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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Everyone's Sick in Paris: la Pharmacie et le Medecin

It started about three weeks ago, I was still packing up from Lyon to move to Paris and I felt I had an uncomfortable fever, slight cough and a stuffy nose.

Fast forward three weeks later and I'm now getting over one of the most annoying colds that I've ever had.  It was about a week and a half ago that I started coughing, it was a raspy and productive cough.

See but Sasha from two years ago wouldn't have known how to handle such a situation.  In the States I'd be zipping down to the local Kaiser clinic and getting a 10 dollar check-up.  In France, there are normally a few ways to handle it, but the first is always a visit to the Pharmacy.. which is exactly what I decided to do on Monday evening after I was coughing so hard during a business meeting I thought okay, this is just ridiculous.

Pharmacy Signs from here
Pharmacies in France can be found in every farm, city, village and large tourist areas.  You can tell from about  a mile away, there is often a neon green cross symbol floating above a shop that states, clearly, Pharmacie.  Of course, it should be noted that even though there are Pharmacies on every street corner, not every Pharmacie has the same pricing.  In fact, each one is owned and managed by a different pharmaciste, and some like to hike prices upwards of 120% of average price.

Some medications are completely regulated by the French government, disallowing the practice, called les medicaments génériques or generic drugs.  Often a drug has a générique counterpart which reduces the cost by quite a bit.

Take for example birth control, while there are the various methods, la pillule rests the most common form.  For a price of 5€ a box (3 month supply) and 60% reimboursable if prescribed by a doctor, that's an average of .60 cents a month for protection!

So when getting sick, the norm is to pass by the Pharmacie before going to a medécin.  On Monday I swung by my local pharmacy (243 rue vaugirard 75015), and explained my symptoms.

Me: Bonjour messieur.
Pharmacist: Bonjour madamoiselle (still not sure when I will hit the "madame" status, but that's for a whole nother post)
Me: Je voudrais savoir si vous auriez quelques choses pour une toux grasse, et un nez tout bouché.
Pharmacist: Bien sûr, (he goes and shuffles around pulling various pills and bottles) ceci est très efficace, prennez 3 fois par jour.

6€ later and I had a small bag full of medicine.  Just for future reference, "un toux grasse" means basically a cough that's productive, and a "un nez tout bouché" means a stuffy nose.

Now if it gets worse, the best option is to hit up a medecin generaliste by looking up a local name.  My personal doctor is M. Missonnier at 81 bis Rue Blomet 75015, totally a great doctor... in fact now he's my medecin traitant.

Doesn't matter which one you choose really.  Each time you go to the doctor, if you don't have a Carte Vitale (which often exchange students don't) it's important to ask for a feuille de soins, basically a sheet that will enable you to receive a reimboursement.  Same for the prescribed medication, at the pharmacy as for a feuille de soins and they'll type up the price.  Send this in to your chosen insurance and presto! A check for a percentage.

The doctor can also give a certificat médicale if you are sick, allowing for days off from work or school with no penalties, and often with pay.

If you want the doctor you visited to be your main doctor, ask for a feuille de medecin traitant and then send into your chosen insurance or mutuel.

All-in-all la bronchite, le rhume and all these lovely sicknesses are prevalent in the large cities in Paris.  Sort of normal considering the recent the sudden drop of temperatures from the last few weeks and the lack of local hygene (métros).  If you live in Lyon or in Paris, remember to:

  1. Wash or disinfect your hands after every metro ride
  2. Don't wander out in the cold if you're already a bit sick
  3. If you are sick, don't go out and spread it around
And of course, some fun and useful sick terms:
  • Je tousse (I am coughing)
  • Je suis malade (I am sick)
  • C'est contagieux (it's contagious)
  • Une allergie (an allergy)
  • Je dois moucher (I need to blow my nose)
  • Un mouchoir (a tissue, usually a Kleenex)
  • J'ai de la fièvre (I have a fever)
  • J'ai une mal à la tête (I have a head-ache)
    • au ventre (stomache-ache)
    • à la gorge (sore throat)
    • aux yeux (sore eyes)
    • au nez (hurting nose)
    • etc
Soignez-vous and try not to catch the epidemie de maladie in Paris!


  1. Craziness, that is MY local pharmacy too - just half a block from our apartment!

    And just a few small corrections for the maladies - for whatever reason, in French, you tend to distance yourself from your body parts and they take on their own illnesses. So instead of saying I broke MY leg, you'd say je me suis cassé LA jambe. Same goes for sickness:

    J'ai de la fièvre (I have a fever)
    J'ai mal à la tête (I have a head-ache)

    au ventre (stomache-ache)
    à la gorge (sore throat)
    aux yeux (sore eyes)
    au nez (hurting nose)

    And toux is feminine, so it's une toux grasse - this one is always super tricky though since it looks like it should be masculine (at least to me anyways lol). And conversely, a cold is masculine, ie un rhume.

    PS. You hit "madame" once you're married...though I just heard the other day that they are taking "mademoiselle" off all gov forms because it is considered discriminatory.

  2. Oh yeah? I double checked and edited, thanks for the FYI, I'm sure your 9 years beats me 2.. :)

    Yes, ours as well, it's 1/2 block from where we live as well. We are on rue Sainte Félicité.

    How work going by the way? I started over at the AmCham in France about 2 weeks ago and it has been NON STOP!!! But totally a blast, I've met the director of the Musée d'Orsay, Google France, Yahoo France.. I can't complain!

  3. I love French pharmacies! They are so knowledgable. I remember when I was 16 I and went to Paris for the first time, I stayed in a cheap youth hostel for two nights, got head lice! As soon as I knew I went straight to the pharmacy and a lovely woman chose a good product for me and told me how to get rid of them quickly!!

  4. Ha, I learned a lot of my mistakes the hard way - ie by saying things like "je suis chaude" and "je suis pleine" to my in-laws. :/

    Working at the AmCham sounds like it would be a ton of fun - and what a great make to make connections for later on!!


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