Help us breathe or help us leave
December 25, 2008 2:12 AM   Subscribe

It's two am on Christmas morning and my wife and I haven't slept because we feel we are suffocating from all the cigarette smoke in my parent's house. This is our first night of four, and my wife is upset, wondering if she can maybe sleep in the car (it's minus twenty outside, so no). How can we make this bearable, or, failing that, how can we explain to my parents that we have to leave already?

Additional information that might be relevant:

We are about twelve hours away from home, and only get out to see family once or twice a year, so leaving early is not something we take lightly. We have other family about an hour away who we can stay with, but my dad would be really hurt if instead of four days he got only one.

There are three smokers, four non-smokers, and two little kids staying in a small three bedroom townhouse. I know that the smoking bothers three of us non-smokers, and it makes me upset that everyone is so comfortable smoking in a house with kids, but they aren't my kids and it isn't my house so there's not much I can do.

Since it is winter in Canada, all the windows are covered in plastic and cannot be opened. We have shut the vent in our room and are running a fan, but that's the closest to fresh air that we can get.

We can't afford a hotel and don't know anyone else in town, so can't really stay in town unless we stay with my parents.

Finally, this isn't about any real or perceived long-term health risks of exposure to cigarette smoke. This is about having sore throats, coughing, feelings of suffocation, and a migraine. Regardless of how dangerous or not dangerous second-hand smoke is, it is unbearable to us.
posted by arcticwoman to Grab Bag (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you've pretty much answered your own question - you feel an obligation to stay nearby, can't afford a hotel and can't open the windows. All you can really do now is to politely ask that people quit smoking indoors - a bit of a breach of etiquette since it's not your house (though I'm personally sympathetic) - and hope for the best.

I'm assuming your parents are the ones smoking, which makes me wonder how you didn't know that there'd be smoke . . . though I guess it doesn't matter now!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:33 AM on December 25, 2008

Can you say what you've said here to the smokers, and ask them if they would mind confining their smoking to just one room? It's fairly normal (here in the UK) for us social lepers to have to leave the room when we want a cig, and the last time I visited Canada it seemed similar there. Line up the other non-smokers beforehand, don't say "we've got together and think this" but ask them to chip in and support you if there are any problems.

If you say "look, this is bad enough for us to consider leaving early and we really really don't want to do that, I've been looking forward to this visit for ages and am really enjoying it otherwise" then they should be fine. Us smokers are used to that sort of thing.
posted by handee at 2:35 AM on December 25, 2008

Hepafilter...It would make your life at home more pleasant as well. Not to expensive..but you have to wait until the 26th. But a good filter will scrub a room of all the smoke and odors.

Good luck!
posted by Fuzzy Dog at 2:35 AM on December 25, 2008

I don't envy you. I can imagine how uncomfortable all of this is.

You have every right to be comfortable and healthy. Some times, standing up for these rights will make other people unhappy. But there's not much you can do about how other people feel, except to say that it's not personal, but instead that you're feeling ill.

But you do say one thing that I want to highlight, "feelings of suffocation." Is it possible that, in addition to the smoking, there are other family behaviors that are making you feel confined or trapped? If so, then it's possible that addressing this will help you get through this uncomfortable vacation (also, see the final paragraph about day trips).

Normally, a hotel would be the route to take. Since you can't afford it, one option would be to explain to the parents that the smoke in the house is too much, and ask if they could help you pay for a hotel. Tell them that you love them, but that you would need to leave for home otherwise. They may be understanding and able to help with the cost.

Alternately, you could plan some long daytime excursions to get fresh air. Anything to get out of the house.
posted by zippy at 2:37 AM on December 25, 2008

Response by poster: Is it possible that, in addition to the smoking, there are other family behaviors that are making you feel confined or trapped?

Out of my parents, my other parents, and my partner's family, this family group is the one we feel most comfortable and happy with. It's the visit we've been looking forward to the most. Fortunately, I suppose, the feelings of suffocation are purely physical.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:42 AM on December 25, 2008

I 2nd a good air filter.

Also, can the plastic be rolled away to at least let some fresh air in?

