Hello From A Smoking Hell
A coughing, hacking, eye-buring hell
Over the past year, I’ve eagerly awaited Washington DC’s approaching non-smoking legislation. Smoke Free DC makes all indoor spaces, even bars and restaurants, smoke free establishments. Smokers are relegated to the streets, like the social lepers they are.
But before I could truly enjoy the wondrous clean air of a burning tobacco free city, I was hustled off to Macedonia and into my own personal hell. A thick, stinky hell of chain smokers.
See these two guys at the left? They sat next to me at a big table of people and chain smoked the entire party. And they were not alone. Seemingly, the entire country chain smoked. And I’m not talking about a cigarette here or there, or maybe two or three a day.
I am talking the full on, lighting one cigarette off another chain smoking all day long. And everywhere. People smoked in lobbies, offices, classrooms, even bathrooms, and no amount of dirty looks or coughing made them even contemplate their transgression.
In Macedonia, everyone smokes everywhere. It’s accepted and normal, and it is driving me crazy. My eyes sting, my clothes stink, and my burning throat only hurts more as I hack and cough incessantly.
My requests for non-smoking areas of restaurants and bars are often met with a quizzical look, and I am taken to the one or two non-smoking tables. Often that sport ashtrays and always that stink just as bad as any other table.
To me, non-smoking areas indoors are like non-pee parts of a swimming pool. A nice idea but completely impractical in execution. And execution is what I had in mind on several occasions when I realized I was the only non-smoker at a table.
So here is my quixotic promise. If, through work, I come back to Macedonia for an extended stay, I’m going to set up a smoke free Skopje. Maybe it will only be one bar, one night, and maybe, as my Macedonian friends assured me, it will be a complete commercial failure; at least my lungs (and eyes, and clothes) will thank me.
Until then, I’ll be choosing my locations carefully. Always in big rooms, always near a window, and whenever warm enough, always outside.