07 December 2010 Life

We interrupt this program for a very important smoke break

I knew before coming to Switzerland that smoking was a much more significant part of the culture than it is back home. In Ontario, the provincial government has been on the offensive against smoking for years now. Banning it in schools, then all public establishments; preventing merchants from displaying cigarettes on store shelves; and a huge advertising campaign urging people to quit… I had been lulled into thinking that smoking was a fringe activity that sane people don’t take seriously.

Well, let me tell you, I was in for a shock. Smoking is so much a part of everyday routine that even class schedules are built to accomodate the activity.

At the Université de Lausanne, a full one quarter of the time allotted for lectures is devoted to smoke breaks. At the top of every hour, without exception, the professor will stop for fifteen minutes to give students the opportunity to feed their nicotine craving. This is problematic, because those of us who don’t smoke (which is still usually more than half) will inevitably find something distracting and unproductive to do to fill up those fifteen minutes.

I’m no good at multitasking. I would much rather focus on the subject at hand for the full 2 hours, using my free time more wisely afterwards. Besides, you can’t get anything fulfilling done in 15 minutes. That’s why those with laptops revert to checking Facebook and playing YouTube videos during the break.

And then the other half of the class comes back in for the next chunk of the lecture smelling like cigarette. “1970s bowling alley” is not the kind of vibe I’m looking for when I’m trying to learn about Comparative Politics in Maghreb.

Of course, it used to be worse. Smoking indoors was allowed up until September 2009. I was talking this weekend with a former student who said that one of his professors would smoke so many cigarettes during the course of the lecture that a cloud of smoke gradually obscured what he was writing on the blackboard.

I grew up learning to loathe smoking. They showed us black lungs in school and told us about the horrible ingredients that were in cigarettes: rat poison, battery acid, cyanide. When I was seven or eight years old, I was riding in the passenger’s seat of my Dad’s ‘92 Cavalier when a guy in a red pick-up truck pulled up beside us, a cigarette dangling from his fingers outside the window. I rolled down my window and yelled, red-faced, “Smoking kills, you know!

Somehow, I don’t think that tactic will fly over here.

Sam Nabi


Paula 7 December 2010, 17:36

It’s so pervasive in Europe.

When I was young I think I was more used to it, especially because the laws weren’t yet as strict here, but as I got older it was always more and more of a shock.

I remember flying in to the airport in Dusseldorf in 2006, as soon as we stepped off the plane the building smelled like smoke. It was such a foreign feeling because in Canada even if I can smell smoke, it’s usually outside, and you can usually get away from it.

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