Distant 3rd option are candles, but you still need fresh oxygen in the room.
posted by redhotchips at 2:45 AM on December 25, 2008

Can you ask them to smoke under the kitchen extractor fan? That's the usual solution here in the frozen north when people can't be thrown out into the snow for a smoke.
posted by Iteki at 2:48 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

What about taking the plastic off the windows in the bedroom and letting in some air? It's just plastic, just a few dollars at the hardware store and you can put it back on when you leave.

It's a pain, but not as much of a pain as not being able to breathe.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:49 AM on December 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

Gosh, my sympathies to you and yours. Smokers sometimes just don't realise how badly their 2nd-hand smoke can affect people.

Since I'm an Australian, I don't quite understand how the plastic stuff works, although I understand what it does. Is it easy or cheap to replace? If so, crack that sucker open for a bit and fix it when you leave. Your dad might be upset about his heating bill but will he be more upset if you leave (and frankly, if he smokes around the kids, a heating bill is the least of his worries).

But don't be coy about laying it out to your parents. Take your dad aside and calmly explain what you've just told us. Don't give ultimatums but try to see if a compromise can be reached. If he's that concerned about seeing you and his grandchildren, surely he can make a few minor changes for their benefit?. Can he perhaps confine the smoking to a couple of easily-ventilated rooms away from the bedrooms?? Change sleeping arrangements to a less-smokey part of the house?

And finally, if leaving early is what you have to do to preserve the health of your wife and kids, then that's what you're going to have to do and just hope that your parents understand. Because it is about the risks of second-hand smoke. It's making them ill, and you just can't let that happen - family comes first, and your wife and kids are your family.

Good luck. Stay calm. Be well. :)
posted by ninazer0 at 2:54 AM on December 25, 2008

Have you considered trying some of these solutions, particularly the charcoal one?

My family and I had the unfortunate chance to stay in a smoking hotel room once, and what my father did was bought charcoal and put it around the air/heating system, which of course was providing a lot of the circulated air in the room. It really helped.
posted by metalheart at 3:19 AM on December 25, 2008

I am a smoker. But I am not an inside smoker.

Whenever I stay at my sister's house, it's gross. But it usually stops bothering me after about a day.
posted by kpmcguire at 3:32 AM on December 25, 2008

As a non-smoker who was raised by heavy smokers back in the day, I might suggest just toughing it out. Decades of exposure may cause lasting damage, but four days will only cause temporary discomfort unless you have some specific allergy or severe health condition.

The success of the anti-smoking movement has been a boon to non-smokers, but it has also made them overly intolerant to the slightest exposure. It reminds me of a similar length visit I had to a poorly run pig farm. The first day in the barn, the smell almost knocked me off my feet, but by the fourth day, I barely noticed it.

You could approach this situation as a training in mental discipline. Don't let your initial reaction rule your entire strategy. This type of self control can serve you well in many areas of your life.
posted by fairmettle at 3:59 AM on December 25, 2008 [12 favorites]

How can we make this bearable, or, failing that, how can we explain to my parents that we have to leave already?

Talk to people first. Ask if they'd mind smoking in a certain room, or provide you with a room that you can escape to where nobody has smoked.

Failing that, get some kind of filter in a certain room, or open a window. Doing the latter without telling anyone could be construed as passive-aggressive, but who cares? If you can't breathe, then there's a problem, and if people are rude enough to stop you from breathing, then they obviously don't understand the rules of etiquette. On the other hand, if you do this, perhaps people will recognise that this is a serious issue for you, and might become more inclined to do something to help (particularly if there's a draught ;) ).

Failing all that, just tell your parents that the smoke is ruining the holidays for you, and that you don't want the memory of this christmas to be a bad one. You love them both very much, but you also value your health very much, and don't want to spend what should be a happy time of year suffocating. They'll either get the hint, or not. Either way, you have your resolution.
posted by Solomon at 4:00 AM on December 25, 2008

As an ex-smoker myself I know that I got so used to the smell that I never considered that it bothered other people; so I agree with just asking them to smoke outside if practicable or - horror - go without for a couple of days.

If your family truly want your company they will manage, and if they are anything like me they will be mortified that they didn't even consider the effect it had on you and your wife. Don't let it spoil your Christmas.
posted by highrise at 4:10 AM on December 25, 2008

There really isn't any point in filtering the air in one room, you'll be stuck in that room. Tell your folks what is happening, they might offer the motel room fee to keep you around, if not, stay with the family an hour away (I commute that far to work every day, that isn't that far) and plan activities with your folks that are outside the house...

