Smoking – the universal language

Courtesy of Stockvault
Courtesy of Stockvault

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.

3 thoughts on “Smoking – the universal language

  1. That’s an interesting take on the smoking debate. Ned. May I add a non-smoker’s view?

    As a non-smoking former civil servant, I always felt that unhealthy alliances were forged, private deals done and characters assassinated in civil service smoking rooms. Then these rooms were outlawed and smokers were deported out of the building. Each winters’ morning I would have to hold my breath as I ploughed through the huddled mass of shivering, puffing colleagues who blocked the building’s entrance.

    There never was such a thing as an official tea break in the civil service and beverages always had to be consumed at one’s desk. For the nicotine addicts however, there was the concession to spend ten minutes every half hour standing idle outside the building – a concession denied to the non-smokers. This gave rise to some resentment on the part of the non-addicted, who were contributing an extra hour at least per day to the work clearance rate beyond that contributed by their smoking colleagues. However, there was a certain smugness in the suspicion that we non-smokers would live to collect our civil service pensions for longer than our self harming colleagues!

    1. I think that perhaps ‘unhealthy alliances were forged, private deals done and characters assassinated’ happened among non-smokers as well but not so easy to attribute to a specific group. It’s rather like the Police targeting cars and drivers. Not so easy to hide a car under a cloak as opposed to a dagger! An interesting note:- from recent news, the survival times of patients having lung transplants is in general longer when the donor is a smoker! I do sympathise with non-smokers and not being able to have that break. However, modern companies are taking this into account and frequent breaks (without nicotine) are seen as beneficial. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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