‘Lighting up in someone’s house now feels totally wrong, like driving without a seatbelt’
As far as smoking is concerned, we have moved far closer to Boston than Berlin
It’s alright for our American friends to have a zero-tolerance approach to smoking but here in the land of passive-aggressive, round-about communication – “God you’re gas! still smoking!” – it’s less straightforward. Photograph: Getty Images
On a recent trip to Germany, I was surprised at the prevalence of smoking. Everyone was smoking, everywhere, all the time, or so it seemed. Actually, with 21 per cent of the population puffing away, they are only three percentage points ahead of us on the OECD 2018 Daily Smokers Indicator, with Greece and Russia topping the poll at 27 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. The Scandinavian countries (with the exception of Denmark) are in single digits, naturally, and the US comes in at just below 12 per cent.
Germany has a smoking ban, but it’s different to ours in that it only reduced the amount of places where smoking is permitted at a federal level, with individual states free to set their own specific laws. Hence, in certain states, smoking is still permitted in some bars and smaller clubs . This is noticeable. Stuttgart airport even has a smokers’ lounge, which felt very 1970s.
The other noticeable thing is that smoking in private homes is still widely acceptable, whereas here it has become so socially unacceptable to smoke indoors that to do so now just feels totally wrong, like driving without a seatbelt. I don’t know of any smokers who would expect to be allowed to light up in someone else’s home or who would even do it in their own home anymore. A canvas of friends and family revealed not a single person. One reply did add the caveat “unless we all got sh*t-faced” but apart from that, nada. As far as smoking is concerned, we have definitely moved closer to Boston than Berlin.
Interestingly, on an Airbnb forum, one of the top complaints by hosts is directed at guests who did not respect the no-smoking rule in their homes A quick trawl through the complaints revealed that UK and US hosts were the most intolerant towards smoking, with eastern European countries (Croatia, Serbia, Hungary etc) being the most relaxed, which is also borne out by the OECD data on smoking. In general, even where European hosts did not allow smoking indoors, they did permit it outside on the patio or balcony etc, whereas American and Canadian hosts didn’t want it anywhere in, on, at, over, under, near, far, around, beside – just go away and take your Marlboro Lights with you.
But what if the guest is someone who is invited to your home? A non-paying guest? What about great aunt Margaret, for instance? She’s 92, saw through world wars and civil rights marches, smoked all her life and isn’t about to stop now. Should she be escorted outside (mind the step there, Aunt Margaret)? Or how about your Austrian mother-in-law who is over on a visit and already unimpressed with the coffee and the pressure in the shower. Are you really going to show her to the rain-drenched porch with an umbrella and the stove lighter? It’s alright for our American friends, who have no problem being direct and can enforce zero-tolerance, but here in the land of passive-aggressive, round-about communication – “God you’re gas! still smoking!” – it’s less straightforward.
There’s also our world-famous culture of hospitality to consider. A zero-tolerance approach doesn’t sit well with a hundred thousand fáiltes. The usual rule is that a guest’s comfort is priority (which is why Irish homes are heated to near boiling when guests are invited and why every drink known to man is crammed into the fridge and sideboard just in case, God forbid, you should run out). But is smoking indoors a bridge too far even for Irish hospitality? I suppose, like everything in life, it depends. Sometimes red lines (even blood-red ones) have to be flexible. If it’s a case of one smoker on their own, maybe rules can be bent but if there are other non-smoking guests present, you’ve got to consider the impact on them.
If smoking is the ultimate red line, what are the runners-up? Guests who bring a dog? Guests who bring incontinent dogs (no, it’s fine we pee on that carpet all the time)? How about guests who won’t go home? In Italy, when the hostess takes off her shoes it’s a sign that the evening is over (of course, this doesn’t work if your guests have fallen into a coma, in which case you need to turn off the heat and stop serving).
Most of the time, as host, you just gotta suck it up because in the words of the immeasurably wise Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird, when reprimanding Scout for staring at a guest’s funny eating habits: “Anyone who sets foot in this house’s yo comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table-cloth you let him, you hear?” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.