There are a couple of quotes about Hungarians that stick in my mind: ‘If you have a Hungarian for a friend, you don’t need an enemy’ and ‘A Hungarian will step in a revolving door behind you and come out before you’. Xenophobic generalisations have never been so flattering.
Here’s the thing: you can substitute ex-smoker for Hungarian in those sentences and be no less accurate. We sure are conniving bastards, us ex-smokers. But the best thing about being an ex-smoker is all the smoking you get to do. Going to a party where half the guests smoke? Don’t kid yourself; you’re going to have a couple. A few beers in the pub? Buy a ten pack.
I believe in moderation. I believe in moderating moderation. It’s best to welcome occasional weakness. The thing to avoid is not cigarettes, it’s the habit of smoking cigarettes. Avoid the “I’ve finished breakfast, it must be time for a cigarette” kind of cigarette.
Since I got back from Asia nine months ago (that long already?) my average cigarette consumption has plummeted to around five a week, which is good enough for me. I’m just not an abstinence kind of guy.
Kurt Vonnegut tried to kill himself with cigarettes, calling it an ‘honorable way to commit suicide’. When did smoking get so bad, anyway? Everyone gets cancer these days. It’s the fashionable way to go. Everyone used to smoke, and no-one got cancer. They’d have heart attacks; they’d get pneumonia. These days, people are too medicated, and only cancer gets a look in. And if it’s not cigarettes that get you, it’ll be something else you enjoy. Probably red meat or alcohol. Nothing comes for free.
This is all on my mind because I just booked a trip to Hungary, a nation allegedly populated by rabid carnivores, alcoholics and chain smokers. And one of the rules of the liberal ex-smoker is: you can smoke as much as you like if you’re on holiday.
And here’s the other thing: Hungary didn’t adopt the onerous smoking bans that swept most of Europe in the last three years. It’s a former Soviet country, right? Tell someone who lived under the thumb of the USSR they can’t smoke a fucking cigarette and prepare to inhale some second-hand smoke while your black eye develops. So having booked flights, we looked at hotels. And I evaluated every hotel with an ex-smoker’s eye for detail. Looking at photos: “Hmmm, that looks like a good smoking balcony.”
I’m like one of those seedy blokes who travels alone to cities notorious for omnipresent prostitution with a dirty little vice in mind. I finish every cigarette with the thought: “That was perfectly disgusting.”
Here’s the full list of smoking rules for liberal ex-smokers.
1. You can smoke as much as you like if you’re on holiday.
2. You can smoke one cigarette per round of drinks, if you’re in a pub with people who smoke.
3. You can beg, borrow or steal a civilised number of cigarettes at a dinner party from your fellow guests. A civilised number of cigarettes is equal to the number of courses of food served.
4. You can smoke at work if a) you’ve had a stressful phone call b) you’ve had an alarming email c) Your boss requests a ‘quiet chat’.
5. You can smoke as much as you like if you’re on holiday.