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Gracias for not smoking

Posted by Patricia Harris  January 31, 2011 01:50 PM

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We arrived in Bilbao, Spain, around 7 p.m. and headed straight to a bar for a bite to eat. When we walked into an establishment on Plaza Nueva, we could see the pintxos (as the Basque call tapas) arrayed on the bar--from several feet away. In fact, the air was so clear that we could see everything, and we wondered if somehow we had gotten off the plane in the wrong country. Traditionally, the Spanish make the French and Italians seem like non-smokers and the air in a Spanish bar is usually a peculiar shade of blue.

2globesign.jpg But at the beginning of January, a new law went into effect banning all smoking wherever food is served in Spain--which includes all bars. A month after the law was enacted, the non-smokers we spoke with are predictably happy, and the smokers are shivering outside with their caƱas of beer, glasses of wine, and cigarettes. The real test will come when the weather warms up and everyone wants to eat outside on the patios and terraces. One restaurateur we interviewed bemoaned government interference, saying that he thought the law was unclear on whether smoking would be permitted where food was served outdoors. The question remains: Will Spanish non-smokers be sent into indoor exile?

Patricia Harris and David Lyon write the Hungry Travelers food and travel blog.

Photos by Patricia Harris for the Boston Globe.

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