Thursday, May 20, 2010

La Pharmacie-Really?

Not your typical institution by the same name in the US. I was considering the phenomenon of the long lines always present in every pharmacy anywhere in France. Many of them even have a play area for the children of customers patiently tapping their feet in line. Were all of these people ill all of the time? Of course not. Were the pharmacists incompetent and slow, all of them? Not likely.

My answer came to me in the memory of a visit I paid a pharmacy last week. I was searching for an ankle brace for a bum ankle. I thought, though I should have known better, that I might be able to find something similar to what I had at home, grab the right size and leave. Oh no, this was serious business. The pharmacist politely requested I wait just a moment and disappeared into the back. She re-emerged, tape measure and a pile of boxes in hand. She ushered me over to the play area, since I had three of my children with me, and invited me to have a seat. She proceeded to measure my ankle, not the one without the brace, no, the one needing the brace to be removed first, because "There can be slight differences in feet." She then removed a selection of braces in the correct size and we tried them all on, one after another. Once we found the right fit, she explained that with a prescription, it would be entirely reimbursed by Social Security. For 16 Euros worth of ankle brace, I felt the service was superior to any I'd experienced at home. I would have to spend $100 on shoes to have someone measure my foot in the States.

So, first point; service. Pharmacists are busy answering questions like; "is this snake my cat caught venemous? how about these mushrooms I found in the forest? do you think I need to see a doctor for this giant spider bite or can I just spit on it and give it a day or two?", as well as explaining prescriptions, special instructions, possible interactions between medicines and how to put on your prescription anti-varicose tights. The pharmacie in my little village is where I first learned about the virtues of one type of pacifier over another, the debate on whether or not to give your baby all of the vitamins the doctor prescribed because you were "only breastfeeding." It is where I was told it was time to turn my nine-month old around in her reversible stroller because she should be looking out at the world at that age! It is also where my father figured out, with no French, how to buy a tube of aspirin that mystified me after he left. I didn't figure out where that tube came from for weeks after my parents' departure. I think he had set himself the challenge of buying something in each of the village shops. He brought home steaks one night from the butcher, chocolates almost every day from our friends, baby food from the grocery shop...and aspirin. But I digress.

There is also the way drugs are sold here, everything that is over the counter in the US is literally over-the-counter here; you have to ask the pharmacist to fetch it for you, or it requires a prescription, this includes aspirin, cold remedies and "protection items". You will be asked what it is for and given advice before a sale. So what is out in the store? Oh, lots of stuff!

There are as many remedies for cellulite as there are types of beer; creams, caffeine-infused potions, cellulite massagers to use at home, pre-treatment soaps, cocktails of several that promise even better results. There are weight-loss products galore; meal substitutes, pills, herbal teas. There are sun solutions; protect from, encourage or fake a tan. Baby shampoo, pacifiers, tooth brushes, perfume, canes, essential oil mixes, orthopedic shoes, all arranged around the edges of the shop, making it a sort of product-wall-paper. There are no aisles of items for sale, just a little room to stand in line for the next available counter.

So why am I not posting a photo of a French pharmacy? For fear of losing my blog's "family" rating; there are always posters in the window and on the door of people with very little clothing on as adds for the above items. I will try to snap one of the green cross that is the symbol in front of every pharmacy. Many pharmacies, like their bakery, butcher or creamery counter-parts, do not have a name, they are known as "the pharmacy on top of the hill across from the tobacco shop" (which is also known as simply "le tabac"). Did I mention that le tabac is where you buy stamps to pay for parking infractions?

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