Thursday, January 3, 2008
The End of the Smoky Café
Since January 1, a new law banning smoking in public places has cleared the air in restaurants, bars, cafes, and other eating and drinking establishments all across France. Will Paris ever be the same? Has something essentially Parisian been swept away with the dirty ashtrays that no longer grace café tables? How will the city cope with the loss of one of its most lasting clichés (preferably filmed in black and white): a smoky, slightly dingy café filled with a world-weary clientele nonchalantly inhaling Gitanes? And more importantly, will anyone still go to cafés, or will they simply close up and die, while Starbucks storms the city, snapping up empty storefronts like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo?
Having been a long-time fan of smoky cafes (though not of smoking), I have pondered this conundrum and have come to the conclusion that since suffering for the greater good is value deeply embedded in the French consciousness, smokers will continue to frequent cafes, regardless of the fact that they are no longer permitted to enjoy their vice. Sure, now that the smoke has cleared, you’ll be able see how dingy some of these cafes really are, but you’ll also be able to see your neighbors, not to mention taste the food you are eating, should you venture in at lunch time. I find it hard to believe that a cigarette is the spark that lights up a good café; good talk, good food, and good ambiance are far more essential to café success. As proof, three days into the new smoke-free era I can report that in my two local ex-stinky cafes, there is still plenty of clientele. And for more substantial proof, look at Italy, where a similar law was enforced three years ago and none of the black predictions of café-owners came to pass. In fact, many now say that they have more customers than before.
Perhaps I am painting this rosy picture of the future of café life because, admittedly, I am very relieved not to have to suck up second hand smoke every time I want to sit down for a cup of java. The irony is that I haven’t actually smelled smoke since my operation in June (see my post "Thinking of Having Brain Surgery During your Stay?") rendered me incapable of smelling anything, so I’ve been enjoying “smoke-free” cafés and restaurants since June. And though I regret deeply my loss of sense of smell, I gotta say, cigarette smoke is one scent I haven’t missed a bit.