Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Mormon in Italy

My husband and I decided together that he would not be taking our planned vacation to Italy given an opportunity that cropped up at work. This was a good decision. I decided on my own to enjoy the vacation anyway. This was a bad decision. I made it two days before missing my husband miserably. Always learn the hard way.

One aspect of Italy reminded me of my adopted-home here in England: the smoking, but x10. Growing up as I did with the "Word of Wisdom," or the health code followed by Mormons, my experience with cigarette smoke in close quarters, despite the fact that my brother was a chain smoker, was fairly minimal. Possibly because of low-exposure while young, I develop severe headaches when exposed for anywhere over a few minutes if not seconds. In the states, particularly with most cities banning smoking inside all publicly-accessible buildings (although I did notice when invited to visit that Justice Scalia's chambers were filled with smoke, a clear violation of Supreme Court and federal policy - but who's going to tell him no?), I could avoid the problem altogether. Here in England, it is an entirely different story. I have battled and finally succeeded this week with our landlord in opening the painted-shut windows in the common area stairwell so as to ventilate the smoke, as a few tenants/caretakers in our mansion flat (what period-conversions are called) smoke in the common areas despite the clear signs on all walls proscribing it, and the building is in need of near-constant ventilation. Further, it is impossible to walk anywhere in London without encountering the smell, and I simply can't hold my breath long enough to avoid the many, many people who smoke. Definitely a cultural difference with the U.S. - it's much more accepted here.

In Italy, "Tabachini" shops abounded, and seemed to be so universal that those were the places with whom the government contracted to sell bus tickets (I think this was the legal arrangement - it may be that the government actually runs the shops!). It seemed everyone used these shops, as everyone apparently smoked. I discussed it with one of my bed and breakfast hostesses, and she confirmed that, in her estimation, 60-70% of all Italians smoke, with averages even higher among men. Astonishing.

I am sympathetic to those who are addicted, often early (like my brother), and who are trying to quit. But for those considering the habit, religious reasons aside for me to not smoke, I am baffled why it makes sense to anyone to decide to spend so much money in doing something that is universally known to be so very bad for them.

The "Smoking Kills" labels appear on the cigarette packages here in England as they do in the states, but this is one area where the culture gap is wide and deep - between the U.S. and England, and especially between the U.S. and the Continent (the rest of Europe).

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