Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Smoke gets .... everywhere

It seems incredible now but when I first started teaching, students would regularly ask if it was all right to smoke in the classroom. It's even harder to believe that I would invariably acquiesce, just so long as they agreed to sit by an open window.

Why, when I wasn't even a smoker, did I agree to having the room filled up with acrid fumes and students concentrating more on blowing perfect smoke rings than attending to the finer points of English grammar? I can't honestly remember. Perhaps I was more scared of students then than I am now. Perhaps I secretly wanted to be a smoker but never quite managed to get past the nausea. More probably, I had some warped idea about being accommodating and respecting their freedom even when it impinged on mine and I was definitely not keen on the idea of being labelled a puritan spoilsport.

I remembered all of this as I read this passage from Jenny Diski's Stranger on a Train
I didn't want to do as I was told, I didn't want to be more comfortable by conforming, giving in, as I saw it to the pressures of an anti-smoking policy that was reinforced by moral imperatives. Very childish. Yes, exactly. I also didn't want to become an ex-smoker, not if it meant that I became someone who tsked and sighed whenever I caught a whiff of smoke in the air. ... It was almost organic, my desire not to be a virtuous , self-righteous non-smoker.
I can relate to this in a non-smoking sort of way. I really organically don't want to be that sanctimonious disapprover either.

But now, as the smokers in France wail about the looming ban on smoking in bars and restaurants without ever really believing that it will come to pass (smoking is already banned in all public places but, this being France, places selling food and drinks got a reprieve until January 2008), I can't help thinking about how much more pleasant it is to go out in Scotland where the smoking ban has been a great success and there's no need to worry about having to become the intolerant tsker that I never thought I would be, as vile smoke wafts up my nose.

So much then for being a right-on understanding non-smoker then. But if only someone would invent a smokeless cigarette, I promise I would be tolerance personified.


meredic said...

I wholly agree that the smoking ban in the UK has been a positive thing. It's made going to the pub a lot nicer from the point of view of your clothes stinking afterwards.
My one gripe is that now it is almost impossible to sit outside one without sharing the smoking area.

Mo said...

Many moons ago I taught EFL in France and had a similar experience - I couldn't see my students for clouds of smoke. They were so hooked that some of them had to ask for fag breaks during their exams! I can't quite see how they're going to cope with a ban on smoking in public. I agree, pubs and restaurants are now wonderfully smoke free in Scotland.

Your blog has brought back loads of bitter-sweet memories of life in France. I don't think I could cope with the bureaucracy again though. It would drive me to distraction.

BeefKing said...

You know, they actually have invented smokeless cigarettes. I remember them from the 90's, point-of-purchase in US supermarkets.

But there was of course a fatal flaw: they were made of tobacco, treated with some insidious chemistry so that it would vaporize when burned. The downshot of which is that, although there's no smoke, and no smell, there was still a vapor, and that vapor turned out to be much worse for you than just smoking regular cigarettes. It promised to be such a health hazard were it to catch on that they were quickly banned. Imagine a bar room full of invisible odorless poison. Yikes.

Were these smoking students in medical school?

Lesley said...

Meredic: I've also been surprised by the number of smokers in flimsy dresses and t-shirts standing outside pubs in the middle of winter.

Mo: It's not quite that bad now, no fag breaks during exams anyway.

Beefking: Mmmmm I wonder if they're still working on those vapour fags. The students in question weren't medics but students in psychology and sociology. Those were the days