Cigars, Etiquette

Event Etiquette

I attend a lot of cigar-related events, and have had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people… people who I speak with once, people I meet at these events all the time but do not speak with apart from these events, as well as people who become friends and/or customers.  I love that there are so many good people out there who smoke cigars.  There is a reason we refer to each other as ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf.’  It is indeed a brotherhood.  We get together to smoke, to exchange (and sometimes sell) cigars, to teach and learn and to share experiences.  For the most part, cigar smokers seem to be a great group of people.

Once in a while you are going to encounter people who just don’t get it.  I am not writing this article to chastise, but to educate.  As with life in general, there is a right way and a wrong way to behave.  In short, there is an etiquette that should be followed, and when people do not follow it, the balance can be lost.

It always baffles me that people who smoke cigars would attend a cigar smoking event and not bring three simple things: 

  1. A cutter (or punch).  This is the easiest one to understand, because by loaning you my cutter, it takes absolutely nothing away from me.  There is no chance that I will cut your cigar for you, and then because of that I would not be able to smoke my own cigar.
  2. A torch/lighter/matches.  This makes sense too, although it has happened to me on a few occasions that someone would borrow my torch, make sure they toast their cigar perfectly, then light their friend’s cigar (also perfectly)… and then when I go to light my own cigar, I am left high and dry because I ran out of butane.  While I usually have a secondary source of fire in my pocket, this one irks me a bit… why would any cigar smoker go to a cigar event without the ability to light a cigar?
  3. Cigars.  In the study guide for the Cigar Sommelier Diploma course that I took, there was an entire discussion that when you go to a cigar event, you should bring three cigars with you: One to smoke, one to gift, and one to trade.  While I think that is a laudable goal, I expect that most people who attend these events have not sat through the course, so they might not know that.  With that said, why would you possibly go to a cigar event and not bring a cigar, unless you are just expecting someone to give you one?  While this has often worked in my favour (I have been known to trade the occasional cigar for a handful of dollars), I still don’t understand why any cigar smoker would go to a cigar event without bringing a cigar.  Yes, at some of these events there are cigars for purchase… but they are usually sold at a premium, and might not be cigars you enjoy.

**When the event is a business networking event, I would add a fourth point to these: bring business cards, and plenty of them.  Make sure you have a supply of them, because there are going to be people there you will want to follow up with after the event, and who you would want to follow up with you.  If nothing else, there is often going to be a raffle of some sort, and you might be asked to drop your business card into a bowl or hat for a chance to win a prize.

Please Thank youI recently attended a very nice event that was extremely well attended.  There were probably 200 people in attendance, and at any given point there were 50-60 people or more smoking on the patio.  One person came up to me twice over the course of the evening to ask to borrow my torch.  What surprised me about this was that:

  1. He was not polite about it.  He was not actually rude, but I was taught that when you are asking someone for something you are not brusque, and you say please.  It is not a big ask, but it is usually expected.
  2. He came to me twice… that means that either a) of the 50-60 people with lit cigars in their mouths, none of them had a torch, and had all borrowed it from me; or b) he recognized me, knew that I was always prepared, and did not care that he might be disturbing me when he came up, interrupted the conversation I was in, and expected me to stop, stand up, reach into my pocket to find my torch, and then stand with him and wait until he was done with it.

That was bad enough… the second time he demanded my torch, he wanted to light a cigar for a lady he was with.  I decided instead to light it directly for her.  I put my cigar down on the table, stood up, and lit her cigar for her.  While I was doing that, he knocked my cigar to the ground.  I do not think he did it intentionally, but I saw that he did it, and pointed it out to him.  There was no apology or contrition… he picked it up off the floor and handed it to me and said ‘you can still smoke it.’  I looked at him incredulously… he did not recognize or care that he had just ruined a fifty dollar cigar.  I should have asked him what he would have done had it been a hamburger… would he have picked it up off the floor and told me to eat it?  Or maybe a drink… would he have collected whatever had spilled back into a glass (off the filthy floor) and told me to drink it?  He just did not care that not only was he rude, but that he cost me money… not to mention that he had now interrupted two conversations I had been enjoying.

This interaction put me into a bit of a mood, and someone suggested I tell the event organizers.  Why?  What might I expect them to do?  It was not their fault, and there was nothing I could expect them to do.  The organizers (you know who you are!) worked extremely hard to put this incredible event together, and they did an amazing job… and having done it for several years in the IT space, I know how difficult and stressful it can be to not only put together but host and run one of these events… without the added expectation of being some kind of schoolyard cop.  (A few minutes later I told the story of what happened to a friend who is a police officer with the LAPD, and told her I walked away because I did not want them to arrest me for my possible reaction.  They told me that with the facts as they knew it, any reaction on my part would have been justified and not grounds for arrest.  We laughed, and then they put me in handcuffs and threw me down a flight of stairs.)

