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The Most Unglamorous and Glamorous Sides of France in the Same Story (Part I)

Paris souvenir, Ottawa, November 2020
Paris souvenir, Ottawa, November 2020

Got anything with the word “France” somewhere on the label? No matter what it is—food, skincare, perfume or maybe a piece of clothing—I’m guessing it was more expensive than similar products from other parts of the world. You were charged the “glamour fee,” a tax you were willing to pay to bring home Provence lavender fields, some Parisian chic or French chef expertise.

Fair enough. After all, France is the epitome of glamour.

Or at least, that’s what clever marketing campaigns tricked you into believing.

In fact, between us, France and some French traditions aren’t that glamorous. Take an unexplainable fondness for stinky blue-veined cheese, blood sausage or beef tongue, for instance, or this frustrating apparent inability to clean up after pets.

But it gets worse on the unglamorous scale. Allow me to reveal one of our best-kept secrets—just protect your source, I could be convicted of treason and sent running up and down the Eiffel Tower for a few decades.

This is a story, by the way, and it started on a Sunday night of August 2020 when my mom told me she wasn’t feeling great.

Now, it’s 2020, and I think we’ve all experienced a handful of “COVID or just tired?” moments. I wasn’t very worried because we had been together 24/7 for three weeks and not only we were being careful, but also I was feeling just fine—if she was sick, I should have been sick too.

“Feverish? Let’s see… not sure,” I concluded after touching her forehead with the back of my hand, then touching my forehead and Mark’s forehead—again another classic 2020 move. “Do you have a thermometer somewhere?”

My mom looked embarrassed.

An angel passed.

“What did I just say… OH, HELL NO! Seriously? In 2020?”

I left home in 2001 at 18 years old. But suddenly, it all came back to me—feeling feverish in the morning, my mom wondering if our family doctor needed to be called, and mostly, the dreaded temperature check.

“You still have the same thermometer?” I asked incredulously.

My mom shrugged. “Well, I don’t really use it often these days…”

And this is France’s best-kept secret because trust me, there are millions of French families just like my French family who only have…

…a rectal thermometer.

Go ahead, ask around (good luck on introducing the topic, though, no pun intended), I guarantee your French friends know what I’m talking about. It’s a staple of many French medicine cabinets.

I’m open-minded. As far as I’m concerned, consenting adults may use various orifices anyway they want for fun. However, I also believe that unless you have a medical fetish (enjoying 2020 guys?), you shouldn’t have to insert a thermometer into your anus to take your temperature.

“That’s it, I’m buying a new thermometer,” I decided. “Which pharmacy is open at… shit, 8:45 p.m. on a Sunday night?”

“Place du Pilori?”

I dialled the number and much to my relief, someone picked up the phone.

“Hi, I just wanted to know what time… 9 p.m.? Coming over. You sell thermometers, right?”

I grabbed my wallet and headed out, running on the wet and slippery pavement because, of course, it was pouring rain.

(Part 2 coming up!)

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