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An Ode to French Pharmacies

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!

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