I'm reading a short story and can't make sense of some sentences:

Elemér saß unterm Nussbaum und rauchte . . . Elemér entfernte den Tabak von seinen Lippen. Er verachtete Mundstücke, er benutzte keine Feuerzeuge. Mit Menschen, die sich vom Rauch belästigt fühlten, verkehrte er erst gar nicht. Raucher waren für ihn die besseren Gesprächspartner, möglicherweise auch die besseren Menschen.

Which I understand to mean:

Elemér sat under the walnut tree and smoked . . . Elemér removed the tobacco from his lips. He despised mouthpieces, he didn't use lighters. He didn't even associate with people who felt bothered by the smoke. For him, smokers were better conversation partners, possibly even better people.

Am I misunderstanding something? Because my translation doesn't seem to make any logical sense to me. How is he smoking without a lighter? When it says he doesn't even associate with nonsmokers after it says that he hates mouthpieces (which I understand to mean mouthpieces on pipes—so he's smoking a cigar or cigarette) and doesn't use lighters, that seems to imply a correlation between those two claims i.e. he doesn't use lighters and doesn't smoke pipes; so much so, he doesn't even associate with people who don't smoke. What am I not getting?

  • Maybe he uses matches Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 16:03
  • Ist das im Original auf Deutsch, oder ist das eine Übersetzung? Ich weiß nicht, was er raucht, und was genau ein Mundstück ist, aber ich nehme an, dass ein Mundstück dafür sorgen würde, dass er keinen Tabak auf die Lippen bekommt.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 16:14
  • @Bernhard Döbler Okay but why should the fact that he doesn't use lighters then be followed by "He doesn't even associate with nonsmokers." The "even" (erst) there implies that his despising mouthpieces and not using lighters are likewise evidence of his dislike of nonsmokers, right? How does that make sense?
    – gast
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 16:14
  • 1
    It is all evidence of him being some kind of hardcore smoker. But really, direct your complaints at the author ;)
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 16:19
  • @CarstenS It's written originally in German by Iris Wolff. And "Mundstück" can mean the mouthpiece of a pipe, according to the Duden. That is a good point though about how a mouthpiece would prevent tobacco from touching his lips.
    – gast
    Commented Dec 17, 2021 at 16:20

2 Answers 2


As someone has written in the comments, he uses matches instead of lighters.

The "even" (erst) there implies that his despising mouthpieces and not using lighters are likewise evidence of his dislike of nonsmokers, right?

No, wrong. The "erst" doesn't have anything to do with the sentence before, it is a modal particle. It emphasize the statement that he didn't associate with people who felt bothered by the smoke. As a native speaker, I get the feeling that he doesn't only avoid those people, but also look down on them. The next sentence then proofs explicitly that this feeling in indeed what is intended by the author. In english, there are no modal particles, you can replace this by intonation.

You can learn more about modal particles in this video on youtube. I didn't find written proof that "erst" is a modal particle, but as it is used as one in this context, I'm pretty sure it is one :)

  • "Erst" can often be translated as "in the first place", this could work here too.
    – RHa
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 9:41

Well Elemér seems to be a person that is very fond of smoking, rather eccentric when it comes to the particular way in which one should smoke and rather dismissive of people who don't smoke or aren't fond of being smoked around.

The writing style in general seems to be rather disconnected and describing the situation more in a "stream of consciousness" where ideas are loosely connected, then in a structured way.

So you move from "he's smoking" to "he's got tobacco on his lips", to explaining why he has tobacco on his lips" (lack of mouthpiece). To his hatred of smoking gadgets to this hatred against people who don't smoke, to his "explanation" for that. So these statements are connected in a way but not necessary in terms of a strict grammatical cause and effect relation.

Now in terms of what he uses if he doesn't use a lighter, well probably any other source of flame. Matches, a candle, a campfire whatever. Most likely matches though. An in terms of the mouthpiece, I don't know what time period this plays in, but I'd think of one of those cigarette holders. Which in German are called Zigarettenspitze but also (Zigaretten-)Mundstück:

They were apparently used between 1910-1970 and mostly by women who wore dresses rather than specific smoking jackets and so employed them to avoid dropping ash on their dresses, but there were also men who used them. So chances are he doesn't like the attitude of hiding that you smoke. He's most likely smoking a hand-rolled cigarette without filter hence the tobacco on his lips.

He didn't even associate with people who felt bothered by the smoke.

That implies a connection to the previous sentence and while there is one in terms of listing his dislikes, there's no direct connection of the sentences.

It's more like "When it comes to associating himself with people, he wouldn't even consider being around people that don't like smoke in the first place". That's not a direct translation, but in terms of what this sentence means.

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