Pants. I put them on every weekday

I got tear-gassed in 2011. In Athens. I was there to speak at a conference. My wife and I went for a walk in the scenic old part of town after dinner and accidentally wound up in an austerity riot near Syntagma Square. Burning piles of trash, riot police marching in a line, the deep boom of the tear gas cannon. We got swept along until we could make our way to the edge of the mob and slip down a side street, which led to a different part of the city-wide riot. We riot-hopped until we were chased by a little old lady with a farrier strip full of nails into the conference hotel, where we had cocktails and chit chat with academics from around the world.


A few lessons. First, getting tear-gassed sucks. I suggest avoiding it. If you plan on getting into a situation involving getting tear-gassed, go read something more targeted and come prepared. If you’re on a business trip and accidentally wind up in a riot, there are a few things you can do with what you may have in your pockets or backpack.

  • Water bottle + scarf/handkerchief. Wet some cloth and breathe through it. Any particulates you can filter are not in your lungs and sinuses.
  • Solid antacids. If you have a roll of Tums, chew them up, coat your mouth and swallow. Most tear gas is acidic.
  • Liquid antacids. If you wondered why protesters in news images sometimes look like they have crazy white eye makeup, it’s a mix of water and Maalox. Smear it around your eyes. Some people flush their eyes with the mix; I don’t recommend putting weird stuff in your eyes. 
  • Shoes. Run like hell. Or as fast as your now-incapacitated self can. Granted, if you really have no idea what’s going on and you’re traveling, you’re likely to get lost (like I did) and wind up in another riot (like I did). But if you keep moving, you’ll get somewhere that isn’t a riot. This is one of the cases where any action beats inaction. Get off the X.
  • Shower and fresh clothes. I screwed this one up. Find your hotel, shower, and change clothes immediately. Do not go to a rooftop cocktail party first, even if it has a beautiful view of the acropolis. Be prepared to throw away your gassed clothes if you don’t have laundry available.


It boils down to this: evade, remove, treat. Get away from the tear gas. Wash off what gets on you. And treat it as an acid.