A lot more people smoke in Germany than in New Zealand. Yes, successive NZ governments have outlawed smoking in restaurants, shopping malls, town centres … but the results are here to see. Smoking in Germany is reasonably common – the children were frankly alarmed when we first got here! – although it may not be a whole lot more common here than in other European countries.
There is cigarette advertising on billboards, etc, but my favourite is at the gas station where animated commercials play on tablet sized screens right next to where you pay for your petrol. “Anything else, sir?” “Well, actually …”
Cigarettes are cheap (about €5 or NZ$8 a packet) and you can buy them everywhere including right outside my house! Here’s our charming neighbourhood cigarette vending machine, one of about four in the village:
It’s cheerful! Alles möglich means “everything is possible”, and just underneath that is Und so einfach, “And so easy”. It’s true: they take notes, coins or cards. Heaps of places here in Germany don’t take cards as payment (like EFTPOS cards) so it’s a bit of a statement that your village cigarette vending machine does.
You need to also insert a card that you get which proves proof of age. But I’ve seen kids standing next to Mum while she buys her fags, “Can I put the coins in, Mum?!”.
Joe reckons about 80% of his football team smoke – young, fit German lads, many of them getting the very last puff in before they have to go into the sheds and get changed. It makes you wonder how many Bayern Münich players probably still smoke.
I couldn’t understand why such a dynamic, high-achieving population has so many smokers.
And then I decided – maybe it’s an EU thing.
See, the EU had a look around the map one day and thought “Oh, Italy, you’re a bit corrupt. France, you complain too much. Greece, you spend too much. Spain, don’t know where to start. Hungary, Romania …” and sitting there at the front of the class, head down in the text book, was Germany, reading up on how to make the trains run on time, adopt Big Recycling, build great cars, run a national economy sensibly, value nature and the outdoors and make sure they packed their flute and their sports gear for their after-school activities. Ha ha, all these are German stereotypes, right? If only – they are about 90% on the money from my experience here. Germans are over-achievers.
So, the EU thought, this isn’t good for the dynamic of the European classroom. I can’t have Germany sitting their rolling their eyes every time France explains why this cheese can’t be called that, Poland asks once more about this obsession with sensible waste management, and Italy tries to make two plus two equal five plus fifteen percent in a Swiss bank account. Oh, and Greece shows up with no money for the school trip but if we have a whip around for a couple of Euro…
The EU sat down with Germany and explained the predicament, and wondered if there was anything Germany could do to just, you know, slow them down a bit. Cool their heels.
“What if I start smoking?” said Germany. “If I start smoking, I’ll probably only be using about 60% of my lung capacity, and that will slow me right down in the short term. In the long term it will increase my chances of cancer and other diseases and It will lower my life expectancy. How does that sound?”
Perfect. Now the rest of the class might feel like, if they but try, they can catch up with Germany, and they don’t feel completely overwhelmed by their never-ending achievements. The EU wheeled out the Zigaretten machines overnight to every village in Germany, the Germans lit up and everyone else breathed a sigh of relief.
So now it makes perfect sense to me! Just before I go, another picture of the cigarette machine in my quiet, sunny street in my idyllic, sunny village.