Smokers are the pariahs of society. Banned to desolate parking lots and filthy alleys. Smokers. Loathed like the pigeons that shit on our cities. With each puff, a smoker is reminded that he or she is failing in life.
But not the French. Last month I ended up sharing a beach town with troops of French tourists. And the French still smoke like it’s 1968. They smoke on the beach, at the dinner table, while strolling the promenade. They smoke with an admirable confidence, strong gestures and a solemn seriousness. In defiance of modern times and common sense. The last line of defense against yoga, kale, almond milk and avocado toast. Each time the French lit up a Gauloises Blondes, it’s a massive “fuck you” to the health fascists that dominate your social feed and fuel your insecurity.
I felt victorious when I managed to quit smoking a few years ago — but seeing the French put out 20 a day instantly turned the tables: now I was the one failing at life. It also made me realize that the French don’t just smoke for their own gratification. They smoke for all us. For you, for me. For love. For life. For freedom. For humanity and our sense of self. This is their obligation as French. Their national loyalty to a perpetual state of resistance. “One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out.”
And while we lose our spirit sipping our sugar-free, low-fat, dairy-free smoothie of choice, we can be reassured that somewhere, someone is lighting up a cigarette for us. After sex, before breakfast, in the rain, while breaking up, with an espresso, on a city bench, in company of friends. And while they slowly blow that majestic white smoke, know that they’re blowing a little bit of life into our collective souls.
Vive la vie.
Vive la France.
Vive le Gauloise.