Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pharm Assist

In France, people talk about their pharmacist like they talk about their doctors. As in, "Who's your pharmacist?" Or, "Do you have a pharmacist? Or "What did your pharmacist say about that?"

This was a curiosity to me at the beginning. My pharmacist in the United States was whomever was on duty at the 24-hour Walgreens, and I only ever talked to him/her after I'd made my purchase and he arrived at the window to ask me the required-by-law-question, "Do you understand how this medicine works?" End of relationship.

Not so here in France. Your pharmacist is your go-to guy. Whenever you have a problem, ache, or pain, you check in with him first before you do anything else (I'm using the masculine version because mine is). Then you get to recite all your problems and ask his advice on what to do. If he thinks you need to see a doctor, he'll tell you, but he's got all sorts of stuff in his arsenal for the first assault.

What is interesting about all this is often he will give you a homeopathic remedy. The pharmacies not only carry manufactured medicines, but they carry herbs and tinctures and essential oils, which they DO recommend if they think it's right for you. I love this.

I do not love the way medications are packaged. I swear, the medication industry here in France must produce more waste than any other (aside from the bottled water industry). Everything is packaged in blister packs, then boxed.  Nope, no giant bottles of 1000 generic ibuprofen here!

These are my feminine youth in a box, as the package says.

The French are also very fond of individual sachets, which is a package of powder that you mix with water. They always taste pretty good and might go well with vodka.

Prescription drugs are the same. They are not measured out and put in a bottle, the exact number for your prescription. You need to buy the whole box whether you need all of it or not.  As a result, French medicine cabinets are not a just a little shelf in the bathroom. They are generally an entire, overflowing kitchen cupboard devoted to all the leftover boxes filled with the individually wrapped surplus pills. The trick is figuring out what they're all for when you need them again.

I've been down the last two weeks with what seems to be a sinus infection. Oh, ouch. It's like waking up every single day with a massive hangover that cannot be cured with Coke and a package of Kraft Mac and Cheese. During a complaint session on my woes, my friend Lynn asked me if I'd talked to my pharmacist. Oh yeah, I forgot about him!

Off to Place Richelm to la pharmacie. After explaining, in my bizarre, roundabout version of French (I first told him I had a corkscrew in my head but then amended that by explaining that it was actually a traffic jam...or a cork...they're both the same word but obviously not the one I needed), I was given a homeopathic something or other to take every hour and a sachet that I should take 3 times a day.

Then my facebook friends emphatically recommended a Neti Pot. It was explained to me that this is a devise for cleaning out the sinuses with salted water. I checked out what they looked like on the Internet and took off again to the pharmacy. When I didn't find what I was looking for on the shelf, I finally, reluctantly, had to ask. This little request involved me iterating the nonsense about the traffic jam and that I need a little pot, that looks like Aladdin's lamp (I couldn't remember the word for tea pot), which I could fill with dirty water (and yes, I mixed up the word for salt and the word for dirty) and pour in my nose.  He's very patient with me, bless his heart. He said he had exactly what I was looking for and that they are very effective. After retrieving it from the back room, he pulled it out of the box, and rubbed it a little asking me what my wish would be. As I stared at this contraption, it all seemed just a little... risqué.

Because my magic lamp is not called a Neti Pot.  It's called a Rhino Horn. I proudly showed my new medical miracle to some friends the next day. Tenley, whose neti pot resembles the one above, looked at it and simply exclaimed, "Oh my!" My other friend wanted to know came with batteries! do you suppose I would ask my pharmacist that question???



  1. I can't imagine trying to explain my maladies in French. Well, I guess I did once while I was there with a urinary tract infection. And in Germany we bought our very first pregnancy test more than 20 years ago. About the neti pot, my husband has one which he liked, but after a guy died here in the US from some brain-eating amoebic infection, I told him not to use it any more. Here's the link to an LA Times Article on it

  2. Did Tenley borrow your rhino horn ??
    Jeanmarie xoxo

  3. You'd ask the question with all your usual aplomb and elan...
    but it does look odd, doesn't it!

  4. I make regular visits back to the pharmacie with all the out-of-date pills.

    Is that blue watering can/sex toy really supposed to go up your NOSE? Looks more the size for other orifices. I'm just saying...

  5. I have to say I had my morning chuckle here after reading your post and comments. Too funny. I don't use my pot any more because of the bacteria threat. I've found out it's ok if you boil your water or use distilled water, just not from the tap!


  6. Yeah, seriously...DOES it come with batteries?

  7. It's the same color and looks even better than my, er, never mind. My stomach hurts from laughing. On my very first trip to Paris in the Modern Age, I really wanted an Exedrin and was shocked that this was not a universal product. I can't remember whether the pharmacist gave me a suitable substitute.
    In my only trip to Europe with husband #2, I got diarrhea, probably in Italy but it manifested in Germany. Or Austia. All the romance languages have a similar sounding word. Bbut not German. Pantomime your malady to the pharmacist in a completely unfamiliar language. They gave me great stuff, all in all.

  8. David Lebovitz got nothing on you gal! You are such a gifted writer. Great descriptions, snappy, funny and oh-so-true.

  9. Paulita-I can imagine pantomiming a pregnancy test...but a urinary tract infection??? I'm laughing just thinking about it.

    Jeanmarie-No, but have I got a story to tell you! I so want to write it, but it's too much for the blog, I think!

    Fly-more than odd. Makes me want to crossover the bridge!! :)

    Sarah-Well, since I can't find a battery compartment...I'm going to assume it's for my nostrils. Dommage!

    Libby-Yeppers. I'm a good girl scout.

    Emily-I'm glad you got a chuckle. It still makes me laugh every time I look at it. I do boil the water and I only use high quality, pure, Camargue salt.

    Lee-Careful where you give away your secrets! I imagine that pharmacists are used to our pantomimes by now. They seem to come through, don't they?

    Mark- Thank you SO much. Too bad it doesn't pay any bills. If David darling wasn't playing for the other team, I'd snap him up in a minute. Come to think of it, who cares. He cooks!

  10. Are you sure something didn't get lost in translation. That doesn't look like it belongs in the nostril - just saying. LOL.

  11. It looks like a smaller part of a bigger whole. The bigger whole being a statue. A "man statue".

  12. My French is hopeless in the pharmacy but I generally get what I need in the end, meanwhile the queue has just got longer and longer!! They recommended homeopathic remedies for N when he had flu and he says they were useless!
    I use a salt water spray but the Neti Pot looks a bit weird.... Diane

  13. Please, please share with us when you ask about the batteries... I am already giggling thinking about it! The challenges of getting off the beaten path of French vocabulary into the wilderness of the pharmacy... yep, that's a good one!

    Love your story


  14. I use a spray that comes in a can to do the same thing...However, my French is grim so I ended up asking for "a shower for the nose"...and demonstrating a spray up the nose. My Pharmacist understood perfectly. It might be more expensive than your blue rhino horn thingy, but I suspect it might be more hygenic (unless your husband starts using it too...eeurgh! It's been up his nose too.)

    Probably my finest hour was when I asked the Pharmacist for something to stop menopausal women going mad...He handed me some tablets and said, without a glimmer of humour, "These worked for my wife"...!!!

  15. Oh this made me laugh! Are you going to use that pharmacy again!

  16. Another hilarious post, but oh so true. What would the French do without their local pharmacist? They play a major role in the French speaking part of Switzerland too. I know with all my ailments, I am gold card client at our pharmacists. I have privileged client card!


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