Conversation With An Average American

Background: A woman in her early 40s (maybe younger, but she looked like she lives hard) sits behind me and a friend in a public space. She has smoked two cigarettes in the last 30 minutes, and the smoke was bothering my friend (who has severe asthma).

Me: “Excuse me, would you mind doing me a favor? Could you wait until the fireworks are over before you smoke again? My friend has severe asthma, and it really bothers her.”

Woman: “So don’t I.”

M: “You have severe asthma, and you smoke?”

W: “So don’t I. Yep.”

M: “Well would you mind not smoking?”

W: “Well, I’m here, and if I wanna, I’m gonna have another one. You sat in fronna us.”

M: “That’s very considerate of you. You’re a nice person.”

W: “Yep.”

I’m sorry, but this woman is an inconsiderate moron. Inconsiderate because she doesn’t care about the health of another human being sitting one foot away; and a moron because she is killing herself and others – at the very least giving herself asthma(!) with cigarettes and not giving a shit.

I’m sure she thought that she was exercising her “freedom” on 4th of July to smoke in public, and that she was proud to be an American in that moment where she could do whatever she wanted regardless of what other people asked of her. At the exact same time, I was embarrassed for her and for myself and for my country to think that pigs like her are loose on the streets, and I understood very well why so many people in the world hate Americans.

Are you wondering whether or not she smoked another cigarette? Well of course she did!

I want my Italian citizenship now.

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51 Responses to Conversation With An Average American

  1. gower says:

    “So don’t I”?

    • It’s technical.

      She’s being all ironic double-negative. She’s saying that she *doesn’t* have asthma and isn’t concerned about it (i.e. not “so do I”, but “so don’t I”). She wasn’t grammatically ignorant, that was intentional.

      See, Mikey, what you should’ve done was take up tobacco chewing for 5 minutes. Because it’s your American right to chew tobacco and your American right to spit it out wherever you please.


      • all_ephemera says:

        Actually, she probably was grammatically ignorant – that’s a fairly common turn of phrase around here that basically means, “So do I.”

        Although I feel compelled to add that I’ve lived in Massachusetts my entire life and worked in town for many years and I’ve never once heard the phrase “wicked pissah” outside of Good Will Hunting. πŸ˜‰

    • dariusk says:

      That’s a common phrase in certain parts of Massachusetts. It’s stupid Mass slang, like “wicked pissah”.

  2. purly says:

    How will Italian citizenship help? I thought everyone in Italy smoked.

  3. jessnut says:

    You should have moved. You were outside, and until the law says otherwise she can smoke there.

  4. vlvtjones says:

    I plead the 5th, and take another drag.

    • mik3cap says:

      But would you really not delay having a third cigarette for 20 minutes to prevent respiratory distress one foot away from you?

      • vlvtjones says:

        No, because I was raised right ;). I try to be as consciencious of a smoker as I can be, but it’s just as sensitive for the “offenders” as it is for the “offendees”.

        (note: If I needed a THIRD cigarette within the span of 20 minutes, I wouldn’t be sitting anywhere, enjoying anything. Chaining like that (for me) usually means something bad is going down.)

        With that said, I’ve been around folks who claim they are “allergic” to cigarettes, until they’ve had a few drinks and then are asking to bum one. The smoking issue is one that has so polarized what could otherwise be a civilized group of folks People have no choice but to be morons to each other. Smokers have been consistently legislated against for the past 15 or so years, with little more than disdain from others, because it’s OK for people to drink with abandon, drive recklessly, take sexual risks, and eat a lot of crap, but smoking is BAD FOR YOU!!!!!!

        These same people LIE, too. I’ve heard the “allergic to cigarettes” comment more times than I can count, and it is a trigger phrase that I abide by…until that same person, after a few beers, is bumming one outside the bar. My big ass. There is only one place to smoke anymore–and that is outside (until that is legislated as well). We all have to get along somehow, but with everyone’s entitlement (smokers and nonsmokers alike) it’s increasingly impossible.

        And it’s not just non- vs. smokers. Parents vs. the childless. Gays vs. religious fundies. Gun toters vs. peaceniks. Everyone has their rights, and everyone feels like when one right is slipping away, they need to claw their way back to regain those rights, sometimes violently if necessary.

        Now for my extremely insightful comment: she was there before you were. It doesn’t excuse her rudeness, but all things considered, if you’re the one with the problem, and you two can’t work it out, you should move, cuz she had dibs. Sounds incredibly immature, and it is. But sometimes that’s the only way.

  5. all_ephemera says:

    To be honest I think she was horribly rude… but she had the right to smoke there if she so chose. I also think you’re stereotyping by saying she represents the average American – she represents the type of American we may not care for, but to say the average American is like that is to be just as narrow-minded as the opposition.

    • mik3cap says:

      I think Americans on average are very selfish and would not choose to delay gratification even when another person is adversely affected. This was just a micro example of the bigger picture.

