France has the best health service in the world according to the World Health Organisation. It certainly saved the life of my husband when he had chest pains one June day. A few days later he visited the doctor and was told to go for a blood test. The next day he had the test and went off to work. At midday the doctor got the results and phoned me at home to say that I must contact my husband and we must go to Accident and Emergency right away. It took me a long 30 minutes to track him down, but by then the doctor had called at the house to see us! My husband was admitted on that Friday. Later, he had one stent fitted but the damage was too severe to fit 3 more. He went back in August and had a triple bypass, was in intensive care for 2 weeks, very seriously ill. A hole had developed in his heart and his blood was not being oxygenated. Eventually a patch was fitted, the biggest that was manufactured, and he left hospital in the last week of November. Then, he had 10 sessions of exercises with a physio to get his heart muscles up to strength. All his medicines are paid for, he has regular six monthly blood tests and yearly check-ups. His medical folder weighs 1.3 kilos! The down side is that doctors are considered as gods who can’t be challenged. My husband was losing weight (12 kilos in the end) because he hadn’t enough strength to eat. One of his medicines was a huge potassium pill that, as soon as he swallowed it, made him sick. I asked English friends if there were any alternatives to this and they said it could be injected. I asked the nurses if his treatment could be changed. My neighbours were horrified. ‘What do you know about medicine?’ they asked me. ‘Who are you to question a doctor?’
Two professors from the prestigious Necker Institute, wrote a study saying that if superfluous drugs were not prescribed, the French health service would save up to €10bn (£8bn) a year. It would also prevent up to 20,000 deaths linked to over medication and would reduce hospital admissions by up to 100,000, they claimed. Annually, the French consume medication worth about £430 for each citizen. In Britain spending on medicines is around £271 per person. Our daughter’s stye in the eye resulted in a 3 item prescription, whereas our doctor in the UK told me how to boil salt water, and wipe the inflammation with a clean cotton wool ball. You only have to spend a few minutes in a French pharmacy to see the carrier bags of medications being given out to patients, to know that the two doctors, who wrote the book about over prescription, are right. However, hearing aids are not free in France. They cost 1,000€ a piece and it has been estimated that 6,000,000 people cannot hear well and need ‘un appareil auditif’.
We can all cite numerous examples of ‘Health and Safety’ regulations being used to excess in the UK. On the other hand, one wonders sometimes whether EU law has ever been heard of in France. When visiting Dijon, we were a bit perturbed to find that our young children could fall into a small river because the little bridge consisted of nothing more than a flat slab of concrete. Bollards and concrete blocks on the pavements seem designed to trip up unsuspecting pedestrians. Knives are openly on sale at the Christmas markets. Airguns are sold at local village fairs and that weekend we hear youngsters practising with them in our local park. Cheese makers seem unable to do the job without putting their naked arms and hands into the vats full of curds and whey. However, our daughter’s school managed to organise an excursion with one day’s notice, something that would be an impossible feat in the UK. One day my husband was sitting in a supermarket car park watching a big marquee being erected. The workmen needed to fix the topmost piece, so one stood on a fork of a forklift while his colleague raised it up to about 3 metres from the ground – no safety harness or hard hats, yet the job was done in a couple of minutes. Our neighbour opposite us had his roof cleaned. I watched the workman go about the task without any safety harness. Our houses are 3 storey town houses. I kept glancing anxiously out of the window to see if he was still OK and prepared myself to call an ambulance should the need arise.
Imagine the last item on the evening news in the UK. ‘‘Today marks the start of the English cherry harvest. Let’s go to Aspley Guise in Bedfordshire to the English Cherry Company to see how it’s going.” Then follows a report on the expected tonnage this year, an interview with a grower, pictures of the fruit in boxes and it finishes with, “and the fruit will be available in your local shops as from tomorrow!” I don’t think that would be allowed under the BBC’s policy of no advertising, but French people are kept informed, on the evening news, of which French fruits and vegetables have been freshly harvested and are ready for eating.
