No Smoking in Paris


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January 1st, 2008 will mark the end of an era in Paris: the era of smoke-filled bars and cafes. Many tourists and residents will rejoice, but I have to admit that I’m happy to have visited some of my favorite haunts like Smoke on Rue Delambre in Montparnasse, and my new-found favorite,
Cafe Six 19, Rue des Canettes in St. Germain-des-Pres before the ban on smoking goes into effect. Students hunched over tables with a beer in one hand and the burning ember of a cigarette in the other – just seems ‘so Parisian’. But even old cliches must eventually be buried.
(If you get a chance to see one of the hit movies this season in Paris “The Secret”, you’ll note that the martyr in this story is a chain-smoking bookworm who sacrifices her life and her child’s life for a principle -retaining her identity).

In time, the nostalgia for smoke-filled bars will be as unfathomable as would be a yearning to bring back spittoons. The foul habit of spitting has been successfully eradicated in most of the developed world.

How cigarette companies succeeded in equating smoking with romance is another one of those advertising coups comparable to DeBeers ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’. We are all sadly mutated by the power of advertising – even those of us who were lucky enough not to become addicted to smoking – or buying diamonds.

What does the smoking ban in Paris’s restaurants and cafes mean for you, the blythe tourist? It means that hostesses and maitre d’s can no longer use the excuse for shunting you to the ‘grenier’ i.e. the attic or down to the dungeon (the usual non-smoking sections set aside specifically for poorly dressed tourists). Okay, maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion.

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But, seriously, non-smoking sections in French restaurants are truly comical. They are normally tucked in a corner where all the noxious gases from the smokers, the exhaust fans, and the WC gather to form a mushroom cloud over the squeamish guests who are deliberating about whether to eat salad and whether the cost of bottled water is justified as a means to avoid local Parisian microbes in the tap water.

Just so you know. You can drink the tap water in Paris. If you live in Paris and have old water pipes, you might want to stick with bottled water, but for a few days in Paris, the tap water fine.Remember simply that most cafes make their money serving liquids, not food. Order a carafe of water only when you have a full meal. Salads in France are normally a very healthy choice. My only warning would be to avoid dishes using ‘creme fraiche’ on exceptionally hot days.

It occurs to me that most of our ‘romantic images’ of Paris also tend to be focused on rather unhealthy people and unhealthy times. TB was rampant in Chopin’s time. Picasso and Modi were starving. Nowadays, some club scenes are moving toward not only ‘smoke-free’ but ‘drug-free’ attitude.

Meanwhile back at the cafe, what will replace smoking as the romantic pose for French cafe residents? Text messaging? Black pearl twisting?