.

Actually, I hadn’t anticipated falling off the blogging wagon so easily. I fully expected to be blogging regularly from Paris, but after that initial entry, all of my best intentions flitted away. I was doing a lot of walking around town, taking photographs, spending time with my dad, seeing friends and fighting jet lag; somehow the idea of being productive on my laptop at the end of each day lost out to just resting and relaxing.

I had a great time in Paris, as I always do. In fact, its vivid beauty is so universally acknowledged and accurate that there’s almost nothing original I can write in further praise of it. If you’ve never visited, suffice it to say that it lives up to its reputation in every way — and with each repeat visit, it reveals something new and characteristically stunning.

It’s certainly not perfect, though. For various reasons, I was ready to come home by the end of the week — one of the primary ones being that I got fed up with the Parisian predilection for smoking like it’s going out of style.

Chain Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em

Though I’m no fan of the habit, I have a fairly decent tolerance for the presence of smoke in public places. At least I do when I’m stateside. By contrast, the amount of lit tobacco in Paris is just too much for me. Tobacco fumes creep liberally through restaurants and bistros like an insidious threat, and cloud up bars and nightclubs like an aggressive San Franciscan fog. It’s not charming, libertine or romantic. It’s just disgusting.

There is, thankfully, hope on the horizon: in the new year, the city will effectively prohibit smoking while in cafés, restaurants and bars, extending a ban that went into effect earlier this year in less nocturnal spaces like offices, schools and airports. Slowly but surely, the Parisian notion of public health is coming along.

Back to the Future of Smoking

That extended ban is just weeks away, but if you spend any time among the undeterred smoking population in Paris’ bars and clubs, where cigarette consumption seems undiminished, even accelerated, you’ll find it hard to believe that the law will change a thing once it’s on the books. It reminded me of how completely unrealistic New York City’s own smoking ban seemed in the days before it took effect earlier in this decade; at the time the habit was so thoroughly ingrained in the city’s nightlife that a mere statute seemed to stand little chance of curbing such monumentally entrenched behavior.

Still, when the calendar turned, smoking disappeared from bars and nightclubs without much of a fight. Today, it’s difficult to recall vividly that time when smoking was so prevalent in New York. Memories of that era are hazy and absurd compared to the altogether more sensible reality we experience today; that you can now spend an evening out with friends without inhaling the deadly byproduct of other people’s cigarettes and without returning home at the end of the evening bearing the vile musk of an ash tray is so thoroughly logical, I’m amazed by how long we tolerated what came before it.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: people adapt to new rules — new patterns of usage — even when the old ways seem unchangeable. We often mistake long-standing preferences for non-negotiable instincts, but we’re really much more flexible than that. Lucky for the Parisians, and lucky for me, too, next time I go.

  1. I totally agree with you, I’m a non-smoker parisian, I mooved to Montrжal two years ago and the last time I came back to Paris it was really hard for me with the smoke.

    It’s really pleasant to go in a bar or a restaurant and don’t have to smell cigarets… Hopefully for me Quжbec government banisched cigarets from bars, restaurants and clubs 2 years ago ;o)

  2. “in the new year, the city will effectively prohibit smoking”, it will be a country-wide law, not only Paris. I’m happy with this being a non-smoker.

  3. i think about this every time we think about moving overseas, believe it or not. god, i love europe and asia and my husband and i entertain ideas of moving to japan pretty much every week. one of the ticks in the “con” column is the smoking. the japanese are just as bad, if not worse, than the french.

    when we were in tokyo, i was flummoxed by how many people actually smoke WHILE eating! i remember the days when here, in america, people would be sure to put out their cigarettes while there was food to be consumed. ugh, talk about ruining one’s appetite! i had a hard time eating out and stomaching all the second hand smoke. i’ve heard from some ex-pats though that there are quite a few places that have banned smoking in their establishments because they know there’s a market for it. sounds like a bright idea to me!

  4. Hi, my name is Lee. I am a smoker.

    While I can appreciate non-smoker’s aversion to cigarette smoke, and the banning of smoking from public places, what really gets my goat is the general Judge Von-Holier-Than-Thou attitude that is usually exhibited when speaking of these smokers “who deep down inside know that it’s killing them.” I live in this world. I know all of the reasons not to smoke, and as a smoker, probably even a few more. Unfortunately this does not – yet – outweigh my love and joy of smoking, bad as it is. But non-smokers love to judge smokers, because it’s such an easy target.

