The unusual tourist

“I have visited too many countries to keep count – and almost every single one I have enjoyed more than the UK.”

I didn’t expect my conversation to develop like this when Andrzej asked me for a cigarette.

If you stand outside a pub, people harass you with this all the time. Usually I tell them I don’t smoke and that’s the end of the conversation.

This night was different because the pints I had downed ignited the burning the desire to have a smoke.

So I was on the scrounge for a fag myself and had just snitched one. Andrzej looked like the person I would give a cigarette to: he can be best described as a punk with his blond hair styled to a semicircle like a sun on the top of his head.

He carried a huge worn-out backpack with him and his accent gave him away as Eastern European.

“I’m originally from Poland, but I haven’t been there since I was 16. When my parents couldn’t hold me back anymore, I ran off to discover the world.”

He told me he had travelled all across Europe to Georgia and Azerbaijan, earning what he needed with all kinds of little jobs.

“I’m just here for my cousin’s wedding,” he added, “I can’t wait to leave. England is one of the countries I like the least.”

This statement made me even more interested in his story than I already was. I decided to invite Andrzej for a beer after I had failed to meet his craving for a smoke.

He agreed and continued his story: “Here everybody is rich, but it doesn’t make people happy. You have to go to countries where everybody is equally poor.”

I wasn’t sure if Andrzej was just a hopeless romantic or if he had a point. I put him on the spot and asked him if this way of living would really work for anyone else than a lone wolf like him.

“Believe me, the less you depend on people the less alone you are.”

“You would all be happier like this. Maybe next time we smoke a cigarette,” he said and left.

Reporting by Michael Ertl

Behind the Story : I don’t smoke and I’m quite happy about this fact most of the time.

However, as a journalist not smoking can be a huge disadvantage because the really important topics are sometimes not discussed in the newsroom or a meeting room, but in front of the building close to the ashtrays.

From time to time, I join one of these secretive circles, mostly after a couple of pints when I start craving a fag. The night I met Andrzej was one of the nights I enjoyed a couple of innocent cigarettes.

And once again I had to realise: Smoking connects people, it connected me to Andrzej even though I couldn’t offer him a smoke.