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…