    I’d like to propose an analogy that I would hope could curb some of this nasty judging. I propose a ban on trans fatty acids for preparing foods available for public consumption, i.e. in any restaurants or cafes. It makes people fat and kills them, and I will no longer stand by and be subjected to witness such gross behavior as eating grease dripping steaks or food court Chinese food. I also propose banning bars altogether. Car accidents by drunk drivers are just not worth the pleasure of being in a bar. There will also be a lot less fights in all likelihood. We should also ban cars, they’re much too dangerous. As a pedestrian, I’ve been hit by a car once and have come close several times thereafter.

    My point here is that once you start looking at public behaviors that are dangerous and deadly to you and society at large, it’s not just smoking. In fact, you might have some habits yourself that aren’t safe for you and those around you. Instead of talking about these smokers as an alien species beyond understanding, think about all of your own bad habits; you have them, own up to it. So before judging too quickly, “grab your own nose” as we like to say in Germany.

    And that’s my rant for the day.

  5. Khoi,

    I’m very surprised you made this comment today, as I was writing on something ancillary to this topic myself. While not having been repeated as often as the praises of Paris, surely of great renown is the beauty of a certain star of “Gray’s Anatomy” whom I had always thought of as “attractive” ( to say nothing of really freaking funny in a Judd Apatow movie ).

    What was unusual is that as I read about this actress I felt a notable “Ugh” when I read the article describe her as taking out a cigarette. Then I felt a sadness, all that beauty, talent, and that fair voice will suffer slowly the ravages of nicotine and CO.

    The lady in this article just happened to be the first person who had demonstrated to me that while “smoking” and “attractive” were once mutually exclusive Venn circles, they are now interlinked, at least in my estimation.

    Damn thrice these death stick purveyors. Lest I be accuse of grabbing mine own nose, I’ll confess, I’m addicted to Chick-Fil-A.

  6. I also welcome smoking bans throughout Europe. I lived in Germany for five years after living in smoke-free San Francisco for three, and was appalled by the amount of secondhand smoke that I inhaled in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. A ban went into effect last year for public spaces and offices, but smoking is still allowed in bars and nightclubs. Now I live in Switzerland and saw a great spot at the movie theater here the other day. A waiter brings a bottle of wine for tasting to a man and woman dining at a restaurant. The man takes a sip of the wine, savors it, and then spews it on his date for several seconds, totally soaking her. At the end the narrator says: “smoke doesn’t just ‘come out in the wash'”.

  7. I don’t care if people want to smoke, it’s their right, do what you want with YOUR life.

    but NO smoking where I EAT and WORK. it’s that simple, I don”t want to swallow your smoke.

    I’m all for total ban of smoke in restaurant, public places and bars.

    @Lee : I’m all for ban of habits dangerous to OTHERS in _public_ place.
    And the last time I checked, people can eat bad aliments without forcing others to eat too. I’m sick of bad analogies. if you could control where your smoke goes, it could be fine. you can’t.

    yeah I have no dangerous habits, I’m THAT perfect, and yeah, I know the smokers aliens, my parents are smokers. so I am alien too. but it’s still a bad habits to smoke IN FRONT OF NO SMOKERS!

    It’s THAT simple : the NO SMOKERS DON’T want to breath the smoke.

    you can do everything else you want. be an alien or normal, whatever. I love you both.

    I’m not fond of paris in the night. it’s not my world 🙂 I prefer Paris the day, in some quiet places.

  8. Well, I am from Paris although I have not lived there or France altogether for the past 8 years. My personal experience is that it got worse over the last 15 years or so. I remember growing up and if you were bothered by a smoker, most of the times, a simple and courteous demand would do the trick and the offender would literally crush his/her cigarette to please you. As I grew older, people became more agressive and it was not uncommon to see people argue over a ciggie being lit to the uncomfort of others.
    My tolerance for cigarette smoke is fairly low, I simply hate it and I am known to leave a place if it’s too smokey. My wife tolerance to smoke is non-existent.
    While I understand why one wants or need to smoke I must confess this ban is heartily welcome. I will once again enjoy having a drink in a cafe with friends, an act that became painful over the years.