      Americans consume more energy, more resources, more of everything – and they don’t want to give up the “American way of life” and aren’t willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of others. That’s how the world sees it, and it’s an accurate picture of the average.

  6. sirroxton says:

    Well, at least she was direct. Although she could have been polite about it, I’ve come to consider somebody being straight with me about their position a kind of rare courtesy.

    • word. when i was in india people used the horn and flashed lights on the road instead of turn signals (considered grounds for road rage in the states) but in india it was considered RUDE NOT to do so, because turn signals aside, it’s a clear way to communicate where you are or (based on the doppler) that you’re passing to the right.

  7. I think smoking is a vile habit and it’s quite impolite not to take someone else’s health concerns into account, but she had a point. You were outside and sat in front of her (rather than her intruding upon your chosen spot).

    I wish they’d just get around to banning cigarettes already.

    • mik3cap says:

      I never said she didn’t have a point. However, she made the wrong choice in not delaying her personal gratification for the sake of another person’s health. If the choice is “fuck someone over and please self” versus “wait a few minutes to please self”, the former is wrong and the latter is right.

      • sirroxton says:

        Eh, I wouldn’t take such a hard line. I think sitting in front of her and asking her not to smoke was highly presumptuous. To suggest that your imposed presence creates a moral obligation is highly dubious.

        • mik3cap says:

          When is public health not a moral obligation? Aren’t people morally obliged to not dump toxic chemicals into public drinking water?

          We all share the air.

          • sirroxton says:

            Public health is a different argument; it’s not one I feel qualified to discuss. I think, at this point, our society has compromised on open-air smoking as being acceptable, although not being considerate of people you choose to sit near is still bad protocol.

            Regardless, if it were me, I certainly would have put out the cigarette. You have my respect effendi — I hope you don’t take offense at a dissident opinion. πŸ™‚

            • mik3cap says:

              There is no dissidence!

              I’m saying that she was rude. Pretty much everyone agrees there.

              The woman had the right to be a selfish pig and not consider the health of people one foot away. We all agree on that too. I just want to draw attention to selfishness, and that just because people have the right to be assholes, they shouldn’t always exercise that right.

              • mik3cap says:

                Another example of right to assholery…

                “Please, my child is starving – won’t you give him some of your bread?”

                “NO, it’s my bread, and I don’t have to give anyone anything.”

                “But you’ve already eaten half of it.”

                “It’s my bread. Get your own.”

              • sirroxton says:

                There is dissidence, though. I’m suggesting that perhaps your asking her not to smoke was more rude than her reply.

                • mik3cap says:

                  The day that it becomes rude to ask a person a question or for a favor is the day I’ll become a total hermit.

                  • sirroxton says:

                    I’ll remember that sage nugget next time some old lady has a desirable seat at the front of the T. πŸ˜›

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Just remember, it’s always your god given right to be an asshole.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      I hear you, but I was never really talking about the rights sphere — just the moral one.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      So it’s immoral to ask an old lady to take her seat when you have no need to do so and could threaten her health, but it’s moral to ask a smoker not to threaten the health of a person one foot away.

                      Glad to see we still agree completely.

                    • griffytime says:

                      Frommers knows!

                      I wish I was able to recognize the stench of smoke that fills the air and permiates hair and clothing back in my “pack a day” times. Perhaps if my sense of smell wasn’t clouded by the smoking, I would have realized the damage it causes and I wouldn’t be going to get ctscans every 6 months to check on lung nodules.


                      “Smoking– In the past few years, 14 out of 15 Cape Cod towns have gone “smoke-free” to some extent. The towns of Falmouth, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, have all passed some variation on laws forbidding smoking in public places as a way to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. This means that in the majority of restaurants and even bars in these towns, you cannot light up. A few bars have installed a ventilation system and/or a separate area where smoking is allowed, but these are few and far between. While some large hotels set aside rooms for smokers, the vast majority of lodging establishments on Cape Cod are nonsmoking. There is one establishment in Barnstable where smoking is currently allowed. At Puff the Magic, 649 Main St., Hyannis (tel. 508/771-9090), a cigar bar where no food is served, you can puff to your heart’s discontent.”

                    • sirroxton says:

                      Nope, nope. Sayin’ it was “immoral” or at the very least rude to ask the smoker not to smoke when she was there first, but it’s cool. Not really a big deal though. You just gave a shout-out for people to pass judgment, and that’s what I’m doin’.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      You’re basing your morality merely on presence and “who’s on first”. That’s total bull, and could actually be the same kind of morality a three year old uses to justify his or her actions. “MINE!! MINE!!! I WAS HERE FIRST!!”

                      I’m talking about morality based on need and conscientiousness and selflessness. Actually caring about the circumstances of other people.

