National stereotypes can have a basis in truth, but they can also be a lazy way of thinking about the individuals within a country. As such, it is always good to be confronted with a reality at odds with preconceptions, and my recent trip to Berlin did just that. Visiting bar after bar, I was struck by the sweet smell of freedom: cigarette smoke.
Not only are smokers tolerated, they are actively encouraged, with a polite message welcoming smokers affixed to many doors. Not all bars are smoking bars, but this is one of the joys of the system – smokers are also tolerant of non-smokers. Locals know where to go if they want to avoid the smoke, and where to go to avoid those that wish to avoid them. This is how a polite society functions. While most smokers in other European capitals have caved in under pressure from their governments, the Germans have simply ignored the legislation.
The freedom to smoke in private establishments has become a signature issue for proper liberals. It is one that we should continue to push, not because it is the most popular, but because it is one of the most flagrant attacks against the ability of people to choose the kind of life one wants to lead. Onerous government legislation combined with public subservience has dramatically undermined that most glorious of stereotypes: The freeborn Englishman.
In this country schools are indoctrinating generation after generation to hate smokers. A counterculture is being formed in reaction to the nanny state, which might in time subvert the statist status quo. But better to turn off the tap of hate, relax, and live and let live (or die for that matter). If not, we might as well be learning German.