And, I too am baffled that you didn't anticipate this, did your folks just start smoking????

And, let me not take your folks off the hook here.. I'm a former smoker and, when I had guests in my home who did not smoke, I made sure that I didn't smoke inside, for the last 15 years of smoking, I NEVER smoked inside... Your folks are being a bit rude and selfish, and I double that since there are children involved.
posted by HuronBob at 4:21 AM on December 25, 2008

2nding fairmettle... My mother and her husband used to be heavy smokers... 2+ packs per day each. Tar was running down the walls. When I would come to stay at their house, the first night I'd usually end up with a massive headache, sore throat, etc. This actually gets better as the days pass.

OTC pain medication will help headache, sore throat, etc. Second hand smoke is irritating and uncomfortable for non-smokers, but the realistic effect on your health from staying there four nights is probably very small... Unless one of you is *allergic* to smoke.

Which brings me to another point: If you need to leave, consider saying perhaps that you've found the wife is allergic to smoke, and you guys won't be able to stay there. An allergy is less likely to be seen as any kind of moral judgment, and not only may they understand about her leaving, they may also offer to not smoke in the house during your next visit. Be aware that even if they aren't actively smoking in the house, headaches, etc. may ensue anyways, especially if the windows are shut.

Good luck!
posted by FortyT-wo at 4:22 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't say your wife is allergic to smoke, say you are. Noone wants to be the scapegoat.
posted by Iteki at 4:35 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going with fairmettle as well. Asking them to smoke outside wouldn't hurt, but it probably won't help either, because if your family really are heavy inside smokers, the house will still reek of smoke even if they quit cold turkey tomorrow. No air filter is going to get rid of the smell emanating from every exposed surface. It's in the upholstery, the mattress, the carpets, even the walls. I feel for you and your situation, but short of gutting the house down to the studs, nothing is going to fix this for you.

Get some ibuprofen. It's only three more days. And don't say you're allergic. If you were, everyone would know by now.
posted by valkyryn at 4:53 AM on December 25, 2008

A few things that helped when my husband and I had to stay a night with my mom and her roommates who are all indoor smokers (we knew in advance this was coming):

*Our own bedding. Consider making a run to the local discount store for sheets, blankets, and pillows--barring that, wash yours in lots of hot. If this is awkward, well, there are many reasons one needs to wash their bedding or have their own.
*Make sure you shower everyday--it also helps to take one before bed after a day of being around smoke.
*Wear new clothes each day, and sleep in something clean.
*An air filter and cracking the window will help a lot--A Terrible Llama is right, a little cut or torn plastic is not the end of the world, here.
*A painkiller, lots of water, and my partner swears by using saline spray (to help with the burning, dry feeling of smelling and breathing smoke).

Do enjoy your family--it seems like it's rarer and rarer to hear that one has a good time with theirs--you're lucky, actually.
posted by rumposinc at 5:24 AM on December 25, 2008

I don't understand the difficulty--if you're that uncomfortable, just tell them you're leaving. They might whine a bit, but reassure them that you're not divorcing them, and they'll get over it.
posted by mpls2 at 5:50 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The success of the anti-smoking movement has been a boon to non-smokers, but it has also made them overly intolerant to the slightest exposure. It reminds me of a similar length visit I had to a poorly run pig farm. The first day in the barn, the smell almost knocked me off my feet, but by the fourth day, I barely noticed it.

I couldn't disagree with this more strongly. The situation is precisely the opposite: decades of social tolerance of smoking has made us all think that doing something that produces a noxious, overwhelming odor, saturates the air with allergens, and presents a real long-term health risk is entirely OK, and that anyone who complains is a stick-in-the-mud health nut. The problem is not that you are "intolerant," it is that your hosts - whether they know it or not - are doing something that is making their house unbearable for you. If your parents were playing extremely loud music all night long or had a pet that you were allergic to, asking them to make allowances wouldn't be rude, it would simply be acknowledging the reality of the situation.

I struggled with this problem for 15 years of visiting my own parents, also heavy smokers. Here is what I learned:

(1) This is not just about the smelll, so the pig farm analogy is not applicable. This is about allergens that produce a reaction in your nose, throat, eyes, and bronchial passages; as well as psychoactive substances that act as stimulants (which might be another you are awake). You can't simply "tough it out" or "get used to it."

