The cigar lifestyle is about keeping things friendly and courteous.
By The Cigar Guys: Alex Lukoff and Tony Wilson
Sometimes it’s good to get some perspective. Take video conferencing, for example. It’s probably built into your cell phone, but all Star Trek’s Captain Kirk had was a communicator that was a combination walkie talkie/LifeAlert pendant. Phones are way better than walkie talkies, but a future where we could see what someone else was seeing was a bridge too far for Gene Roddenberry. Now we can talk to as many people in a single day as our great grandparents talked to in a lifetime, especially considering that a tweet can reach millions.
With such a high level of interpersonal connectivity, a new Golden Age of commerce has emerged with anything and everything available anywhere at any time. The entire globe is a click away, and yet many of us are miserable. Studies have shown that even with today’s high degree of connectivity, people don’t necessarily look outside and think that the world is a great and wonderful place full of love and adventure. Instead, some feel as if they’re missing out on something, but don’t know what. It’s a subtle problem, and the bad feelings associated with it manifest themselves in subtle ways. One of these ways is by having bad manners.
Manners and etiquette are two cornerstones of a culture, and not knowing your way around them can make you stand out like a peacock in a chicken coop. There’s nothing worse than joining in on a new activity and suddenly having all the other participants stare at you in shock and horror after you have committed an innocent blunder. To be a stranger in a strange land who doesn’t know the customs or rules used to be a sign that you were a long way from your own personal Kansas, but now new cultures are sprouting from other subcultures all the time, due to instant global accessibility. With new special interest groups popping up all around, it’s important to be aware that what may seem benign to some may be mortifying to others.
It should come as no surprise that the cigar lifestyle is full of its own rules, regulations and faux-pas, and it’s the responsibility of veteran cigar enthusiasts, as the cultural representatives of our passion, to make sure that we pass down good manners, etiquette and practices to new members we may invite to our Family of the Leaf.
I was introduced to some new friends recently, and while the girls caught up, us guys searched for common ground. The guy’s a good dude—works in the hardware business, races a vintage Alfa Romeo and likes shotguns. We were sitting outside talking about cigars, and he sheepishly admitted that he wasn’t really a cigar smoker but always wanted to be. He just didn’t know where to start.
So I helped him choose a smoke (Ecuadorian Sumatra, mild with a bite). Then he grabbed the cutter and positioned it about an inch below the cigar’s cap. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I blurted, practically leaping out out of my seat at him. I don’t think I could have startled him any more suddenly had I sprayed him with a hose. I gently removed the cutter from his hand as if taking a scorpion from an infant.
I went on to provide some pointers about how to cut a cigar properly. How if you examine the covered end of a cigar, you’ll see one, two or three lines running all the way around. This denotes the end of the cigar’s cap. The cap of a cigar is a small piece of tobacco that holds the wrapper together. Think of it as the cornerstone of a cigar’s architecture. Cut too much of the cap and the cigar will unravel, and you’ll end up with a lot of loose tobacco in your mouth. If you don’t cut enough, no smoke will flow. You want to cut just enough of the cap to allow a good draw, but never so much that you cut the cap completely off the cigar.
Allow me to also offer a bit of cigar-cutting etiquette, especially if you’re sharing a communal cutter. Don’t put the capped cigar in your mouth before cutting it. Some people do this because they think moistening the cap prior to cutting it will help to hold the end of the cigar together. But if you’re cutting it properly, all you’re doing by putting the cap in your mouth is getting your spit on the cutter. If it’s your own cutter, feel free to slobber away, but if you’re sharing a cutter with others, no one wants your spit on the cutter.
Not Trying to Be Jerks
You may not be familiar with the phrase “terms of venery,” but these are the collective nouns used to describe groups of animals, such as a shoal of bass, congregation of alligators, knot of toads and a gaze of raccoons, to name a few. And then there’s a herf of smokers. Groups of cigar enthusiasts, which constitute a herf, are usually courteous and sensitive of their main byproduct, cigar smoke, and like it or not, smoking restrictions are unlikely to be rolled back anytime soon. Most cigar smokers don’t mind lighting up outside of a coffee shop, and many will even sit around the corner to do so, but where smoke goes, wind follows.
