Before I get into this post I am not proud of being a smoker nor would I encourage anyone to start. This is just an observation of those unfortunately afflicted smokers of the world.
Standing outside Rome’s Fiumicino airport braving bitter February wind and rain a few weeks ago, gratefully drawing in a nicotine hit between an international flight and a domestic flight, I was approached by a short middle aged lady holding out a cigarette and tapping the end with her finger. ‘Si, senora’ I said and obliged her with a light for her cigarette. Immediately the bond peculiar to smokers was struck up although she spoke no English and I very little Italian. We persevered to swap family information, our respective travel arrangements and other details before we eventually went our separate ways. I considered this exchange and realised how often this had happened before. In Malaysia, Greece, Turkey and many other countries with the same language difficulties in broken English or the smattering of the native language I made it a habit of picking up. I’m quite pleased with the fact I can say ‘thank you’ in some eighteen different languages but ‘no’ in only three or four.
More often than not the common ground was smoking. Then another factor came to mind which was that of the smoking rooms and areas in offices and companies. the exchange of information there almost invariably spread communications quicker than email and formal meetings. There was also a better quality of exchange and trust that could only be down to the universal bond of our common malaise. Normal procedures within the companies often failed to come to successful conclusions. Whereas successful dealing with problems could be achieved in between hacking and coughing and braving foul weather conditions in the ‘fresh’ air.
One of the interesting benefits is that smoking is not generally specific to one department therefore inter-departmental liaison is fostered in a way that could not be achieved in the parochial environs of an insular department. Maybe companies should look into this phenomenon and the potential benefits that could possibly be replicated in some other way that did not involve the downside of the health issues. Every cloud (even a smoke one!) has a silver lining.