(2) This will probably get worse over the years. My own physiological sensitivity to smoke increased as I got older. With each successive visit, I was more and more miserable.

(3) They will not figure this out on their own. As others have said, many smokers simply can't comprehend that others have a real physiological reaction to the smoke. Many will think you are being "oversensitive" - not out of callousness, but simply because they can't understand that someone could feel differently from them.

You know your parents best, so you know how to talk to them, but here is my suggestion, based on what worked for me.

First, you need to make it clear to them that the situation is physically intolerable for you, as intolerable as if they had a cat and you were allergic. It is not something that you can "tough out," and it is not just a little bit of smell. You love them very much, and you make no judgments on the smoking itself, but you can't help the way your bodies are reacting. And its ruining your stay.

Let me stress here that you need to make it clear that you are not judging their behavior, and that you truly appreciate their hospitality. Think of it the same way you would if you were allergic to some other substance in their home - pet, paint, whatever - so that you can treat this as a problem to be solved, not a referendum on their behavior.

Second, have a list of possible things they can do. This includes having them smoke outside or under a fan; it includes tearing the plastic off the window and cracking a window; and it also includes figuring out some other place to stay.

Third, be prepared to leave if you have to. You need to demonstrate that this really is a problem. Again, think of it as a sad consequence of the environment, not a retribution against the smokers.

Best of luck.
posted by googly at 5:54 AM on December 25, 2008 [13 favorites]

Don't say your wife is allergic to smoke, say you are. Noone wants to be the scapegoat.

The reason I suggested saying his wife is allergic to smoke is because I assume that his parents already know he's not allergic... Not because I thought he should blame someone else.
posted by FortyT-wo at 6:40 AM on December 25, 2008

Since I'm an Australian, I don't quite understand how the plastic stuff works...

Just as an FYI, insulating window plastic is like the plastic wrap you use to preserve food. You install it by sticking double-faced tape around the window trim, then you hang the plastic on the tape, seal it to the perimeter of the frame, and shrink it with a hairdryer to create an insulating layer of trapped air between the window and the plastic.

You should be able to carefully peel it back and crack the window open a bit. Either that or just rip it down and replace it with a fresh installation of new plastic before you leave.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:47 AM on December 25, 2008

I don't know about what googly said. I do know that this is highly individualistic. I do know that even if it were an allergy such as to a cat, I (YMMV) would still tough it out for a few days. Of course there would be claritan redi-tabs involved, but I would suck it up. It will pass. I would go for long walks in the cold and take a trip to the store as often as I could to get out of the house and I would take whatever medication i could find to alleviate the symptoms, but I would tell the folks smoking that you are having issues that you will deal with and would appreciate them doing whatever they thought they could to help you out. Of course, there would also be lots of alcohol involved. To me, it would come down to what was more important to me, my family or a few days of physical hell.

( My dad and his wife are smokers of the inside variety. I have been in this situation. They are addicts and could not quit for those days if their life depended on it. It does and they don't. This needs to be addressed before you arrive not after the fact.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:48 AM on December 25, 2008

This will come off as a trifle manipulative, but just gently explain that you two will have to cut your visit short. Do not offer a reason. They will ask for one. Be vague and state that you're both not feeling well (which is, after all, true). They'll ask if you've got food poisoning, a cold, etc. "No, it's just that we can't deal with the smoke. We can't sleep. She's thinking about trying to sleep out in the car. We feel like we're slowly suffocating. It's your home, not ours, so it isn't our place to ask you to change."

The unspoken message there is that, while it's their place, whether or not you and your wife are there is the one thing you do have control over, namely, whether or not you will be miserable for the holidays.

People, especially addicts, respond better when they have to ferret out the reasons for some kind of social avoidance, rather than dealing with a flat, direct, and unasked-for "WE'RE LEAVING BECAUSE YOUR FILTHY HABIT IS MAKING US ILL."

You can soften the blow with some humor by dashing out and gift-wrapping a package of those nicotine patches.

Variants of this tactic have worked for me before.
posted by adipocere at 6:59 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know you said that the windows cannot be opened for X reasons. However, under the circumstances (bad air, can't sleep, considering leaving your family trip or getting a hotel) opening the window is the obvious and least dramatic answer.

