Autumn's Problem

The leaves are yellowing, the temperatures have dropped, and the fall has arrived. It’s sweater weather for sure. I love the fall in Zagreb (and… I’m sure it’s nice in other parts of Croatia too).

I don’t think someone from Zagreb can appreciate how autumn feels to someone from Oklahoma, where we just have a “false fall.” That’s the fall that tricks you with a temperature in the low teens on one day, and then by the end of the week you’re back up to the low 30s in late October! It’s a big joke and Mother Nature’s laughing really hard.

The ideal

No, in Zagreb the fall is the real deal. Vendors selling chestnuts show up on the street, pumpkins appear in the stores, and the leaves begin falling gracefully through air in Maksimir park. It’s autumn the way I was told it should be on TV and in the movies.

One problem

Then the rain comes and the temperatures drop into the single digits. We have to go inside and there you are greeted with a fog of thick cigarette smoke. Yesterday, I was enjoying the fall, had a coffee in a nearby cafe and then I smelled like an ashtray the rest of the day.

Coffee and Cigarettes

I know, I know, in Croatia coffee and cigarettes go together like punica and soup. It’s hard to have one without the other. But, in the past everything used to go together with cigarettes: hospital visits, flying in airplanes, waiting for airplanes, riding in buses, waiting for buses, the TV news, TV talk shows, even kids’ cartoons. Pretty much everything was done with a cigarette burning between your fingers or one smoldering in a handy ashtray. To imagine all of this today is impossible, and yet it is still acceptable to smoke inside cafes.

Like unicorns

And yes, there are some cafes where people don’t smoke, but these are far and few between. They are about as rare as a unicorn and finding a seat in one is like finding an even rarer double horned unicorn— a dualacorn, if you will. The proliferation of smoking cafes makes the autumn and the winter the worst. We can’t meet friends for coffee when we have our kids with us, because of the intensity of the second hand cigarette smoke. And by the end of the first bout of cold weather my coat stinks like the back seat of a 1970s New York taxicab.

Since having coffee is so instrumental to the Croatian way of life, it’s not like you can go all season without sitting in a cafe. I mean you could, but in that case you’re more likely to die from soul crushing loneliness then cigarette smoke. Smokey cafes in the fall and winter are an inescapable fact of life in Croatia.

Even Turkey did it

Croatia ranks 24th in per capita consumption of cigarettes, right between Tunisia and Armenia. Greece ranks number one, and even in Greece they’ve banned smoking in nightclubs and cafes (albeit the effectiveness of this “ban” is questionable). But other countries, once notoriously known for their love of smoking have also banned smoking in cafes and bars: Turkey, Ireland and even Italy!

A lot of my Croatian friends talk about how Croatia is not Balkan, but European. Let’s then be less like our balkan neighbors and more like our European ones, and get rid of smoking in cafes. Our clothes, noses, and lungs with thank us for it.