Most people arrive in France with a first aid kit containing of little more than a couple of dirty aspirins in the bottom of their coat pocket.Even well-integrated Brits still rely on visitors bringing goods of Calpol and TCP from the UK.
However sooner or later everyone has to brave a French pharmacy – after all anyone can burn themselves while cooking, have a mosquito bite go poisoned, get tooth-ache or a sore throat. Bandages, scissors, cotton wool, are all cheaper at the supermarket but you can only buy drugs at a pharmacy.
French pharmacists are formidably skilled and their medicines are effective.
As in the UK, there are standard products in France that everyone knows and trusts. For burns, it is a balm called Biafine or for sunburn Osmo Soft which is a gel.
For insect bites, try Onctose which contains hydrocortisone, or Apaisyl.
For knocks and bruises, the French are great supporters of arnica, using either Arnican balm or homeopathic arnica grains which are available to all the French pharmacies as are all homeopathic medicines.
Another calming cream found in most people’s cupboards is Homeoplasmine which deals with all kinds of slight cuts and grazes.
The usual cure for diarrhea is a sachet of powders called Smecta. They taste slightly like vanilla or white chocolate and come in a large carton.
If you have young kids, Efferalgan Pédiatrique paracetamol syrup is the Calpol alike. It tastes like caramel so children like it and it is sold in a variability of strengths and formulations. In order to get the right one, tell the chemist the age of your child.
Doliprane is the other well-known paracetamol and its powder version is commonly used to treat ache and fever in older children.
To calm a sick child and help them fall sleep, instead of Gripe Water, French mothers usually use a few drops of orange flower water (eau de fleur d’oranger) which you can find on the baking corridor of the supermarket. A few drops of Bach Rescue Remedy, available in either pharmacies or health stores across France, can also comfort the pain.
Solution de Milian is a purple liquid adored by children for its dramatic look. It dries and sterilizes weepy cuts and grazes. Get the water solution not the alcohol one which stings.
For a stuffy head cold, try Exomuc which is another powder, this time imprecisely orange-flavoured, which you melt in a small glass of water. It is suitable for children as well as adults and gets all that painful sinus glue moving in no time at all, so have a box of paper tissues at the ready.
For general sterilizing and cleaning up of cuts and grazes, everyone goes for a yellow fluid called Betadine – which they use in French operating theatres. This is very useful, does not sting on open wounds and can also be used on cats and dogs.
Still on the veterinary side, most pharmacies carry a selection of veterinary pharmaceuticals including worming tablets (Drontal Chat/ Chien is the most effective), flea-treatments (Stronghold, Frontline, etc.) and anti-leishmaniasis (leishmaniose) collars for dogs in Mediterranean areas.
If you ever need a immunization, you will usually be given the prescription by your doctor and have to buy it at the chemist. You then have to take it back to the GP’s surgery and he or she will then run it. The smart way to do this is to order it in advance from the chemist nearest to your doctor’s office and collect it on the way to the appointment, thus avoiding complications about keeping it at a certain temperature.
You will not find cut-price drug stores or chemists in France. There are no back-street pound shops also selling aspirin. To get the best value products at the pharmacy, ask for a générique – a generic alternative. Instead of asking for Nuroflex (the main branded version of ibuprofen, like British Nurofen) ask for ibuprofen, le générique le moins cher. Always remember to ask: est-ce qu’il y a un générique? (is there a generic version?).
The price of prescription drugs is reimbursed at between 60-100% depending on your disease, your insurance, and the contents of the prescription. If you have a carte vitale you can ask your local chemist if they do tiers payant which means they charge la sécu directly for the reimbursable part of the price of your medicines, leaving you to pay only your own part of the cost up front.
Do not forget that in France you can be served by a drugstore whenever neede, because every place has its own Pharmacy de garde, which means that this store is open 24 hours a day.
You may come across a pharmacie herboristerie which is a conventional pharmacy also focusing in herbal-based medications and these can cover all sorts of illnesses such as “heavy legs,” which is a common complaint among Frenchwomen of a certain age.
Here you will also find tisanes (herbal teas) to lessen the appetite, freshen the skin, firm the derrière, thicken the hair and generally make you more attractive to the opposite sex.
But whatever kind of pharmacy you visit in France, you can always ask for modified medical advice – show a French pharmacist or dentist ( dentiste de garde nuit ) a sore insect bite, an infected burn, a rash, a dodgy-looking cut or some unidentified thing on your toe and you can be sure of getting a reliable answer.
What is more – turn up with the wild mushrooms you have picked on your walks in the countryside and any French pharmacist will be able to tell you which ones are not eatable. That is what I call service. When buying medicines, be sure you understand exactly what the chemist is saying and get dosages written down. Take a translator to the pharmacist if necessary.