When it’s a real herf and the smoke from 15 guys’ cigars billows down the sidewalk, we know that it can be quite an unexpected “hello” for pedestrians. But we can’t control the wind, and most people seem to take a fairly lasseiz-faire attitude toward cigar smokers. Sometimes we even get a thumbs up, although there is still the joy of occasional detractors who wrap their faces in their shirts at the sight of a cigar. It’s not that we’re rude or deliberately blow smoke in anyone’s direction, yet we’re the ones who may end up being subjected to scorn despite our best efforts.
Mind the Ash
In the interest of being fair, cigar smokers also have to cop to the fact that sometimes we may be deserving of that scorn. Where there’s smoke, there are cigars, and where there are cigars, there’s ash and butts. The ash of a cigar is worthy of an entirely separate discussion—serious connoisseurs know that the true story behind a cigar’s tobacco can be found in the ash. It may be white or black and speckled, tightly wound or ready to flake off at a glance. The ash tells the story of a cigar’s construction, of its origin and the quality of its tobacco.
Where ash is left behind, however, tells about the smoker behind a cigar. While there are cigars that, in trained hands, can be smoked without a single ashing, it’s not worth the risk. And don’t swipe at the ash resting on your shirt; pinch and lift the fabric to pop the ash off. It usually comes off clean, as long as it’s not still attached to a cigar. A friend was once driving when he dropped a 60-gauge cigar he was smoking onto the car seat between his legs, burning cherry holes in his new jacket, tie, shirt and pants on the way down. Better to hold it out the sunroof.
You may feel compelled to knock off every eighth-inch of ash that accumulates at the end of your smoke, but doing so is unnecessary. If your cigar is well constructed with long-filler tobacco, it’ll hold at least that much ash without falling. Plus, insulating the smoldering cherry by leaving some ash on the end of a cigar produces a cleaner taste.
You can always spot new smokers by watching how often they ash, constantly tapping their cigars on an ashtray. Most cigars will hold at least a half-inch of ash with no worries of ruining your new pants. Once you’re no longer confident in your cigar’s construction, place the end into the ashtray and gently roll or sweep the ash off your cigar, making sure to keep the ash inside the ashtray by not dragging it over the lip to fall out. Don’t knock your cigar against the edge of the ashtray as you may damage it.
If there’s no ashtray, use a dish or a cup. If you have no other choice, etiquette demands that you look for a plant first—ashes to ashes, after all. And if you must ash on the concrete, try and place it in the street, and not in the middle of a sidewalk.
Also don’t grind out your butt and leave it standing in an ashtray. Grinding out a cigar is the one act that’s equally offensive to both cigar smokers and non-smokers, as crushing your stogie will make more smoke than letting it sit and go out on its own. Make sure it gets into a proper trash receptacle, fully out, with no danger of starting a trash can fire.
The one exception is smoking on a golf course, where the world is your ashtray. Whereas the nitrogen-rich ash is arguably good for the grass, a large butt isn’t. Better to dispose of the evidence as much as possible by dropping your fully out butt near a bush on the cart path, then dragging it beneath your foot to completely shred it. Then kick it into the bush where it wouldn’t be noticed and is out of the way. No matter where you are, remember that leaving your cigar butt behind makes the rest of us look bad—and some of us don’t need the help.
In a polite society, do your best to be welcoming to sub-culture representatives. And as for being polite to fellow smokers, it’s simple: if you think you’re going to smoke two cigars, bring three. And don’t make fun of someone else’s favorite cigar, because there’s never an accounting for taste.
The Cigar Guys, Alex Lukoff and Tony Wilson, are national providers of live cigar rollers, cigar bars and Cigar 101 classes for events and parties. Visit them online at TheCigarGuys.net or phone them at 800-610-6717.