My Week with Marlboro


:: A Social Experiment ::

I bought my first pack of cigarettes – in my life, to date – in a very tiny, very blue convenience store, while stranded in a very tiny town north of the south of France with a flat tire, no language skills, and a cluster of French Mexicans.

I had been friends with countless numbers of smokers over my 25 years, lived with some and dated others, but never once was I tempted by the notion of smoking cigarettes. It simply had just never appealed to me. But thanks to the aforementioned predicament, I found myself smoking cigarettes with strangers and then in some form of delusional trance, buying a pack to smoke for the remaining 7 hours of my drive cross country.

Everyone smoked in France. Every single person. It was like nobody had told them it wasn’t cool anymore, that the youth had stopped smoking cigarettes back around the time of Y2K. I watched them chain smoke for the past 3 weeks, stayed up for hours with some of them while they emptied entire packs, and not once did I desire to indulge in this ugly habit. But somehow, Joffre, Momo, and that day got to me. (Please reference blog post: Road Trips with Joffre Part III.)

Carrying a cigarette in your hand in France is like putting on an invisibility cloak. Instantly, I was captivated by the magic of it – that this tiny thing can make my Americaness disappear. Suddenly, I am no longer out of place, but blending into the everyday city street traffic of France. Incredible.

Although I couldn’t deny my taste for the head rush, what I really liked was the power it gave me, and that cultural submersion I had been lacking. I felt so … French. Leaning out of my floor to ceiling window in Bordeaux, exhaling the smoke into the lustful French air, it was as if I had always been here. And to the outside observer, I had been. No one stopped me on the streets, no one looked at me as if I had the word TOURIST or AMERICAN tattooed on my forehead as I wandered around like a deer in the headlights. It gave me a mask and a poker face and I walked the streets alone at day or night, unnoticed and unimposing as a French girl who had walked these streets a thousand times before. Men didn’t call out or proposition me; locals didn’t give me dirty looks as I approached them before I even opened my mouth. No one really talked to me at all. And if they did, it was in French … which I noted extremely interesting as it had not been that way before these magical little wands between my fingers.

No one messes with a girl walking or sitting alone while smoking a cigarette. That girl has done stuff. She’s seen stuff. And she has no interest in your bullshit. She is unapproachable. Trust me I know, I’ve seen them and I do not talk to them.

Bordeaux was a gorgeous city, lit up and alive even throughout the night. It was, I thought, a city I could live in (at least for awhile that is). And now I felt a part of it. I could explore the city streets at night alone without anyone suspecting I was doing anything other than walking home from work like I always did. I suppose I could have pretended to smoke cigarettes instead of actually smoking them, but as it were, I came to like the warmth of the nicotine against the brisk chill of the October-like air. I also felt very writeresque leaning out my window in between smoke and scribbling ferociously in my journal. I know, I know, it was all very Carrie Bradshaw meets Ernest Hemmingway but I was doing it anyhow ….