The new ban on smoking in cafés, bars, restaurants, etc. has now been in effect for more than two weeks. So, what about it? Is it working? Surely, the ‘moi d’abord, après les autres’ arrogant French attitude would prevail and the recently enacted restrictions would merely be scoffed at or ignored by the legions of rebellious, tobacco-obsessed Parisians and their fellow compatriots. All of a sudden these people are going to give up the routine in their god-given pursuit of liberté, égalité, fraternité, and lung cancer?
Believe it or not, the answer appears to be ‘oui.’ Opinion polls in France suggest that 70% of the people support the ban. I can’t speak for what’s going on in deep France, but throughout the Ile de France early reports and personal observations confirm that the French have shrugged their shoulders, thrown away their café and restaurant ashtrays, donned extra heavy scarves in order to keep warm when smoking outside (not just the skimpy wool ones that mummify their sensitive necks during summer months, but really heavy ones), and apparently have learned to grin and bear the new restrictions. Now, when passing cafés in Paris, when I look through their windows, no longer is there the customary smokescreen that prevents my ever knowing what is going on inside – there actually are people! Only not too many of them.
Yes, the typically sardine-packed neighborhood cafés—where getting to the bar to order an un espresso required a ridiculous amount of pushing, shoving, and ‘pardons’—appear to be a thing of the past. Now there is something called ‘elbow room,’ and plenty of it, as previously loyal patrons apparently have deigned the possibility of drinking a demi without a filterless Galouise just too unbearable a thought, and that it’s just easier to stay home and do it in the comfort of one’s befogged living room.
I am already waxing—or is it ‘waning’?—nostalgic for the good ol’ cough-inducing days. We have a bar down the street, one of those places that has those fascinating horse races playing on TVs all day long, and if you entered without yellowed fingers and a cigarette dangling from your puss, the place suddenly would grow quiet and you would draw foreboding stares. I must walk past the place at least a couple times a day and pre-ban, the smell coming out of the place from the smoking and the rotgut liquor the patrons were drinking was mind-bogglingly putrid. On the rare occasion when I’d enter to buy stamps or a telephone card at the counter, I’d find that smell lingering on my clothes for hours. I must admit, I sort of miss the pitiful reek emanating out of the bars and cafés of Paris. I mean, isn’t that what Paris is all about?
One drawback that I've noticed to the smoking ban. Outside the cafes, a new phenomenon--mountains of ashes and cigarette butts, the discards of patrons who stepped out for their tobacco fix, the mounds like cairns of death or monuments to a woebegone time of innocence, cough.