  9. What else can I say but agree with your point of view Khoi – as a non-smoker,I also have little sympathy for the smoke apologists – In my country, the cigarette, regrettably, is still king on practically all public venues (although many places feature smoker and non-smoker sections)- but that doesnt avoid the nasty fumes to seep through, spoiling the occasion. Our society has also historically resistant to change, so it’s interesting to hear on how effective the smoking ban came to be in NYC. Maybe there is still hope for the rest of us.

  10. The smoking ban is absolutely the greatest thing to ever hit smoker’s socially. By forcing smokers to take it outside, they huddle in groups for warmth and, more importantly, to socialize.

    Trying to meet new people in a city and you are favorably to social smoking? Guess what! It’s easy to just grab a quick smoke at a bar by going outside and meeting those of us who also want to get some air and chat. I’ve met a number of people this way and smoking, less as a habit and more of a social lubricant, feels like alcohol in the way that it makes fellow participants feel friendly towards each other, just without the unfortunate side-effects of bad judgement, slurred speech, and inability to stay rational.

    The smell? Well, you’re outside, so the smell wafts away much better. Just don’t be a thorn about it and don’t smoke at people walking in an out of the building, and you’ve got yourself a new type of bar.

  11. I went to Paris and I fulfilled a lifelong dream. I sat on the street in a cafe and smoked a couple of Gitanes, drank coffee and tried not to get into a conversation (I start speaking pidgin Spanish instead of French and I know less Spanish than I do French). Fortunately people want to practice their English. Unfortunatley the current fascination with Anglo practices spills over, and now, few people will ever know the pleasure of a coffee and a cigarette in one of the world’s great cities.

    I used to smoke years ago.

    I haven’t smoked since.

    But I am sure glad I beat the ban.

  12. Having lived in both New York and San Francisco (back in SF now), I can’t tell you how great it is to live in cities with smoking bans. Chicago, my old haunt, is also imposing a smoking ban starting in January ’08. So I can definitely feel your pain. Second hand smoke ‘blows’.

    And great shots of the city Khoi. But what’s up with your fascination with the number 27?

  13. @oomu: perhaps a better analogy then would be: ban the use of automobiles. Besides killing plenty of folks in car crashes, they also pollute the air we all breathe and are, arguably, one of the bigger drivers of global warming. Compared to the risks of global climate change, public smoking is laughable. So stop driving your cars and polluting the earth. What would be better than a public smoking ban? A 5000% tax on gas. Anyone who drives a car is doing considerably more harm not just to those immediately around them, but to the entire human population.

    And yes, I don’t, nor have I ever, owned a car. I’m a public transit kind of guy.

    Again, smoking bans are good. All I’m saying is: Judge Not, Thou Art Not Perfect Thyself!

  14. Shouldn’t a smoking ban be up to whomever owns the establishment and not the government. If you are really bothered by smoking go to a non smoking establishment. It is not up to your to decide if other people can smoke or not, and it is really not your choice whether people can smoke on someone else’s property. It is the responsibility of the property owner.

    If we are to be intellectually honest we should ban drinking also. Far more people are killed by alcohol related incidents that second hand smoke.

    But these unfortunate smoking bans aren’t about public health, they just use it as a cover. It’s is a disgusting excuse to step on property owner’s rights because you don’t like something.

    And no I don’t smoke I just have an unhealthy respect for the constitution.

  15. Please people (constitution, ha!) — it’s as simple as this:

    (As someone who’s done his time enjoying a smoke), you can’t smoke without disturbing non-smokers. It’s impossible to smoke at one table and not disturb the people who are sickened by smoke at the adjacent one, so it’s simply here where the weak analogies above fall down. You can drink (as long as you’re not a loud drunk) without disturbing people, you can eat your bacon burger without disturbing people, you can drive your car without disturbing people. Yes, you *can* be disruptive or even unsafe doing any of these things, but you likely won’t be.

    Conversely, the simple, discreet act of lighting up ruins the public space experience for the typical non-smoker. Couple that the public health issue (especially acute for workers at places where smoking is allowed), and it’s a no brainer. Kudos Paris and the cities and countries that have gone before. Asia I’m not so optomistic about.

    As Ben Harper would say, “My choice is what I choose to do — and if I’m causing no harm it shouldnt bother you” — ‘causing no harm’ being the operative phrase.