I have a friend who I originally met at one of these networking events, but we have become friends outside of the events as well.  He has one of the finest collections of aged Cuban cigars of anyone I have ever met, and I have the utmost respect for his palette.  There is only one person who consistently comes to these events with better cigars than I do, and that is him.  He and I are generous with each other; he is the only person there who I would gladly give a Cuban cigar to at every event, not because I expect anything in return (I never do), but because he is someone who will fully appreciate what I am giving him, and will give me his honest opinion of anything I give him.  A couple of weeks ago, when someone brought me a bundle of custom rolled cigars from a farm in Cuba, he and I smoked one together and agreed that it was truly lousy, and we put it out and lit something else. 

When I told this friend after the event about what had happened, he fully agreed that there were so many people who do not know or who choose not to respect basic etiquette.  “Hey buddy, I see you brought your travel humidor with you!  Do you have a cigar for me?”  He told me he is going to start replying “Sure… as long as you have a way to help pay my mortgage to the value equal to the value of the cigars, I have as many as you want.”  We both understand that we have a commodity that many of the attendees of these events do not – that is, a reliable channel for Cuban cigars – but reliable does not mean free… and if we had given one Cuban cigar to each of the people who attended that event, it would have cost (conservatively) over $10,000.  If someone is a client or a friend that is one thing… although I know that if I had forgotten to bring cigars to an event I would feel very uncomfortable asking a friend for one.  These people are often people who do not do anything for us except provide occasional conversations at these events, and while we enjoy conversations, we do not feel we should have to pay for the pleasure of them.

Do not ask me to try my cigar.  I like you, you are a nice person and everything… but I probably do not like you enough to exchange bodily fluids with.  I am under no delusions that you want to exchange them with me.  By the way, did you notice me sneezing and wiping my nose?  Fifty weeks of the year I do that because my girlfriend has two cats, and I am quite allergic to them.  Two weeks of the year (optimistically) it is because I have a cold.  Today is January 23 which means that we are probably in the middle of cold and flu season… yes, even here in Southern California, where it is currently a sunny 72°F (22°C).  Last night it was 50°F (10°C), and the daily 20°-30° temperature swing is how we get sick.  Maybe you feel fine, but you just got the flu and are still asymptomatic.  Maybe I just don’t want to be that intimate with you.  Either way, please don’t ask… and if I say to you “Wow, taste this cigar I’m smoking!” do not think you will offend me if you refuse.  I get it… and please understand, I do like you, but not in that way.  Likewise, no you may not take a sip of my drink, but if I do want to share with you, please bring your own glass, so I can tip some of it out of mine for you… but really, don’t ask.

Rude-PoliteIf I am deep in conversation with someone, please understand that these events are chiefly for business networking.  So if it looks like I am just shooting the bull, make eye contact, and I will probably invite you to join the conversation.  However, if we are sitting (or standing) to the side and talking in hushed voices, understand that there is a good chance that I am not going to extend the conversation.  If I am in an actual business networking conversation, where the person I am speaking with and I are trying to conduct business, then please respect that.  Also please remember that the fact that we may be discussing cigars or cars or sports or whiskey does not mean that we are just shooting the bull… at many of these events you will find people whose business is cigars or cars or sports or whiskey, and you may actually be interrupting.

The following is a very edited down transcript of a conversation I had with someone last night.  That person, I should clarify, was not a friend, associate, colleague, or acquaintance; he was, in fact, someone I had met less than a minute before this conversation started.  I do not make any attempt to hide the fact that I am Jewish, but I did not come out and say that I was… he might have overheard it from my previous conversation.  He said to me: “So you are Jewish, right?  Did you know Jeffrey Epstein?”  In case you have been living under a rock for the past couple of years, the late Mr. Epstein was an accused underage sex trafficker to some very high-profile people.  He was a terrible person accused of abhorrent crimes, and the facts surrounding his death in prison are, and shall remain I would think, extremely murky.  To put things in perspective, His Royal Highness Prince Andrew, Duke of York, has resigned from royal duties owing to an alleged connection with Epstein.  To suggest, even in jest, that I might have had some connection to him would be like saying to someone: “Oh, you are German… how close a relation are you to Adolph Hitler?”  The mere suggestion was not only offensive, if overheard by someone who did not know that it was a joke it could have been ruinous.  He might have been drunk (it was very early on in the event, but he was sitting by the vodka stand), and he probably thought he was being funny.  Maybe the simple rule should be to drink in moderation, and to know exactly where your limits are… and stay a drink (or two) short of that point at all times.  Had we been close friends, he might have said any number of things that would not have offended me.  Who knows?  Maybe he was stone sober and is simply a racist bigot… but that behaviour does not belong at events like these.

Does it sound like a lot of work?  I suppose if you are a rude, boorish, racist, obnoxious, freeloading, person who is unaffected by the germs of others, then it might be.  For most of us it is simply a question of remembering that we are not in an army barracks, rather we are in polite company.  If the previous sentence offended anyone then please understand that I spent nearly three years of my life living in army barracks, and if today’s armies are a kinder, gentler, politer version of the one I served in, then while my experience may be outdated it is nevertheless valid.  I mention this because I do not think that anyone should go out of their way to offend anyone, and while many (myself included and especially) occasionally do offend people, at least it should be accidental, and we should be apologetic when realizing we did.  Politeness, whether at a cigar networking event or anywhere else, should be the rule, not the exception… and hopefully having incidents pointed out will help people realize that none of us are immune, and that we should all be more aware.

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