An Ode to French Pharmacies

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My homeopathy shopping list

My homeopathy shopping list (written by my mum)

I love French pharmacies. Sure, they aren’t as convenient as Shoppers Drug Mart in terms of business hours—many of these stores are open 24/7 whereas French pharmacies tend to close at 7 p.m. and occasionally over lunchtime. Don’t bet on getting a cold drink, a frozen pizza, and sugary snacks either—French pharmacies focus on drugs and beauty essentials, no mere mortals’ needs like eating and drinking. Yet, I love them because I can find hundreds of remedies that are unknown or expensive in Canada.

Take face cream, for instance. In France, the range of products promising you perfect skin is almost as wide as the range of cheese and dairy products at the supermarket. I feel like I can fix everything that’s wrong with me. Tired skin? Checked! Dark circles around the eyes? Checked! More moisture? Checked! Wrinkles? Not yet—I think—but eh, may as well buy something to help, just in case!

Most of the brands sold in pharmacies are very affordable compared to the skin-care aisles of any Canadian department store. Creams from one of my favourite brands, Nuxe, are between €10 and €18 and each tube lasts for months. I also love Ducray, Avene, Rogé Cavaillès… these brand names are not as glamorous or famous as Chanel or La Prairie but they are a good value for the money.

Before we go back to Canada, I always go shopping at la pharmacie. I buy fragranced soap bars, facial soap, face scrub and whatever I feel like trying. For €5 or €10, I’m willing to take a risk, plus most pharmacies are very generous with samples, always a nice perk when I need a quick fix once I’m home. In Canada, complimentary samples are seen as a huge favour done to customers, sometimes they are even for sale—in France, they are handed out in magazines and at the checkout. I discovered many great products this way.

Unsurprisingly, most people visit the pharmacy when they are sick to either fill in a prescription, either buy over-the-counter drugs. I find French pharmacists are pretty patient, knowledgeable and flexible. Drugs seem to be cheaper than in Canada—even for us, foreigners, who don’t have any health coverage in France and can’t claim a refund from the sécurité sociale.

I don’t have a rational explanation for it, but I’m more comfortable with French drugs than Canadian drugs and I claim the former work better on me. I’d rather take un comprimé d’Aspro than a Tylenol, for instance. And I love these small innovations that make life easier: for instance, last year, I discovered orally dissolving tablets of aspirin and paracetamol—they melt on your tongue, no water needed. It’s awesome when traveling and it doesn’t exist yet in Canada (… I couldn’t find the equivalent, anyway).

French also tend to believe in alternative medicine. My otherwise very Cartesian family does, so when we had small health issues, we were given homeopathy. I still use Arnica for bruises, for instance. It’s only when I came to Canada that I discovered that homeopathy was one of these hot-button controversial issues: either you believe in it (ah ah, you stupid hippie!) either you believe it’s akin to snake oil. It seems to work with me, so I shrug it off. I still buy my homeopathic remedies and rely on stronger stuff, “real medicine”, when needed. I wouldn’t say homeopathy is a scam, though. So what if it’s a placebo? It’s cheap and I,d rather take stronger drugs only when I really need it.

Now if I could just stop going to pharmacy… everything has to fit in my backpack for the trip back to Canada!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Hey Zhu
    I also love french pharmacies. I wish they would let me look longer at the face creams just for fun every time I go before jumping on me and asking me what I need (though that shows that the service in pharmacies is like 10x better than in most shops, probably because it’s not exactly a shop).

    As for homeopathy, I think there are actually two different ways we use that word. I was under the impression that Arnica was scientifically proven to help with bruising and blood flow, maybe I’m wrong. And things like Netti pots have been proven to help with congestion, and they’re considered homeopathy. The homeopathy that’s a scam and that’s been proven scientifically wrong is the kind where you’re given a minuscule fraction of the “disease” in order to cure it, and, well, that shit doesn’t work.

    • I agree, the word “homeopathy” seems to encompass a bunch of remedies, some proven, some placebo. I use what works with me but I’m not “100% homeopathy”. I think it gets dangerous when people simply refuse to use clinically-proven drugs because they are not “natural” or whatever excuse.

      It’s funny, I can’t remember anyone offering help in a pharmacy, most shops here let me browse in peace!

  2. I also was surprised by how controversial homeopathy was in Canada. I once bought a thing for a my (Canadian) boyfriend who was having muscular pain at a pharmacy in France, as recommended by the pharmacist. I hadn’t even realized it was homeopathic until I gave it to him and he reacted as though I had suggested joining a satanic cult!

    He ended up taking it, though, and his muscle pain got better, although I don’t know if there was any cause and effect. I love arnica and still take the homeopathic stuff for non-serious ailments, but will get antibiotics or whatever if I have anything bad. I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal in Canada, I think people fall in extremes like all-chemicals vs no-vaccines or drugs, ever…

    Enjoy les cosmétiques français! I love Nuxe, and their organic brand is pretty great too (albeit very expensive here in Montreal).

    • Same here, I’m pro antibiotics when needed and I use stronger drugs for more serious issue. I used homeopathy for Mark when he was teething and I remember the pharmacist looking at me as if I was crazy, even though it’s a super common remedy in France!

  3. It’s funny bce growing up we avoided pharmaceuticals like the plague, so I learned about pain killers in the UK 😉
    So I know all the stuff here and in Scotland but when I get to France I am lost…
    And yes, I miss the para-pharmacy side of things too…

    • There are naturopath doctors, but I find the fees are high and of course, no covered by OHIP. You can find homeopathy in a few places, but again it’s more expensive than in France :-/

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