The Pharmacy


The classic green emblem of la Pharmacie

Nothing inflames my emotions like a french pharmacy.

Nothing divides our nations or makes me rethink my decision to emigrate at all like a french pharmacy! Can you sense the negativity coming?!

I obviously need to qualify this. French Pharmacies are stunning places, a mixture of L’Occitane and good health, aromatherapy and sophisicated remedies, french chic and apparent efficiency. I can’t help but mentally compare these things to my local Lloyd’s Chemist at home, or Boots or SuperDrug. The difference could not be greater, but then neither could the prices. As you set foot in this chic establishment your shoes click clack on the marble or stone tiled floor. The subtle aroma of expensive creams and natural oils waft pleasantly towards you. Rows of Caudaliè, Nuxe, La Roche Posay, Avène and L’Occitane look inviting and sophisticated, the products are arranged by brand with almost no information or visuals (you have to know your products). The lighting is efficient and yet subdued, not of the supermarket. A delightful “Bonjour Madam” greets me from an impeccably groomed assistant. It’s all going so well.


I make my way optimistically to one of the numerous serving stations. There are 2 people currently being served, another 2 infront of me, still fairly optimistic. I’m British, this is not what I would call a queue.

The two in front carry white slips of paper, I should have known.

Let me explain something here, the French, and I love them dearly, are not robust when it comes to matters of health. Hypochondriac in fact. I’m so sorry! We come from a catastrophic mix of Saxon, Viking, Britons, Celts, Angles, Jutes, Scots, Picts, Irish, in fact any seafaring fighting nation in the northern hemsphere you could think of. We have always been, now more than ever, a melting pot and proud of it, a nation of barbarians. We work hard, get things done, have little time for nonsense, are immensly stoic and understate everthing. It’s of no surprise therefore that our attitude to our health is simular. A cold is a ‘sniffle’, flu or even life threatening conditions mean we are ‘poorly’. We go to the chemist to get what we need and leave. We generally know at least roughly before hand what we want. A prescription will usually have one or 2 items on it at most.

Now let’s return to our beautiful French Pharmacy. The two originally being served are still there. One is discussing something with the Pharmasist, the other is giving a white piece of paper to the assistant. The assistant looks at her computer screen and starts typing with immaculate nails. The discssions with the pharmacist go on as does the typing and screen checking. Nothing moves. There are people in the back room, another assistant available and 2 other serving stations. But no one looks and the typing continues. Items are fetched slowly but with grace from another room. No one laughs, no one hurries, no one makes a joke, no one smiles. Women wear tight pencil skirts over tiny figures and a sharp white, pressed coat. This is calm, glamorous and, now, ever so slightly annoying!

By now more are behind me. No one speaks. The lady talking to the pharmacist is now inspecting a number of options in the hosery / leg support range. They are discussing together the benefts of the different materials or accompanying lace. The assistant at the screen is now fetching items from enormous, gliding drawers in the back room (these have to be German design, so silent and efficient.) She reappears with ONE small box of something, re-checks her screen and starts typing again. All of this being referred back to the white piece of paper too. Leg Support Lady is undecided. I can understand her dilema, they all look so simular. The pharmasist smiles demurely and nods encouragement. A second small box of something is being fetched from the giant gliding drawer then tap tap tap on the keyboard.

The beautiful surroundings and gentle smells are now starting to fade. I’m starting to bore holes in the backs of people in front, my breathing is picking up and I’m trying very hard to continue looking calm and in control.

11 little boxes later, yes 11, and our first lady is ready to sign off. Bags are filled, yes bags, with the medication. I would feel sorry normally. How ill does someone have to be to walk out with bags of drugs, except this is NORMAL! Am I shouting now? I’m so sorry. But we’re not finished yet. Now we start with the Carte Vital, the French Social Security card, the prize possession of anyone lucky enough to get one, the card that pays for all this via the enormous tax demands. More screen checking, tap tap tap. Finally Medication Bag Lady leaves. Leg Support Lady is now being helped by screen checking for more options incase the lace was wrong and they’re missing something in stock in Paris or Timbucto. More people come in behind me and I’m now losing the plot. All I came in for was some Doliprane, the French equivalent of paracetamol, NOT SOLD IN SUPERMARKETS so making a pharmacy trip essential. Up steps a young, fit, obviously healthy man who starts decribing his sore throat symptoms, making sad little grating sounds and looking ever more dejected as he is patiently listened to, he’s doing a sterling job in the face of real trauma. They start discussing symptoms, variations and possible remedies, she starts fetching possible boxes to choose from and I can do it no more. If he was my son I’d be giving him a knock round the head and a piece of my mind, something along the lines of: ‘you’re NOT DYING so BUCK UP’. I’m so sorry, I’m shoutng again.

My huffs are frowned upon as I turn and leave, especially by those carrying their white pieces of paper, (prescriptions), waiting to walk out with their wheelbarrow loads of medication curtesy of the French state.


One of the few Pharmacies open at lunchtime, Tournemay, Mougins.

The next day, obviously, I have to try again, in another pharmacy because they might recognise me. I’m running out of pharmacies.

I have to be honest and admit to one wonderful pharmacy in Usson du Poitou in Poitou Charentes. It’s like a guilty confession! Run by a husband and wife team you may still need to wait, but is done wth as much efficiency as possible, a smile, a wink, and an enormous amount of good humour. The giant gliding drawers are there as well as the impeccably groomed staff but there is something more human too. A little flirting with the old ladies, attentive listening but then stopping a customer when it’s becoming a life-story. Sadly this pharmacy is too far for my little box of Doliprane, but I have another trick up my sleeve, lunchtime. Find a pharmacy open at lunchtime and go there, what do the french do at lunchtime, without fail? Yes the pharmacy and their gorgeous assistants will be all yours!



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