I'd have to have a pretty compelling reason to reject doing just that. It's not like they are nailed shut; it's just a piece of plastic. I'm sure that your family would rather have you break the plastic seal of one window than leave the family Christmas, or stay in a hotel. And if they aren't okay with that, then well, that would be their etiquette failing and not yours.
posted by cotterpin at 7:03 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you say what you've said here to the smokers, and ask them if they would mind confining their smoking to just one room?

I always had the decency to step outside, and if it was too cold to go outside then it was too damn cold to smoke.
The smell's not going to leave the house, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:25 AM on December 25, 2008

I know you said you can't afford a hotel, but I would still try doing some searches and see if you can get something cheaper than you expected. I bet not many people make spur of the moment trips on Christmas day and Boxing day. I would go on Priceline and see if you can get a room super-cheap. You'll need a US-billing address credit card, though, so if you don't live in the US you might need to call in a favour from a friend who does. Expedia has hotels in Toronto from $62 right now. Hotwire has hotels as low as $40 in Toronto. I know it adds up over a few nights, but unless you're really in dire straits, it might be worth it for the ability to combine family time with family peace.

I don't think it will help if they stop smoking in the house at this point. The entire building and every surface is infused with the smoke. I stayed in a hotel room that was not non-smoking once and it was unbearable even though no one I was staying with smoked, and we did open the windows. By the time I left in the morning, *I* smelled. The second day I had to shower and put my clothes on and walk straight out of the room. I did my hair and make-up in the hotel's public bathroom in the lobby, so I wouldn't soak up the smell. Really, it doesn't go away just because no one smoked inside today.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:36 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tell you what. Tear down the fucking plastic. I'll send your pop a whole box of the stuff to replace what you tear down. Whattaya say?
posted by notsnot at 7:42 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Hey, Dad. I'm sorry, but I think I had to open the window in our room to get some fresh air circulating. The smoke is making my kids uncomfortable. If you want, I'll help you put up new plastic before we leave."
posted by bingo at 7:51 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

bingo - I love it when people post actual scripts, but he said they're not his kids.

Definitely open the window.

An air filter (you can get one at a local home improvement store, for example) will help enormously.

Here's a quick, cheap fix that you can do without going anywhere or asking for anything that may help a bit in the meantime:

Get some clean rags or washcloths, moisten them, and wipe down every single thing in the room, including the walls (and, if you can reach it, the ceiling). It will instantly help the room feel fresher and add humidity too.

Humidity is also your friend. If there's no humidifier in the house, drape a couple of wet, warm towels on something waterproof (a plastic chair?) for an improvised humidifier. This will soothe your nasal passages and (I'm not sure about this) may actually make the particulate matter less likely to stay in the air.

Hot, steaming tea might also help with the migraine.
posted by amtho at 8:26 AM on December 25, 2008

Oh, and if you do open a window, using a fan will mean you'll be able to shut it quicker.

Wipe down the fan blades, first, if you can.
posted by amtho at 8:27 AM on December 25, 2008

The suffocating you're feeling might be asthma, triggered by the environmental smoke. Smoking/nonsmoking situations can be tricky to maneuver, but in this case it seems like a health issue rather than a mere aversion. When you address the situation with them, describe the facts, express your feelings, ask for what you want, and find a way to reinforce how resolving the problem will positively affect everyone, and use some lighthearted humor.

One possible script:

Hey Mom and Dad, there's a lot more smoke in here than we're used to, and with it being winter, it's hard to avoid. We had a really hard time sleeping last night, and it's beginning to feel uncomfortable to breathe, which worries me, and I'm nervous talking about it, because I don't want to offend you. We've thought about leaving, it's starting to feel so bad, but I don't want to have to do that--I love seeing you! I'd like to open the window in our bedroom to air it out so that it's easier to sleep. Don't worry, I'll get you some more plastic. Can you think of anything else we can do?

