Alpine Mummy

A new life in the middle of nowhere

It’s suppositories here, Madame, not Calpol


Considering we’re only a frog’s hop away from the UK, I’m always surprised by the (sometimes tiny, sometimes huge) differences in habits and culture and, well, just in the way things are done.  (Incidentally, I am compiling a list of those things which are better in France and those which are better in the UK, with a view to buying an island and founding my very own Franco-Anglo utopia combining the best of both worlds.  But that’s a blog for another day.)

In the meantime, a petit example of such a phenomenon presented itself the other week, when I finally managed to take Alpine Girl for her first vaccinations.

In England it’s easy.  You go to the doctor.  He gives the injections.  He tells you to watch for a fever and to give Calpol if needed.  That’s it.  (For those readers who don’t have Calpol in their country, firstly I’m sorry – you’re missing out.  According to the bottle it’s liquid paracetamol for babies and children, but in reality it’s so much more than that.  It tastes of strawberries and childhood, must be about 99% sugar, and I’m sure it contains a magic ingredient or hard drugs because I have no other explanation for why it stops your child crying.  Every time.  No matter what is actually wrong with her.)

In France, I learnt, you have to go and buy the vaccinations yourself, then take them to the doctor to do the injections.  Weird.  And buying the vaccinations isn’t easy (at least not if your child wasn’t born in France and therefore doesn’t have the correct plethora of paperwork) because apparently different doctors use different vaccinations.  Of course they do.

When I finally figured this out we rang the pharmacy to find out how it works.  One pharmacist told us just to ask the doctor for the name of the injections; another one told us to get a written prescription.  I rang the doctor to ask them to fax a prescription to the pharmacy.  They wouldn’t.  They would eventually, however (after I had explained several times that Alpine Girl wasn’t born here so doesn’t have the necessary French paperwork), tell me over the phone the names of the vaccinations I needed.  And they helpfully spelt them out for me over the phone.  Very quickly.  With a strong local accent.  I managed to write down a lot of Xs, Hs and Ys and proudly took this to the pharmacy.  The pharmacy wanted a written prescription, and wouldn’t accept my jumble of Xs, Hs and Ys in its place.  The pharmacist rang the doctor, spent some time laughing about me with the doctor’s receptionist, and finally gave me two tiny vials (for which I paid the princely sum of 100 euros), on the condition that I returned to the pharmacy after the injections with a written prescription.

So off I went to the doctors.  She was very nice, gave Alpine Girl her injections, and prescribed Doliprane for any pain and fever.  I smiled and said merci, assuming this must be the French version of Calpol.  I was expecting only the best: one thing that the French certainly do better than the English is sugary treats, and I assumed this principle would extend to sugary medicines.

I trotted back to the pharmacy with my various prescriptions – the prescription for the vaccinations was duly stamped with a big rubber stamp, in duplicate, and then proudly handed back to me (I still haven’t worked that one out…), and I was given the pretty pink packet of Doliprane.  I thought there must be a mistake because it was clearly tablets, not syrup.  This was no Calpol!  The pharmacist must have noticed my quizzical expression (maybe she’s used to English people being bemused by such things), as she helpfully explained that “they’re suppositories, Madame” (and then politely hid a smile as my jaw dropped)…

Alpine Papa (who is French) has been trying to tell me for years that doctors sticking things up your bum (thermometers, various prescription drugs) is totally normal.  I have been trying to tell him that it is a form of child abuse.  And now we’re here and I have a whole box of Doliprane I am going to have to turn to once my stash of Calpol runs out.  Poor Alpine Girl  (at least she knows no better – I’m not even going to bother with Alpine Boy, I’ll just have to buy Calpol on the black market or something, as he is already too addicted…).

