— I can’t come to the meeting, I told you it was my blood day!
I’m in the Ministry’s elevator. It’s 8:30 a.m. And I have no clue what this woman is talking about.
She sighs loudly and put her cellphone back into her purse.
We both exit the elevator on the main level. And suddenly, I understand. In front of me, behind the commissioner’s desk, a big “Red Cross” banner and a dozen of chairs. A line of government workers and a few nurses and volunteers. Got it. Blood collection… in Industry Canada’s lobby. Why not after all? Most civil servants would rather bleed to death than to attend another pointless meeting.
I walk across the lobby to grab my morning muffin but I’m soon stopped by a volunteer and a nurse.
— Hi, what’s your name?
— Oh, er… actually, I’m just… going to the coffee shop over there.
How to look like a selfish bitch in two seconds.
— … Well, that said, I may be interested in donating some blood in the future.
— Okay, let me just give you some info then. Are you living in Ottawa?
— Have you ever donated blood before?
— Well, not in Canada, but I had in France.
The volunteer looks up at me.
— Sorry for asking, but… you’re not French, are you?
— I’m afraid I am! But I’m half Canadian now!
My little joke doesn’t make him laugh and he now looks at me half suspicious, half embarrassed.
— Did you spend more than 5 years in France between 1980 and now?
— Born and raised in France. So yes.
— Sorry, can’t take your blood. No European blood… you know, because of the Mad Cow Disease. We haven’t found a way to test people for it yet, so you’re not eligible. Same goes with people who have been exposed to Malaria… they’re not eligible either.
The volunteer took a step back as he spoke, as if my Europeanism could jump on him. I decide to not mention that I spent quite a lot of time in malaria-infected areas in Latin America, and got my yellow fever shot last minute in Panama’s remote countryside in a local health center. I thanked them both (no handshake because of possible disease) and went to get my muffin.
I had never heard of this policy before. Doesn’t exist in France, as far as I know… but there, on the other side, male homosexuals cannot donate blood. Not a moral judgment they say, but because they are more at risk for the AIDS/HIV virus. No Mad Cow Disease precautions…
Funny how different perspectives are depending on the country and the culture: what’s safe and what’s not, the local pet peeves and scares, the national traumas and the big no-nos.
For instance, I’ve always felt so safe in China, despite all the horror stories I had heard. And I found the big cities pretty clean, considering the huge demography. But I don’t usually feel that comfortable by myself in some North American cities… and I hate Paris’ old subway system.
I ate in many 小吃 (small food stall on the street) in China, and in South and Central American markets and rarely—if ever— got sick. Yet, many people wouldn’t bet on them and would rather hit the nearest McDonald’s. French blue cheese is often called “rotten cheese” here—people like their “processed cheese” better. I guess the name sounds more hygienic.
Health wise, France is very paranoid about asbestos and has even called a worldwide ban on it… while Canada doesn’t seem to be worried much. A city in Québec is even named Asbestos, after the local industry. And don’t try explaining that asbestos is, well, hazardous material, because most Québécois just don’t see the problem.
On the other side, as I discussed in Cigarettes and Alcohol a few months ago, North America has tougher laws on alcohol consumption, whereas Europe is much more relaxed: a lower legal-drinking age (virtually never enforced anyway) and no shame in getting drunk during family get-together. What health risks? It eez national tradition! We are gourmet, putain! And don’t let me get started on smoking laws… they vary drastically from a country to another, from a state to another etc.
Feng would often tell me how he used to play with firecrackers in China as a kid—I doubt kids here are even allowed to play outside alone much. I even heard recently that according to some doctors, they shouldn’t go outside at all between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the summer (good luck keeping them busy indoor!) because of the UV index and the associated risk of skin cancer.
Of course, I’m glad the Canadian Red Cross cares about the donors and the recipients, and being cautious about Mad Cow Disease’s possible transmission risks is probably the right thing to do. This is just a small anecdote to shows that countries react differently on various matters. Yet, in a world where diseases and health risks are discovered all the time, where accidents are broadcasted live on all channels, where we want governments to keep us alive and safe by all means—how paranoid and scared can we get? What should we really be careful about?