                      I’m through with not calling it as I see it. People no longer take enough responsibility for themselves, let alone others. There is too much selfishness under the guise of “personal freedom” and it is pure, pure bullshit. People do not have a “right” or “moral imperative” to be selfish assholes, and they need to be called on it.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      *sigh* What I’m “basing my morality” on is not that simple. Although I suppose if I didn’t want to get into it in detail, I shouldn’t have said anything. Suffice it to say, if I were in your shoes, I would have happily paid the inconvenience of silently moving in order to help another individual maintain a sense of autonomy — to help expand their range of choices in how they choose to spend an evening. I also realize that’s not the only view with merit.

                      In any event, your friend didn’t have an allergic reaction, did she? You’re more likely to get asthma induced from a distant campfire than a single open-air cigarette. I agree with vlvtjones comments about socially-induced hypersensitivity.

                      Keeping within your stated framework, I’m suggesting the possibility that the selfishness was perhaps more yours than hers. But as I said, there’s more than one valid view on the subject.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      No. Choosing to be stupid and selfish is not a valid choice. Acting like an asshole is not autonomy.

                      Yes, my friend had to use her inhaler. Fuck hypersensitive, she has problems breathing when not exposed to second hand smoke within one foot.

                      Lastly, there was no selfishness on my part. I did not order her to move. I did not infringe upon her IN ANY WAY except to ask her a question. I tolerated her lack of consideration, and my friend medicated herself because of it.

                      You’re wrong, and she was wrong. Blowing smoke over a sick person is NOT VALID.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      And I suppose choosing to have an asthmatic reaction over the inconvenience of moving is wise. All well, I don’t think there’s much more worth saying here.

                      There’s certainly a lack of staunch agreement in any other comments.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      The wiseness of not moving has jack shit to do with the moral validity of blowing smoke near a person with asthma.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Wiseness? What the hell is wrong with me? Stupidity is rubbing off on me.


                    • sirroxton says:

                      So if a wheezing asthmatic walks into Joe’s Smoking Room to buy a pack of gum, the men in the smoking room are morally obligated to put out their cigars? I grant you that’s not a very good analog of your situation, but I just wanted to show that your point, as stated, while meaningful, is not rock solid.

                      I feel there are other points of view with validity. Seeking the single view that justifies your preference is more a matter of persuasion than of reason, although the former has legitimate uses.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Yes, a person should always stop harming other people.

                      It does not matter what the circumstances are. Freedom is not license. I don’t care if it’s in a person’s home, a person SHOULD ALWAYS stop doing the thing that harms another person. Because people SHOULD CARE about other people, no matter what supposed “right” they have. The line of autonomy ends where that autonomy causes harm to another person, and crosses over into moral invalidity.

                      No matter what the circumstances, Joe’s Smoking Room or not, the answer is always the same: “I don’t care that what I’m doing makes that other human being sick.” The justification does not matter, no matter what “right” is invoked, because that answer is always what it boils down to.

                      There is no moral validity in not caring about other people. It is only selfishness, only about pleasuring the self – and at the expense of others, at that.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      See, that’s a two way street. I don’t really mind worrying about the people around me, but I don’t want people to worry about me. I would presume that the wheezing asthmatic coming into Joe’s Smoking Room wanted me to continue smoking because he values a society where people can make personal decisions about their health and don’t have to walk on eggshells. There’s a whole PLATFORM of etiquette and protocols designed around preserving such autonomous relations. You haven’t drunk the autonomy-kool-aid, and that’s cool. But I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of resounding agreement, even among friends.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      I certainly don’t expect every human being to achieve the highest moral standard. It’s obvious they don’t, and many don’t get even past the morality of three year olds.

                      But people should strive to achieve the highest moral plateau, and the highest plateau is self-sacrifice for the sake of others. That morality exceeds even the social mores, protocols, and whatever other ridiculous dances are proscribed – it is that “I didn’t gas the Jews even though I was ordered to” kind of morality. “Do no harm unto others” will win out over “follow the rules” every time.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      That’s one view. We can each further elucidate our views, but I don’t think there’s much more to learn from this discussion.

                      I’m going to give you credit and assume you don’t mean there’s an absolute best morality that exists divorced from personal values.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      I think there is morality that transcends societal rules. I think “do no harm unto others” is part of that.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      And I’d suggest that the mutual preservation of autonomy could reasonably considered a moral value within that framework. In fact, preservation of mutual autonomy includes “do no harm unto others” in a sense, although it complicates it.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Harm trumps autonomy. Every time.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      Harm is autonomy. Although people can choose harm. The ability to make that choice is autonomy as well. *shrug*

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Harm is autonomy? What the hell doubletalk is that?

                      Harm prevents autonomy from existing. People cannot have this so-called “mutual autonomy” of yours if one party is infringing upon another.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      Sorry, I thought when you said “Harm trumps autonomy,” I figured you meant “not being harmed,” so I used ‘harm’ in the same sloganistic way. No weird double-speak intended.