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A Magic Solution for Pain Relief and New Friendships

Arnica gel bought in France
Arnica gel bought in France

People from different cultures do things differently, and I find exploring various perspectives both interesting and entertaining.

“I’m not sure I can dance today, my shoulder has been bothering me,” complained one of the…

Wait, quick terminology brainstorming here. Zumbists? Zumbaddicts? Okay, executive decision, let’s go with “Zumbuddy” for “Zumba classmate.”

“What happened?”

“Not sure,” he sighed. “I bought an ice pack and I use it several times a day, but it doesn’t seem to help.”

Cue in a cultural moment.

Half of the class, the true Canadians, nodded in agreement.

The other half, mostly from Latin America and Europe, recoiled in horror.

“You did what?”

“Ice? Why?”

“You’re supposed to use heat, not ice!”

I laughed because Feng and I constantly argue about the blue ice pack in the freezer. According to him, it can cure anything because the Canadian motto is “when in doubt, ice.” Sore muscles? Ice. Bump? Ice. Bruise? Ice. Tired eyes? Ice.

It works in a way because if I’m in pain and I see Feng coming with the damn ice pack in his hand, I immediately claim I’m fine, no worries, doesn’t hurt, PUT THIS THING BACK IN THE FREEZER. My body hates the cold—icing an injury is adding discomfort to pain.

He left me the ice pack when we parted ways last year in Brazil. I used it to keep food cold when travelling by bus, that’s what it’s for in my book.

The Zumbuddies debated over the benefits of ice vs. heat for a few minutes, then I had an idea.

“How about Arnica? It could help.”

Again, half of the class nodded in agreement and half looked completely puzzled.

“I used it a lot in Mexico,” a girl said.

“Same in Germany,” another confirmed.

Never heard of Arnica cream? Arnica is a flowering plant with active chemicals that can reduce swelling and decrease pain. Arnica gel is commonly used in France for bruises, contusions, bumps, etc. It’s cheap and pharmacies usually offer several over-the-counter versions—a gel, a cream and even a roll-on. I rediscovered it when Mark was a toddler because toddlers tend to fall a lot.

Cue in another cultural difference. Arnica falls into the category of homeopathic medicine, still fairly popular in Europe, especially in France and Germany. But on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s often considered “snake oil.” American literature on the subject states that there is no good scientific evidence to support the claims.

I would argue that North Americans also have their version of “snake oil medicine,” like entire aisles full of dietary supplements and other “health boosters” with fancy claims. Oh, and (legal) cannabis is also apparently a wonder drug for all kinds of conditions in Canada, because nobody smokes pot just to get high, right?

Whatever. I don’t have a dog in the fight.

I believe in science. Vaccines are amazing, antibiotics too, and big pharma isn’t (always) the enemy. But Arnica and a handful of homeopathic remedies work well on me when it comes to ailments, what can I say?

“I’ll bring you a tube on Thursday,” I offered as the class was starting. “I stock up when I go to France, Feng and Mark make a point of getting hurt at least once a day.”

Two days later, I showed up at Zumba with a tube of Arnica gel.

“Your cream is amazing!” my friend reported the following week. “I wasn’t sure about it… but it worked! And my partner was claiming it was a placebo until he tried it on his sore neck. It worked for him as well!”

A week went by.

“Juliette, I have something for you,” my Zumbuddy announced a few days later. “It’s not much but…”

He handed me a blue gift bag.

“You don’t owe me anything!”

“I appreciated your help.”

I opened it later at home. It was a big box of delicious, fancy chocolates and a lovely thank-you card.

I was really touched by the kind gesture and the few words he wrote.

So apparently, Arnica helps both the body and mind. My Zumbuddy discovered a new remedy and I’ve made a friend.

Thank-you card and gift, Ottawa, October 2022
Thank-you card and gift, Ottawa, October 2022
Thank-you card and gift, Ottawa, October 2022
Thank-you card and gift, Ottawa, October 2022
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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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