Tower of Babel: Smoking or no smoking
31 julio 2009
"There are only two kinds of taxi driver : those who stink of tobacco and those who stop you from smoking," said French humourist Pierre Desproges. On the other hand, there are more than two ways to describe inveterate smokers across the continent.
The time-honoured European tradition that is smoking is rendered in other languages as Rauchen in German, fumar in Spanish, fumer in French, palenie in Polish, rökning in Swedish and in Greek Να καπνίσω.
Tobacco originally came from New World where it was used in ceremonies to conclude a peace. This bit of history can be seen in the German and Spanish expressions die Friedenspfeife rauchen and fumar la pipa de la paz (to smoke the peace pipe). The name of the tobacco plant probably comes from the Arabic word tubbaq, which ironically, in the Middle Ages, was a term for a root with purifying properties. However, the word cigar retains its typically Amerindian aroma since the Mayan word for the famous solanaceae (nicotine is part of this family) is pronounced siyar.
Conscious of the 650,000 deaths that smoking causes each year in Europe, 140 million EU citizens are perhaps being persuaded to no longer fumar como un carreterro (smoke like a coachman), or to smoke like a chimney Rauchen wie ein Schlot or Füstöl mint a gyárkéméni as the Germans and Hungarians respectively say. If nicotine-addicted Italians smoke like Turks (fumar come un turco ), then the French on the other hand, leave it to local firefighters to fumer comme un pompier (smoke like a fireman).
Today, the health authorities are trying hard to eradicate this habit by forcing tobacco companies to display warnings on every packet about smoking’s inherent dangers. Slogans range from terse to cutting: from Smoking Kills (in French and Polish, Fumer tue and Palenie zabija ) to more elaborate and perfidious warnings, like the very British Smoking may reduce blood flow and cause impotence, or the dramatic Spanish advice that Fumar puede provocar una muerte lenta y dolorosa (Smoking can lead to a slow and painful death).
After decades of advertisements, films and songs idealising this toxic habit, it’s clearly very difficult to renounce the act of divine inhalation. Few who have heard the song by the Spanish actress Sara Montiel – Fumar es un placer genial, sensual… (smoking is a wonderful, sensual pleasure) would not be tempted, before quitting, to light up just one last gasper.
Pedro Picón (Translation : Sarah Truesdale)