Be willing to compromise--you won't get the smell out that permeates bedclothes, etc, but it shouldn't harm you like the fresh smoke does. Some of the ideas that other people have brought up, like confining the smoking to a closed room, making sure your own environment is as closed off and clean as possible, and maybe even seeing if there's an alternate place to stay are all great ideas. And maybe your parents will have more ideas you didn't even think of.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:49 AM on December 25, 2008

Nthing air filter if you can find one, and/or charcoal, if you can get some, wiping down the room surfaces, and opening one window. Also, you may want to put something under the closed bedroom door, to block the smoke coming in under the door when you are sleeping (if they are up later than you or get up earlier.)

About the window thing, it can be just one window, it's in a *guest room*, for gosh sakes, and, as cotterpin says, it's just a piece of plastic. I'm sure that your family would rather have you break the plastic seal of one window than leave the family Christmas
posted by gudrun at 8:51 AM on December 25, 2008

Be an adult and say the smoke is bothering you. There need not be anything uncomfortable about saying so nor is there any reason for subterfuge.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:19 AM on December 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Watch your pronouns people, articwoman and her wife. :)

  • wiping down the room
  • put a rolled up towel against the bedroom door sill (like a door sock to block smoke from coming in)
  • get a cheap air filter if you can
  • take a parent aside and ask if it's okay if you open one of the windows (promise to seal it afterward) because the smoke is bothering you.
  • take some OTC pain-killers
  • do not claim allergies - I'm aghast at people suggesting this. It makes you feel miserable - that's bad enough.
  • if all else fails, evaluate if it's worth spending <>

posted by canine epigram at 9:21 AM on December 25, 2008

Fellow Canadian here.

Just rip off the plastic from one of the windows, and get some air. You can try to unstick the plastic carefully & re-stick it after, but frankly, don't be afraid to just ball up the plastic & throw it out if it's too finicky. Just be careful as you rip it off, because the double-sided tape it's stuck on with can strip paint if you pull too fast. But be gentle & it'll be fine, and that stuff is easy to replace.

You will be able to buy more window-plastic on Boxing Day for under $20 at any hardware store. You'll want to ask for "weather-stripping" or "shrink-fit storm windows.

It's easy to re-install on your last day there- you just stick it on with the tape (it'll be included in the package) & blow-dry it with a normal hair dryer. In a couple minutes the heat makes it shrink taut, takes about 10-15 minutes per window to re-do. I used to do it when I was a kid- it's not a big deal, so don't feel overwhelmed or guilty about it- it's kind of fun to install, actually.

So just fix it before you leave, or leave the homeowner some cash to cover having to buy more to fix it themselves. Be aware that your room will be somewhat colder once you remove it- but if the smoke's bothering you that much, it's the best solution.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:51 AM on December 25, 2008

See how many sympathetic people there are here? They're on Craigslist and Couch Surfing, too. Find a sympathetic hippie-type down the street and sleep there.
posted by quarantine at 11:10 AM on December 25, 2008

The success of the anti-smoking movement has been a boon to non-smokers, but it has also made them overly intolerant to the slightest exposure. It reminds me of a similar length visit I had to a poorly run pig farm. The first day in the barn, the smell almost knocked me off my feet, but by the fourth day, I barely noticed it.

I take it you weren't sleeping in the pig barn? Even if you were, there is nothing unhealthy about the smell of pigs, but the particulates in smoke, any smoke, are a different story. Add to that a heated, shut up house, and there's a pretty significant difference in the atmosphere of a pig barn (which are generally not air tight, and are not lacking in humidity) and the one arcticwoman is experiencing. I agree with everyone who said crack a window and get some humidity into the room you sleep in, even if it's just putting a bowl of water near the heat duct. These are minor fixes that shouldn't bother anybody, especially if you replace the plastic film. (It also may help to old many cups of tea under your nose.)
posted by oneirodynia at 11:25 AM on December 25, 2008

It's a bummer you can't stay at a hotel. As my parents have gotten older and sloppier and messier, their place just grosses me out (everything dirty, dusty, and yes, cockroaches running about). I always stay at a nearby hotel. I'd loan you the money for it if I could.
posted by mathowie at 11:34 AM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't offer any great advice because their reaction will really depend on their personalities and you're the best to judge how they will react and if it's worth asking them to change. I'm sitting next to my chainsmoking mother now and I know that she will not stop. I have trouble getting her to wait to smoke until I'm done eating. I just tough it out, but if I were you I would say "whew, it's really smokey. I'm getting a headache, mind if I open a window?" I know we don't open windows in the winter but maybe you can get away with it.

