The following article dropped in my inbox this week and I thought I would share it with you. My comments are at the end.
Being pregnant is a fag in Spain
Is it our writer being hysterical? Or are the locals selfish?
By Michaela Rossi
Published: 9:29AM GMT 14 Dec 2009
When my husband and I first arrived in Madrid, we enjoyed every aspect of the Spanish capital’s hectic nocturnal lifestyle. Everything was so exciting and new, life seemed so simple and great.
Eating out soon turned into a habit; we enjoyed the tapas bars, our local and the more central cervecerias. We drank coffees in bars during afternoon strolls in the parks. Whenever there was a language hiccup or a misunderstanding, we would simply shrug our shoulders and put it down to cultural differences.
Until I became pregnant.
As my stomach grew, so did my anger and frustration.
Smokers were making my life a misery. Whereas before I would go out and barely pay any attention to the clouds of smoke polluting Madrid’s bars and restaurants, suddenly it became a real problem.
Then I realised there were a few restaurants with completely separate areas for smokers and non-smokers. But the sense of relief that there was an easy solution, and that I could still enjoy a meal out, did not last long.
After a phone call to one restaurant to see if the non-smoking part was completely separate from the smokers’ area, we headed out. Not long after we sat down and much to my surprise a table of five not too far from us all lit up cigarettes.
I drew this to the attention of the waiter, while pointing at my pregnant belly to explain why this was such an important matter. I expected an apology, but the waiter simply replied: “They are over the other side, pero no pasa nada.”
This is one of the most common phrases that you come across in Spain and, for me, it has also become the most irritating one. It literally means “but nothing will happen”, although it is used in the same way that “it’s not a problem” is in English.
When it’s about smoking, to me it’s more as if to say: “So what?”
In my pregnant state I could not bring myself to follow the expat option of “if you can’t beat them, join them”.
I soon realised that fighting the system was not a good option either. I tried arguing my point many times: with a bus driver who lit up a cigarette while driving; I fought shop assistants secretly smoking in the lavatories; even a police officer going for a puff in the staff lavatory while I was obtaining my Spanish residencia at the police station.
I stormed off to see our portero (desk porter) when I got into the lift in our building one day and it reeked of smoke. But when I reached his desk he had a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. I didn’t even give him a chance to say no pasa nada and just walked off.
I even argued with a taxi driver who lit up without asking.
After my confrontations, they all came back with the same answer, saying “no pasa nada” as they stubbed out. However, the most astonishing behaviour of all had to be that of the other pregnant mothers.
I would see them openly going out for a cigarette during our antenatal classes. Since having my son, I have heard mothers forbidding their children from befriending or trying to pat my dog as we strolled in the park in case he injured them. Yet, pushing a pram with a lit cigarette inches away from their children seems to hold no fear for them.
The Vicky Pollard character figure in the BBC’s Little Britain is one of the best to describe how smoking when pregnant, or as a mother, is viewed in the UK.
In Spain, although the health education campaign is very similar to that in Britain, the public seems to be more relaxed about it.
Feeling powerless, as if the whole world was against me, I used to complain to my husband, who would tell me that I was lucky not to get pregnant before 2006. Up until then, smoking was allowed everywhere.
“No smoking” signs do not mean much to the general population in Spain – and nor do many other signs. Rules are made to be broken, it seems.
However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel: a law banning smoking is currently being discussed. If it becomes legislation, smoking will be prohibited in public places in Spain from next month.
Who knows? After 10 months of not being able to go out as a family, we might finally take our son out with us for a meal.
However, until the ban is in place in all public buildings in Spain, I remain the totally unrelaxed foreign mother.
I am all for mothers wanting to avoid tobacco smoke (though it still irks me that they will walk through polluted cities and think nothing of it, nor does it enter their head that pushing a baby in a pram at head-level with exhaust pipes may not be a good idea. But that’s probably because the media hasn’t said so). But sympathising with them for wanting to avoid tobacco smoke only goes so far, and it seems they forget that only two years ago no fuss was made. It also shows an imbalance in thought processes as they focus on one thing but ignore the fact we do not, nor have ever, had control over what we are exposed to. All the while this mother drinks unfiltered tap water her unborn child is exposed to heavy metals, fluoride and chlorine. All the while she showers and wears make-up her child is exposed to further chemicals. Indeed, newborn babies exit the womb with a cocktail of over 200 chemicals in their bloodstream – many of which are over the safe limit. Yet I see no mention of mothers against additives in tap water, or BPE in their plastic bottles.
But what really annoys me about this woman’s attitude is her arrogance. Britain could well win a gold-medal should arrogance become an olympic event. We expect immigrants in our country to abide by our rules and customs, but then expect other countries to put up with our rules and customs when we visit them. It seems a lot of us need reminding that respect is a two-way street. And if this woman took a moment to look at the big picture, she would realise the following:
1) Smoking is big in Spain.
2) People are relaxed about smoking in Spain.
3) Mothers smoke. People smoke around mothers.
4) Healthy babies are born everyday and they suffer less cancer than we do.
5) Her petty avoidance of even a wisp of smoke is pathetically stupid.
But, when all is said and done, the author of this article has no right to enter another country, add to their population and then make demans that the whole country change their way of life because she is inconvenienced. Michaela, let me be the first to say, if Spain is too liberal for you and you’re not happy, there is a totalitarian state waiting for you in Britain. Or to be more precise: if you move to a country and want it to change to suit you, you’re an arrogant idiot and you should be shipped to a country where you have no rights as a lesson in how lucky you are