Cigarette Smoking – a Cultural Difference

The influence and culture of cigarettes is a subject that has been very interesting to study and understand since my arrival in France. One of my first intercultural “shocks” for me arrived in my first amphitheatre style class at Université de Toulouse Capitole 1, in the famous Amphi Despaux. This enormous amphitheatre seats two hundred and fifty students, and the professor teaches the course through a microphone. After thirty minutes of my business course, the professor nonchalantly put a cigarette in the corner of her mouth and lit it during the course of her lecture. Puffs of smoke drifted across her desk and followed her as she made her way to the chalkboard to write her notes. I was completely stunned. Despite this mid lecture smoke, nearly a half an hour later, the class was instructed to take a ten minute pause as all two hundred fifty students, including the professor, stepped outside to smoke yet another cigarette. It almost seemed as if the syllabus and structure of the entire course were designed to include ample time for smoking. Even as I leave my class every week, I see the same students in my business class lined up outside of the metro getting their last few drags of a cigarette before they head home. Sometimes, students will even take their lit cigarettes onto the escalator and ride all the way down into the station before they are instructed to put it out by an officer. Sadly, the statistics involving smokers in France are staggering with “73,000 people who die from tobacco related deaths each year.” Plus, “the percentage of smoking has increased from 28 percent to 30 percent of the total population in the course of the last five years.”

I find that after a long week of school nearly all of my clothes smell like ash. For me, it was at this moment that I knew I had found myself in a totally different culture when my jeans, shirts, and hair smelled like smoke after every week. It’s astonishing how noticeable this habit is throughout France as a whole. However, I understand that this difference is simply something I must learn to adapt to during my studies here in France. After all, I come from a country where cigarette smoking is frowned upon and where we learn starting in kindergarden that “smoking kills”, so I am still stunned by the amount of smokers and relaxed attitude towards smoking in France. In the end, I acknowledge that smoking is no more than a cultural norm for my friends and I respect their own decision. Having a cigarette at a café is a common practice for many in France.  I believe that, in certain contexts, smoking in France allows us to enjoy the company of those around us and   teaches us to enjoy life at a slower pace. This practice is certainly something every American could learn from.

-Greg Sellhausen

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