petite anglaise

September 30, 2004

nation of hypochondriacs

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:40 am

Its arrêt de travail season again.

The French take colds very seriously indeed. At the first sign of a sniffle they are generally to be found queueing up at the Dr’s surgery, emerging € 25 poorer, but triumphantly brandishing a Dr’s note instructing them to stay at home for the rest of the week.

Impressive long medical names are used on the arrêt de travail but do not be duped, things are rarely as serious as they seem:

  • rhino-pharyngite = a common cold
  • pharyngite = a sore throat
  • bronchite = a cough (not to be confused with proper bronchitis)
  • une grippe = a common cold (not to be confused with proper flu)

A recent advertising campaign by the Sécurité Sociale attempted to curb the over-prescription of antibiotics in France – it seems that the population at large, including many doctors, had not understood that most colds are viruses and antibiotics are therefore ineffective in treating them.

On the rare occasions when I have felt the need to see a doctor in France, I have never come away with a prescription with less than 5 items on it. Including the ubiquitous suppositories. The Dr asked me how many days I wanted to be signed off work. However, as my employers are British, they have little respect for employees who ‘go native’ and milk the system for a bit of extra vacation.

In the UK, the emphasis seems to be on taking turbo-charged cold remedies that have you back at work (if indeed you ever left) in a jiffy. There is a thriving black market in imported Lemsip and Boots cold cures in my office; personally I always smuggle over a good stock of Lockets, and plenty of paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen, which cost roughly 10 times less in a British supermarket. Unbelievably asprin and paracetamol are only available as branded, over the counter drugs in France.

*sniffle sniffle*

Mmmm. Having said that, I do quite fancy a long weekend…


  1. Ha Ha…I am currently reading ‘A year in the Merde’ by Stephen Clarke, where he has just broached on the self same subject of illness en francais. He is of very much the same opinion.

    Comment by House of Chief — September 30, 2004 @ 1:10 pm

  2. mmm, lemsip… max strength..mmmm. I have two sachets left. and no-one is getting them! fr and pt have SO much in common…

    My m-i-l shouts at me if she sees me or my kids walking round the house, MY house, in bare feet. “You’ll get ill, ill and iller, then you’ll DIE! oh my god, oh my god!” She swears that if it rains and she gets ONE raindrop on her head that she will get a “farangite” (same as the french then!) and she DOES actually get a sore throat the next day, ENTIRELY psychosomatically!. Gripe is what they call the flu, I call a normal cold. Hypochondria must be a Euro thing. I know that it pisses me off, anyway. (only since last year are we able to buy generic drugs here…your turn will come chère)

    Comment by madge — September 30, 2004 @ 1:17 pm

  3. I remember also a French woman when I lived there looking very ill and when I asked her what was wrong she announced ‘J’ai une angine’…

    I was exceedingly worried and couldn’t understand why noone else cared that an otherwise healthy 19 year old had angina, so I checked with Larousse… yep, it is yet another way to exaggerate a sore throat (and it does mean angina too).

    Comment by Hippie — September 30, 2004 @ 8:15 pm

  4. I’ve got a bit of a sniffle myself, but in the past sniffles gone unchecked often led to something more serious, so I’m glad I brought my Claritin and benedryl with me. I’m too scared to go to the doctor: what’s France’s obsession with suppositories anyway?

    Comment by ViVi — September 30, 2004 @ 8:31 pm

  5. It is my experience that if you are taken ill Sur La Continent, they push things up your bum. Sometimes just for fun.

    Comment by Raised By Chaffinches — October 1, 2004 @ 10:45 am

  6. Quite.

    I have a rather good story on that subject but I’m saving it…

    Comment by petite anglaise — October 1, 2004 @ 11:59 am

  7. Fervex is a bit like lemsip. Your Doctor is over charging you if you pay 25 euros, or are Parisian doctors more expensive? I refused to have suppositories, most medicines come in tablet form if they look them up.

    Comment by Anji — October 1, 2004 @ 4:37 pm

  8. Taking medication via a suppository gets it directly into your system much more quickly that taking it orally. When I was in France, I found that was indeed the case.

    Comment by Jennytc — October 1, 2004 @ 4:40 pm

  9. I’ll keep that in mind Anji, thanks for the tip. ;)

    Comment by ViVi — October 1, 2004 @ 5:43 pm

  10. I think I can patiently wait for the medicine to take effect if it means I don’t have to have something shoved up my arse.

    Comment by Nigel M. — October 1, 2004 @ 6:10 pm

  11. I second that. And what if it’s anti-runs medication?

    Comment by petite anglaise — October 1, 2004 @ 6:17 pm

  12. Sounds like folks in England are like those here in the USA–rather than stay home for a couple of days, they dope themselves up with cold remedies and come to the office, coughing and sneezing and looking miserable, and get everyone else in their department sick!
    Myself, I’m an in-betweener–I stay home for a few if it’s a really dreadful cold, and don’t take medicine. I just sleep and drink tea and chicken soup. My work mates aren’t going to get an excuse to stay home from me!

    Comment by Emily — October 2, 2004 @ 5:02 pm

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