Europe is a fabulous place. I love being in Europe. There is so much history. This leads to the vast variance in cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines across Europe. In the United states, if you go one hundred miles north, south, east or west of where you grew up, the culture really has not changes much at all. The language is pretty much the same, and the food does not vary. And the architecture is the same as well.
So don’t get me wrong, I love Europe. However, there are several cultural differences that I simply do not like. The one I will focus on in this blog post is smoking.
In the United States, in the last 50 years, smoking has become more and more socially unacceptable. People who smoke are regarded as damaging public health. Most people who smoke in the United States (that I have talked to) want to smoke, but are unable to quit. There is a quote from the film Sunshine State (2002) where a man says something to the effect of, “One cannot light up a cigarette these days without people viewing him as a murder,” or something like that. The point is, smokers are vilified in the United States. Second hand smoke kills. Not only are smokers considered to endanger their own lives by smoking, they also endanger other peoples lives. Through indifference or personal weakness, smokers are responsible for people dying of cancer.
This is the view towards smoking in the United States, and our policies reflect this. Smoking is not permitted in public buildings or 20 feet from an entrance of one. All restaurants are non-smoking. I love it. I can go somewhere and I do not have to worry about inhaling second hand smoke. I maybe encounter inhaling second hand smoke maybe once a month when I am in the US, if that.
In Europe, it is completely different. People walking around and smoke all the time.
I probably have the equivalent of inhaling about a cigarettes worth of second hand smoke every couple of weeks or less. The thing is, while I waiting on the steps of an opera house for the box office to open, a man on the steps below me was sitting by his wife. This was a respectable looking man wearing a suite. He just started smoking. He could have easily walked away from people while his wife held his place in line. I had to decide between holding my spot in line and inhaling his second hand smoke. I thought it was incredibly rude. That would not have happened in the US.
Another thing that highlights this a bit more. I was in the second row in an opera. People were smoking onstage. I figured they were fake cigarettes like what they use on Broadway in the United States. Opera singers could not possible damage themselves, their voices or lungs like that, or at least I thought that was the case. They came to the front of the stage and they were smoking real cigarettes. I know this because I had the pleasure of inhaling second hand smoke, and it was clearly cigarette smoke.
I looked around, expecting everyone to be offended or at least put off. What struck me even more was that the people in the first, second and third rows, who were forced to inhale the smoke were not offended. They were people who had gone to an opera, and bought the most expensive tickets ( €85 or $109 or more). They were probably business men and women, professionals, etc who had an appreciation of opera. They would be an affluent, probably well educated cross-section of society. They did not care at all. I was shocked.
Paris was lovely. But when one is looking up at the Eiffel Tower, enjoying the skyline of Paris from the top of Montmartre, sitting outside in a cafe, sipping a latte and watching the world go by or taking a stroll along the Seine, inhaling a chunk of cigarette smoke kind of detracts from the experience. The same can be said when in London.
I am aware of the facts. I do not view the United States with delusional eyes. I know the United States smokes the same amount as Europeans. The US consumes about the same amount of cigarettes per capita as Germany or France. The difference is, in the US, people have to smoke in private. Non-smokers do not encounter nearly as much cigarette smoke in the US as they would in Europe.
P.S. None of these photos are mine.