  16. Hey Tom, thanks for your thoughts. Unfortunately, “you can’t smoke without disturbing non-smokers” is just not a true statement. If an establishment properly separates smokers from non-smokers I think this would be entirely possibly, and a smoker wouldn’t sit at a table adjacent to a non-smoker. I would concur with ABIV: it should be the property owner’s choice.

    It also seems to me that we are mixing lines of logic: is the smoking ban to not annoy non-smokers, or is it about public health? If it’s a matter of public health, the above analogies have some weight… if we’re talking about merely not bothering the person next to you maybe not so much. Again, two slightly different chains of logic. The reason, btw, that I brought up the trans fatty acids analogy is that this is something that was actually seriously considered here in Philadelphia, USA. I believe, however, that there was too much public resistance. It can’t be argued that this wouldn’t have had as much a positive effect on public health as would a smoking ban (which we also have had here in Philadelphia for a few years).

    Lastly, I’m not sure you’ve thought this one out all the way: “Conversely, the simple, discreet act of lighting up ruins the public space experience for the typical non-smoker.” I would say that similarly, the simple, discreet act of getting into your car and driving it ruins the public space experience for the pedestrian. And don’t you think car emissions have some impact on public health? Let’s be honest here.

  17. The smoking ban is about several things I’d wager: 1) making the atmosphere of public spaces more pleasant for the majority of the population, 2) discouraging unhealthy behaviour (one of which there are many others, admittedly) which impacts public health dollars spent, 3) protecting the health of workers who [often] have to spend their entire shift in an enclosed environment. Separating tables works (sort of) for patrons, but does nothing to protect the non-smoking waitress or bartender or janitor who has to breathe other people’s smoke for 8 hours at a time.

    Car emissions certainly have an impact on public health, and I’d support progressive change re: cars as well. That said I think most people would say that cars and pedestrians have learned to co-exist fairly well, especially in a great walking city like Paris. Personally, I now travel over 500 miles a week (for work) while driving less than 10, in Los Angeles no less. Public transport is a wonderful thing.

  18. Hey Tom, you bring up a great point about the workers, for that non-smoking waitress it would certainly suck.

    500 miles a week for work? That’s quite remarkable, I do about 130, which is about 2 1/2 hours a day on train / bus roundtrip. Indeed, public transit is a great thing, I get a lot of reading done!

  19. The smoking ban makes sense, mostly, but there could be more clubs, bars, etc. where smokers can hang out together.
    Along the lines of a smoking speakeasy.
    I’ve seen a few karaoke clubs in LA’s Korea Town where ashtrays still sit on the tables.
    If you’re concerned about second-hand smoke, you don’t go there (or work there).
    Everybody’s happy.

    (by the way Khoi, I don’t know if you were behind it, but awesome job on the year-end photos feature at the NY Times web site)

  20. I like going to a bar and not smelling of smoke when I leave!

    If a smoker wants to smoke, that’s absolutely fine. But when he/she forces me to smoke as well, that just seems selfish to me. I wouldn’t force beer or fatty foods down someones throat.

  21. Smokers who think they “choose” to smoke are totally delusional. The “enjoyment” of cigarettes is also a fantasy smokers play out in their minds while their cigarettes destroy their bodies. I know this from experience.

    Smoking should be banned in all public places. Period. No one benefits from smoking except Big Tobacco.

  22. Hey,
    since the 2 january 2008, french people can’t smoke in pub, etc. And trust me, it’s very hard for us (french somkers) because it is changing our behaviours. But it’s a good thing, because it forces young people like me to stop tabacco. Furthermore, the price of cigarette will increase in few month.

    So it’s a good thing to motivate people stop smoking (like me) but in the same times, old people who smoke since 30 years. It will changes nothing, also they will have the feeling to be reject. No smoking in small pub of small town is not very appreciate from french people. It’s in our mentality, culture.

    So, i hope that i will hold to stop cigarettes because it’s simply a DRUG and we don’t need this. Young french people understant this as a good vibe.

    So (scuse me for my bad english 😉

    A french man !

  23. I hate big government and fundamentally detest most “bans,” but many people are generally weak. And dirty. And self destructive. And inconsiderate. And dangerous. Maybe one day there will be a “health-cig” or a “longevity toke” and smoking might return to favor and even use. For now, this is the Right Thing.

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