Culture & History

A Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara

Mexico City's new non-smoking rules have gone into effect, barring smoking in all enclosed areas of restaurants, bars and other public buildings.

No Fumar: No Smoking Sign

Mexico City’s new non-smoking rules went into effect in April 2008, barring smoking in all enclosed areas of restaurants, bars, and other public buildings.

The original plan — that smoking areas of restaurants had to be completely sealed off from non-smoking areas — was eventually abandoned in favor of a blanket ban, causing to vanish frightful images of yellowing, fiber-glass partitions through which smokers and non-smokers could stare at each other wondering what the others’ problem is.

When the law was first passed, restauranteurs kicked up a bit of a fuss, fearful of losing customers because of the ban, and at least one chain took court action against the law before having a sudden change of heart and fully endorsing it and the non-smoking movement. (A quiet word from their US owners, perhaps?)

In fact, when the law went into effect, many restaurants quickly adopted it as their own, proudly announcing their new-found smoke-free environments. As they say in Spanish, a mal tiempo, buena cara.

Non-smokers have been heard widely praising the new rules, you could feel the difference in the first hour, and smokers have been generally taciturn.

Then came an unexpected twist. Items appeared in the local news about restaurant and bar owners complaining that some patrons were stepping outside for a smoke, and then sneaking off without paying their bills. What is the matter with these people? Are they trying to give smokers a bad name?

PS. The expression a mal tiempo, buena cara, literally means put on a good face when the weather is bad. It doesn’t quite mean make the most of a bad situation, and certainly doesn’t involve dodging adversity. It’s one of those sayings that defies a simple, exact translation, but here are some suggestions.

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