I just wanted to send my sympathies because I'm dealing with it now (although growing up in a smoking house prepares you a bit) and know I'll have to wash everything when I get home. I can tell some of the posters haven't grown up with smokers... Ask them to stop? To smoke outside? To smoke under the fan? Ha! I've been asking those questions for 15 years with no results. My family would never think to not smoke around children, even my family's little dog has a hacking cough! Yes, it is rude but I don't know that they know it is, would care or would change their behavior. Good luck.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:09 PM on December 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas and suggestions. My wife and I have mentioned before that we've had a hard time with the smoke, and had our complaints summarily ignored - not out of malice, just out of a misunderstanding about how serious we are. My parents are great people, just not particularly sympathetic.

To those who are mildly chastising me for not anticipating this - we knew that the house would be smoky - it always is. This, however, is the first time in a decade I've spent Christmas with this family group and didn't realize that they double-plastic every window in the house, and that they never go outside. Oh, and that one of the other relatives smokes too. Add to this the fact that we are in the middle of a bad cold snap, and we're all experiencing some cabin fever. The smokers respond to this by smoking even more. So, anyway, yes, we knew it would be bad. We didn't expect this bad. We thought we would have an escape, but we can't even really go outside.

One more thing I hadn't thought would be relevant but seems to be: my parents live in a town of fewer than 2000 people. That means there is one hotel in town, no craigslisters, no hospitality clubbers, no hostels, not really any options. Staying with the family an hour away would normally be an ok option but the roads are crap this year. It's been a hard winter.

Ok, so, here is what we decided to do: We have torn the plastic off a corner of the window and opened the window. Instant improvement. We'll fix it before we leave, and we won't tell them. We got some candles for Christmas so we'll light those up for awhile before we go to bed. Other than that, we are going to struggle through it with the help of Christmas drinking and some pain killers, and we are going to buy a hepa filter for the next trip. That will have the dual purpose of filtering the air, and showing our family that we are serious about our discomfort.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:09 PM on December 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of good plans. If you can't get an air cleaner (and if I remember, Canada is closed on Boxing Day as well), in a pinch you can light every candle you can find in the room with the door closed. The smoke gets burned in the candle flame. Won't help the walls, but it'll help the smoke in the air and the smell. Be careful.
I had done this once in a guest room, and set fire to my hair.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 1:23 PM on December 25, 2008

As my parents have gotten older and sloppier and messier, their place just grosses me out

Seconding this... We made the mistake of staying with family last year and will never do it again.
posted by jkaczor at 2:11 PM on December 25, 2008

Just make sure you put the candles out well before you actually crawl in bed!
posted by canine epigram at 4:58 PM on December 25, 2008

I´ve found that once you start to get sick enough from the smoke that you are actually vomiting the smokers tend to stop disbelieving that the smoke makes you feel sick. I don´t have any suggestions for how you can get them to change your behavior, but if it does get to that point they will probably be more understanding if you choose to leave early.
posted by yohko at 7:10 PM on December 25, 2008

"Dad, Mom - we're really uncomfortable with the smoke. Do you have any ideas of how we can make our bedroom less smoky so that we can stay the entire 4 days?"

Involve your folks in creating the solution. They may just ignore you, but they may also help you find a humidifier and air filter. Or they may offer to smoke in the other side of the house. Generally, if I'm looking for cooperation, I do better by asking people for help than starting in on my own solution.

Also, next year you host the holiday.
posted by 26.2 at 11:36 PM on December 25, 2008

arcticwoman - I'm serious about wiping down the walls. Give it a try :)
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on December 26, 2008

No good advice, but my total understanding. My wife's family smoked our whole Thanksgiving visit and by the time we got home, she and I each were literally sick for a day trying to detox from all the smoke. We were able to go outside so you really are roughing it. Wash and Febreeze everything you own when you get home!
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:16 PM on December 27, 2008

For next year...if it comes up again, also consider bringing a child's humidifier. Sometimes the sore throats and stuff are also related to dry air (excess smoke, heater, no fresh air).

I am allergic to cigarrette smoke (in addition to being offended by the rudeness of it all) and I find that humidifiers with a little vicks put into the cup, makes me feel better.
posted by answergrape at 5:22 PM on December 28, 2008

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