When you go to the hairdresser’s in France, they always give your head a slow massage during the shampooing. It is incredibly relaxing, but why they do it, I don’t know. It is also difficult to keep your hair on your head. I used to hold up my fingers to indicate the amount that I wanted to have cut off – usually 2 centimetres. After cutting with scissors, then the thinning shears, and then a further trim with a razor, I was usually left with very short hair! I expressed my frustration to a friend who explained that the hairdresser presumed that my 2 centimetres was all I wanted left! According to Elle magazine it’s something that frequently happens. “Vous aviez bien dit « juste les pointes » à votre coiffeur, mais il y a eu un regrettable souci de compréhension entre vous. – “You certainly asked for, ‘just the ends’ but sadly there was a lack of understanding between you”. The article went on to recommend using ginger juice on the scalp to encourage quicker hair growth!
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence – L’herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs. Before moving to France, my packet of Dove’s Farm flour had a recipe for Tarte au citron on the back. The first packet of flour that I bought in France, featured a recipe for Apple Crumble.
You will never find a Bible in your bedside locker in France, neither in a hotel nor in a hospital. Gideon’s supporters pay for Bibles to be given away freely in 187 out of the 195 countries of the world. France has a national policy of ‘Laicité’ and does not permit this. Gideon’s members are only permitted to give out scriptures at school gates if they are not standing on public property.
How many days are there in two weeks? An English speaker will answer fourteen. However, two weeks is called a ‘quinzaine’ in French, which means fifteen days.
When I worked for one company, I could eat in their canteen. Every day I would choose from the ‘dishes of the world’ option. One day it was ‘Hungarian goulash’, but when I tasted it there was no paprika nor red peppers, it was just a meat stew. ‘Chilli con carne’ had no chilli or kidney beans and ‘Indian curry’ contained no curry flavour. It was then that I realized why the French think that their cooking is the best, because they massacre the recipes of the rest of the world. People think they have tasted foreign food and it turns out to be horrible, so therefore their food must be the best! Put a little bit of spice in a dish and people won’t eat it, ‘Ca pique’ they cry. Attempts at replicating foreign foods are pretty pathetic. One Saturday I was in a frozen foods shop and saw curries on sale. Thinking that a curry would make a nice change on a Saturday evening, I bought a packet. The taste was overwhelmingly disappointing. We looked at the ingredients to see what was in it. There was neither cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek nor chili to be seen. The only flavouring was……..mustard! A moussaka I bought, contained no lamb and had the texture of baby food. When an Indian restaurant opened in town we tried it out. The food was lovely with plenty of flavours, but no fire. The waiter came to ask if everything was OK. I said that the food had plenty of flavours, “but we are English”, I added. He didn’t stop to ask any more questions. He disappeared and returned with a bowl of hot chilli sauce. He obviously knew the difference between the tasting needs of his French clientele and those of English diners! One spicy food that is often eaten is couscous. The chorizo sausage should add piquancy to the dish. If not, it is often served with a small bowl of extra chili sauce.
You won’t find small square pieces of towelling on sale for washing faces and bodies. The French use a ‘gant de toilette’– a toilet glove. A rectangle of material is folded and sewn together on 3 sides to form a bag that you slip your hand inside. It comes with a hanging loop.
If the US is the number one market for McDonald’s, who comes second? France, yes France! Here, where junk food is called ‘malbouffe’. There are now 1,380 franchises in France and 30 new ones open each year. It had a difficult start because it had to persuade ‘the French to eat with their hands’. Using locally grown ingredients and providing easy access for young people into the job market has helped its popularity. McCafés serve French macaroons, croissants, pain au chocolat and good, reasonably priced, coffee. Demonstrators recently protested because their town council had barred the construction of a McDonald’s! They have become so popular! Subway, Buffalo Grill, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Quick, the French/Belgian version of McDonald’s are also doing well. You will constantly hear that French people despise fast food, but take that with a pinch of salt!