I'm certainly not an expert when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices. I eat far too much fat and sugar, don't get enough exercise, and could loose a few pounds. Yet, when I see my European counterparts, I see people who smoke like chimneys, drink like fish, and pay very little attention to the food they eat.
Then why do they have higher life expectancies than us? What's more puzzling is their rate of tobacco consumption. About 19 percent of Americans smoke as compared to 34 percent of Europeans. Americans are constantly reminded of the evils of smoke and drink, told to exercise regularly, and advised to take vitamins and other health food supplements; yet Americans do not live as long as our hedonistic European cousins.
I've come to the conclusion, that Americans just worry too much about being healthy while Europeans just live. It's the worry that kills us.
Americans have a "can do attitude," if there's a problem we can fix it, that includes death. It's as if Americans believe they can cheat death by eating right and following a “healthy” lifestyle. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to be more fatalistic. They know they are going to die, so they take less precautions. Perhaps, that's why you see so many people riding bicycles without helmets. (I just read that a 70 year old woman died on Sunday from head injuries after colliding with a car while riding her bike. She wasn't wearing a bicycle helmet. It was the 19th bicycle fatality this year.)
I'm reminded of this fatalistic European mindset, as I walk down the street. It seems that everywhere you go there's the smell of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. Even in places that are supposedly smoke free, you find someone lighting up. Walking down the street is like navigating through a fog of nicotine.
During the summer months this is particularly troublesome since my neighborhood, Friedrichshain, is home to the city's party, smoking, and drinking crowd. Smoking on the street isn't outlawed, but there are so many outdoor restaurants and cafes that the sidewalk is like a bar.
Germany has smoking bans, but having a ban is one thing, actually enforcing it is another. Smoking is banned in cafes, bars and restaurants across Germany, but smokers break the law without any fear of having to pay a large fine. In theory anyone caught flouting the smoking ban faces a fine of up to $138, but in reality the city has far too few officers to effectively police the law.
The Berlin smoking ban has been in force since January 1, 2008, and in some sections of the city there is an attempt to enforce the ban. The western districts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau have plain clothes officers on evening patrols to make sure people are lighting up correctly. But, in the eastern district's of Kreutzberg and Friedrichshain, areas with a lively nightlife, there are no officers assigned to enforce the ban. I've come to accept that cigarette smoke is part of the European "experience," and if it doesn't bother them why should it bother me.