Cross-Cultural Smoking Etiquette

I witnessed an interesting cafe scene in Prague the other day.

Two local girls are sitting in a packed local cafe, drinking coffee and chain smoking. Two Americans at a table next to theirs start eating and politely ask the girls if they could stop smoking while they eat. The girls are visibly annoyed, but they do stop smoking. For the rest of the lunch hour, they talk about being fed up with foreigners who bring their healthy-living, assertive attitudes and impose them on the locals. Why don’t they stay at their smoke-free homes, they said. The American guys were thinking more in terms of “your freedom ends where my freedom begins.”

Mind you, it is virtually impossible to find a smoke free restaurant in Prague and about one half of the adult population smokes. Unlike the US, smoking is still kind of cool here.

Is it OK for a foreigner to ask a local to stop smoking in a place where smoking is allowed? Hmmm, what’s a health-obsessed, smoke-hating American to do?