The country that helped block the ratification of the European Consitution also gave us the precursor to the internet, the Minitel, the microchip debit card and the biometric passport.
Their individual ingenuity often sits uneasily alongside their veneration of high public office as a kind of surrogate Royal Family. So which face of France would we see reaching for its filter tips at the start of the year?
The French are often caught between their “Twelve Step State Dependency Programme” and their streak of wanton individualism. No law seems inevitable until it’s been kicked around the streets a few times.
Teenagers were largely responsible for the non-adoption of a new labour law in 2006, so what chance did a blanket smoking ban have in this most contentious of societies?
Well, the answer is: a very good one. Since January 2, no one in this country is allowed to light up anything that carries a health warning in anything resembling a public building.
Sure, there was a lot of debate in the media with, predictably, a strong majority in favour of showing those stinkers the door, but in France that’s no guarantee of success: one radio pundit described this as the country of exemptions and felt the ban would be diluted, somehow.
Not a bit of it. There’s been the odd protest here, the odd whinger there, but basically, it’s over.
Stubbed out and sent packing, France’s smokers now cluster like the Irish, the British and the Italians around café entrances.
Some burn smugly under space heaters, others sit gallantly (some might say stupidly) watching the ice form on their already empty espresso cup while they tremulously try to guide their cigarette to their lips.
The recurring strikes and demonstrations still make for good entertainment, providing you don’t have anything essential to do, like lead a life and provide food for your children.
Even the kind of gaspers who down a pack of Capstan Full Strength with their breakfast beer concede that it’s a good idea in restaurants, and the more impersonal dynamic of the big towns and cities will ensure the bar-tabacs and their ilk will tow the line.
The Mariposa Café on Melrose Avenue just ignored it: the ashtrays stayed out, people continued to smoke and nothing ever happened. Not while I was there, anyway.
Nevertheless, California was one of the first US states to go cold turkey so maybe official tolerance was higher; a comfort zone no longer enjoyed 10 years on, as the puritanism has insidiously slithered east to Old Europe, bringing with it a heightened awareness of the dangers of passive smoking as even more draconian measures replaced the initial basic laws Stateside.
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