As Chicago and Spain join the many cities and nations to adopt smoking bans, there is one vacation spot where smokers are not treated like lepers: France.
Yes, President Chirac has vowed to wage war on smoking. But it will take some time for the same anti-smoking frenzy that has gripped the U.S. to take hold on this smoker's paradise, if ever.
On one trip to Paris, my husband and I sat in a smoke-filled bar on the Ile Saint Louis. Even though we were surrounded by roiling clouds of smoke, my husband wasn't sure if it was proper to light up a Cuban cigar (another smoker's delight not to be found in the U.S., incidentally). Since my grasp of the French language is better than his (although still pretty limited), he asked me to check to be sure he could smoke his Cuban.
I approached the barkeep, who was chatting with several Frenchmen. The best I could do was come up with a French question that, literally translated, said, "Cigars are good here?" The group bellowed with laughter. One of the men crowded up to the bar looked at my with a sly smile. In a thick French accent, he informed me: "Vee ahhr not politically correct heehhrre!"
This summarizes the French attitude. They smoke, they drink wine, they eat divine cuisine. And yet their lifespans are better than that of "politically correct" Americans.
It isn't a complete free-for-all, which should come as a relief to non-smokers. You can actually find restaurants with non-smoking sections now, especially in large cities. The France rail system has eliminated smoking sections in its first-class seats on the TGV, the high-speed trains. Many travel hubs, such as airports and train stations, now ban smoking inside, as do many shopping malls.
For a smoker fed up with shivering outside New York City bars to light up in the pouring rain, a vacation in France could be just the answer. You will get no nasty looks for smoking. You can smoke in restaurants, on trains and even (get this!) in bars.