Feature

French virtue is an oxymoron

When France recently banned smoking in restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs, said Gregory Rodriguez, it stood as proof that the age of

Gregory Rodriguez
Los Angeles Times

When France recently banned smoking in restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs, said Gregory Rodriguez, it stood as proof that the age of “elegant excess” had come to an end. The sophisticated French have long understood that indulging in certain ritualized “sins” gives human beings a necessary outlet, and so they’ve never objected to anyone with a passion for wine, rich food, l’amour, or yes, cigarettes. Now, I don’t smoke myself, and “I even agree with smoking bans in workplaces and restaurants.” But I agree with the old French idea that any attempt “to suppress hurtful things can itself be, well, unhealthy.” Americans can’t grasp that concept, preferring to believe that some evils must “be suppressed at all costs.” Such thinking gave us the temperance movement and Prohibition, and we all know how well they turned out. Now, though, France has opted for American-style overregulation, banning smoking in bars and nightclubs that are dedicated to vice and excess. In doing so, it’s “denying its own brand of wisdom: We all need to be a little bad once in a while.”

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