As an aside, healthcare here is essentially free, as long as you have a social security number.  I will therefore be able to claim back the 150 euros or so I spent on this fun day out with my daughter, just as soon as our application to the social security is completed in triplicate, sent to numerous offices for stamping in duplicate, lost in a pile on someone’s desk for a couple of weeks and returned to us with a social security number.  Then I can make the application to be reimbursed for the fees.  As long as I have the necessary paperwork.  Stamped.  In triplicate…

Author: Alpine Mummy

Now an ex-City lawyer, I gave up London life 'just for a year' to spend my maternity leave in a tiny village in the French Alps. Nearly three years later Alpine Family is still here - the legal career is gone but we're living the dream (most of the time) and skiing and hiking our way through life. Walks and fresh air are now the order of the day - bye bye smog, hello mountains...

22 thoughts on “It’s suppositories here, Madame, not Calpol

  1. For basically free health care, I’d gladly take those suppositories. 😉


    • Are you in the States? It’s hard for me to get used to paying up front here and being reimbursed at some point. In the UK it’s free free free for everyone (but admittedly slow slow slow as well…) Thanks for your “likes”!


      • Yes, I’m in the States. We switched a couple of years ago to a different insurance company. My husband switched jobs. It’s horrible coverage. Basically we pay for everything until we meet a giant deductible. It’s eye opening to see what doctors offices charge you for (twice) and how much things cost. I always inspected my bills carefully before, but now that I’m paying out of pocket, I am even more careful and catch lots of errors. I’d pay up front gladly!


  2. Wow, who would’ve thought things could be so different?! NONE of mine would be happy with calpol up their bums I can tell you that for sure!!


  3. Ha very funny! To be fair though, Doliprane does actually come in a sirop form, we buy 4/5 bottles of it for our little monster every time we are in France ( she loves it and its only €2/bottle and like you said about calpol it makes her stop crying EVERY time) – for the jabs, it sounds like a nightmare… We are going to move to France soon and I am not looking forward to this side of it 🙂


  4. Happy to help – also available over the counter, so you don’t need a Dr’s ordonnance… although they look at you funny when you ask for 4 bottles 🙂 Thanks – I have a little girl – one year old Monster 🙂


  5. Ooooh and they will make you jump through all sorts of hoops if you try to buy in bulk when you’re in the uk!


  6. I’ve had to use suppositries on my son even though we live in the UK because he wouldn’t swallow calpol when he was small. They are really easy to put in; just before you think you are going to have to push your finger right in there they sort of automatically suck up inside (for want of a better description).

    When we were visiting my mum in France this summer we had to call the doctor out for my son. He was writing the prescription, then suddenly scrunched it up and started to write a new one, announcing in French that even I could understand “Sorry, I forgot about you English” as he changed it to an oral version


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  8. What you want is Doliprane syrop – suspension buvable (paracetamol) or Advil suspension buvable (neurophen). I tried describing ‘liquide’ and ‘syrop’ and the pharmacists all looked a bit nonplussed. Watch out though because they make a REALLY horrible caramel flavour, and despite the fact my kids all love caramel, it was spat out.
    For the record about the prescription copies – you’ll need to send them off to social security along with a brown ‘feuille de soins’. Make sure you always get a ‘feuille de soins’ if you want reimbursing as they need to be posted off as soon as you get your security number. We had a small ordeal getting our carte vitale because they sat on our application for what seemed like months until we contacted them. It seemed that my marriage certificate was just slightly longer than the standard A4 so an unimportant piece was missing. They didn’t contact us about it but just left our file ‘on hold’. So if you are still waiting for your Carte Vitale contact them!


    • Ah, the joys of obtaining a Carte Vitale! Luckily I have a French husband who is very used to (and very good at) chasing and shouting at the social security office. He rang them before sending off the application to make sure he had included everything. They gave him a list of what was needed. He meticulously pulled everything together and sent it off. They then sat on it for weeks, then sent it back with a long list of stuff that was ‘missing’. None of which was on the original list. Of course. I am starting to wonder if they do it on purpose! Thanks for your comment 🙂


  9. Mais oui, French bureaucracy and suppositories – BIENVENUE en France! Health system here is great though!


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  11. I don’t understand why calpol is allowed in the UK tbh, especially to infants… Have you looked at the ingredients? Full of Es! And E 122 is actually banned in Norway, Sweden, Japan and US particularly because it’s bad for kids.


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