Gasping for air in Deutschland

Laird took me out for dinner last night. It was my first cold-weather experience of a restaurant in Germany; all the windows were shut, keeping the cold out and the second-hand smoke in. A middle-aged couple sat down beside us and launched into an animated conversation, waving their cigarette-clutching hands around and spreading fumes in the air like manure on a field. Three women then sat down at a table on the other side of us, all dressed exactly alike in black Nikes and spiky hair. There was apparently some kind of lovers quarrel going on between them, and the foul Galois seemed to match the high tension of their mood. They chained-smoked the ghastly things, one after another after another. In triplicate. Laird, fascinated by the drama of this romantic triangle, was content. I peered through the thick air of the restaurant, my stomach twisting in despair. Smokers everywhere.

The rankness of the air nearly made me ill. Any whiff of cigarette smoke is bad for a Canadian non-smoker from the land of banned tobacco, but this was really bad. The waiter was genuinely sympathetic, but could offer no relief; non-smoking sections are practically unheard of in Germany. I suppose, as George Carlin famously said, they’re about as effective as a no-peeing section in a swimming pool, anyway.

Maybe it’s some kind of hangover from the fact that smoking was frowned on by the Nazi party. Everyone smokes here. However, the führer was a vegetarian, and there ARE a few vegetarian restaurants around. A very few, mind you. And they’re full of smokers, too.

To give you an idea how bad the situation is, Germany has had its bottom smacked by the EU:

The EU has accused Germany of taking too soft a stance on smoking in public. Commissioner Byrne has criticized the government for taking an "easygoing" stance to smoking, considering that an estimated 100,000 Germans die of smoking-related diseases every year.

Moreover, the EU Commission, which launched an anti-smoking campaign last year called "Feel Free to Say No," has accused Berlin of trying to block a comprehensive world-wide anti-smoking initiative by the World Health Organization, which is already supported by over 190 countries. In the past years, Germany has also come out strongly against an EU initiative to ban cigarette advertising across Europe.

I may not be able to eat at a restaurant again until the weather warms up and the windows are opened, but there is one cafe in town that has become my haven-away-from-home: The San Francisco Coffee Company, where non-smoking signs have appeared on tables all over the cafe. It was with great pleasure that I was able to hold one up in front of an old lady and waggle my finger at her when she pulled out a package of cigarettes. She got up and moved to another table in a huff. Fine with me. She may not have died young because of her smoking, but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Thank you, SFCC!!!!

2 thoughts on “Gasping for air in Deutschland

  1. I understand completely how you feel! As a fervent non-smoker, who grew up in Germany and now lives in the United States, I have always hated visiting German restaurants. I go even a step further: I only eat out during the warm summer months, when I can sit outside. An open window does not provide enough ventilation to make the horrible fumes tolerable. My husband and I are thinking of moving back to Europe, but the reckless and mindless smoking behaviour of so many of my fellow citizens is definitely a factor in our delaying this move.
    I am encouraged by Italy’s decision to ban smoking in restaurants, and continue to hope that the winds of change will eventually drift north (or perhaps southeast, since Ireland also has a smoking ban) to bring much-need fresh air to Germany.


  2. I am a non-smoker, but I quit smoking a while ago. I am angry at this topic, because I believe that non-smokers should not be pressuring smokers. Yes, many people die from smoking diseases in Germany, but if people want to smoke let them smoke. Don’t pressure and harass people and make them feel like a burden even though you may think they are. It is hard enought to quit smoking. If you have a problem with the restaurants in Germany, go to a different country. Smoking has always been a large part of the culture, just like drinking alcohol. Let the people be who they are. It is not anyone’s decision to make, not even the government’s.


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