Read, Write, Run, Roam

Belgrade is smokin’


Lady Gaga, you'd feel perfectly at home here...

There are things that you can read about, hear about, and talk about, but not fully understand until you experience them. Alcohol. Sex. Smoking in Belgrade.

Smoking is a way of life here. Cocktail menus include a cigarette list. Waiters will thoughtfully offer ashtrays before and after the main course.  And smoking in cafes? Forget it. It’s as natural as taking two hours to drink a cappuccino.  A Serbian couple who spent years in Australia and now run a Belgrade café told me, “We got used to not smoking there. But to have a café in Belgrade and not allow smoking…we would not survive.”

I’ve gotten used to it fairly quickly. I tell myself that the smell isn’t so bad. I eat or drink outside when I can. It’s almost nostalgic, since my family smoked and I went to college before smoke-free places were the norm. Plus, watching a table of Serbians gesture wildly without cigarettes in hand is starting to seem, well, odd.

Like I said, it’s a way of life here. But maybe not for long. This Thursday, a new anti-smoking law goes into effect. No more smoking in movie theaters, state buildings, hospitals or schools. (Sorry, kids!) Restaurants and cafes over a certain size will have to offer a smoking and no-smoking section. Smaller businesses can declare if they are smoking or non-smoking until 2012. I’m betting I can count the number of non-smoking cafes in Belgrade with two hands.

People seem pretty skeptical about compliance or enforcement. Serbians are not known for following directives (watch the driving here to see what I mean) but with fines of 60 Euros, Belgrade may become as surprisingly smoke-free as  New York and Paris.

I’m happy about the ban overall. But as I slowly drink espresso and watch people linger over conversation, coffee and cigarettes, I’m also glad to experience Belgrade in smoky little cafes for a bit longer.

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