The Other Side Of The Story

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Too Much

Too Much

— 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?

— Yes.

— 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?



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. Many homosexuals cannot give blood in this country either … especially if the contact happened before 1985 if I remember correctly. The threat of HIV is pretty sobering. I agree with the Red Cross’ policies on this … why should someone else die because of my promiscuity, or because you might have unknowingly had some bad meat? If the threat is credible, then it matters.

    I’m a huge blood donor too.

    Ghosty’s last blog post..Happy Pancha Ganapati!

  2. Yeah, I remember reading about my European mudblood status in Canada a few years ago.

    As for health risks, I look suspiciously skyward every spring when the helicopters spray large swathes of Mississauga to kill gypsy moth caterpillar larvae.

    Of course, our famously transparent Mississuaga council assures us that there is nothing to be concerned about…other than falling property prices if the trees are decimated by the pesky little creatures!

    john’s last blog post..Hot property

  3. “Did you spend more than 5 years in France between 1980 and now?”
    Same policy applies in France, and possibly some other European countries, if you spent more than 5 years in the UK since 1980 because of the Mad Cow Disease. I heard there were some talks to ban this policy so not sure it’s still actually applied though.
    Oh joy of civilization.

    FroggyWoogie’s last blog post..What kind of coffee are you?

  4. I was just about to say the same thing as FroggyWoogie – it actually does apply to France as well (regarding living in the UK) and in the UK too (for those who have lived in France during that same time period). I believe that French ‘blood’ is also banned in many countries because of a contaminated blood-transfusion incident that happened 20 or so years ago.

    So don’t worry, it’s not just Canada!

  5. You make me laugh :mrgreen:

    And if you havent every donated blood before, it not that scary, just dont look at the needle. Hope they accept you soon

    Kiviniar’s last blog post..Working 7 Sundays a week

  6. Yeah for sure every country has their own way of functioning. Last week there was a massive call for blood donation in Mauritius also. Everyone was allowed to give his/her blood. I think they collect as much blood as they can get and then have it tested afterwards.If the given blood is “good” blood then they store it. If not they …?? 😕 Wat happen to the “not so good” blood? They throw it away? o.O

  7. Aline: mostly the coast, 北京, 南京, 上海, 香港等等 ;-)

    Spyder: actually, it’s only if you just had a tattoo done. I think the waiting period is only three months… so that the HIV test works. 😉

    Ghosty: makes sense to me actually, I wasn’t criticizing the policy and I really like the fact they care enough to make us ineligible. That said, when different countries have different policies, you wonder who is right at the end 😉

    John: I’m with you on that one! They don’t do it too much in Ottawa, but I live by the “Experimental Farm” and I wish I knew more of the “experiment”…!

    Froggiewoogie: I didn’t know! I hope they find a test soon though, cause that’s a lot of blood donors not used… it’s too bad, even though I perfectly understand. That said, you should have seen the look in the volunteer’s eyes… he truly looks scared when he learned I was French! 😆

    Samantha: I didn’t know that! It makes sense, really. I was just a bit surprise, cause Canada bans France (and others) and France bans the UK… but in France, no ones bans French!

    Kiviniar: nah, I don’t mind, I’m okay with needles and blood test. I have a few piercing, so I guess I overcame my fear if any when I was a teen 😉

    Angele: that’s exactly what I mean! And yeah, that’s weird. They must loose a lot of time if they have to test all the blood afterwards… weird. Were there some kind of emergency?

    Jay Cam: with Europeans, honestly, you never know. I mean, we are tricky people!

    Tiffany: I wouldn’t have minded… I don’t fear needles 😉

  8. Another great post! And I can relate with this completely as I travel to different countries. Esp, wrt, safe food, alcohol and smoking.

    Wonder who they disqualify from blood donations in India… 🙂

  9. They don’t see the harm in asbestos? That sounds weird to me too.
    ps; been a blooddonor for several years until my iron (that is not the technical correct term but i hope you know what i mean) kept being too low every time and i showed up several times for nothing. I remember one of the most ridiculous questions being asked on a form when i applied: did i sleep with a pillow?
    I was so flabbergasted i forgot to ask why the X someone wanted to know.

    dutchie’s last blog post..Hohoho

  10. Thank you ZHU , for your great sharing stories about YOU in canada NOW, I enjoyed (and still I am) every word of it, I hope you keep doing it in 2008!

    I wish you a good and merry Christmas with your
    Partner, friends or family, and I showed some
    Christmas “decoration & wishes’ on my blog But you
    have already visited my blog, thanks for being sunch a
    good blogvisiter,

    Christmas greetings from JoAnn

    Through JoAnn’s DUTCH digital eyes”‘s last blog post..Merry Christmas !

  11. Yes, I tried to give blood once in the US but they wouldn’t accept me because I’d been in India within the last few months. And then once they did accept me, but they asked several questions about the few months I’d been in Kenya. They said there was a strain of HIV that their tests didn’t pick up, so they couldn’t accept me if I had engaged in risky behaviors. That can’t be true, can it? A strain of HIV they can’t detect? I could have easily lied to them about my activities–makes me kind of wary if it’s true

  12. Sir Jorge: I wasn’t scared… but they were scared of me! 😆

    Froggiewoogie: now way, they would probably taser me rght away! 😆

    Shantanu: yes, I usually take a picture or draw something for each post 😉

    About the post… confusing when you travel isn’t it!

    Dutchie: I understand the iron problem, I had the same. Still, I don’t see what a pillow has to do with it!

    Asbestos is such a huge industry in some parts of Québec that some would rather turn a blind eye… sad.

    Beaverboosh: ouch, that’s a lot of duties! And how are you doing with the language??

    JoAnn: thank you JoAnn! I wish you a merry Xmas as well… hope to read you again soo!

    Erin: scary, isn’t it? I’d rather not think about it…!

  13. Mad Cow? That seems like a strange reason to not want French blood. I’d be more concerned that it would turn me into a whiny, effete coward than give me mad cow.

    Kidding… mostly.

    Merry Christmas, Zhu!

  14. I’m underweight, so nobody will actually ask me to donate blood (my boyfriend actually thinks that I need more blood, LOL).

    But yeah, I am on a mission to gain weight. I managed to gain only 8kg in the last 6 years, but I really hope to gain 5kg in the next year 😀

    pelf’s last blog post..Blast vs. Thunder

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