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The Common Cold

I’m just getting over a cold. Well, to me, born and bred in the UK, it was a cold. If I were French, I would refer to it as anything but a rhume. It could be an angine, a laryngite, a bronchite, a rhinite, or even a rhinopharyngite but not a common cold. I am actually beginning to wonder if my high school French teacher made a mistake when we were on the “Your Health” chapter of the French textbook. I am not sure the word rhume even exists. I haven’t heard it since I arrived in France seven years ago.

It follows, of course, that a trip to the doctor for this ailment – let’s call it a nasty cold, for argument’s sake – is de rigueur in France. I spent two days trying to convince my (French) husband that I didn’t need to go and see the doctor because a) I knew what was wrong with me and b) you can’t cure, or even effectively treat, a cold. I ended up giving in to pressure and going anyway, although I really felt I was wasting my doctor’s valuable time.

I needn’t have worried – French doctors never make you feel as though you are wasting their time. Au contraire, you will be welcomed with open arms at every visit and never sent away with fewer than two items on your prescription. Needless to say, I didn’t once hear the word rhume during my consultation. I think my doctor diagnosed a rhinite, but it could have been something else beginning with rhin- or ending in -ite. I admit I lost concentration once he got started on the specialist vocabulary. Anyway, the outcome was a four-item prescription – painkillers, a throat spray, a cough expectorant plus something for the stomachache that the painkillers would potentially cause.

A French doctor cannot risk sending a patient away empty-handed with instructions to rest and “sit it out”. He would most likely lose the patient – you can chop and change your GP like your hairdresser or florist under the French system – and risk getting himself a reputation as a bad doctor. This is because the French believe there is a direct correlation between the length of the prescription and the doctor’s professional competence. Which is clearly a problem for the French social security system and its huge deficit, affectionately referred to as a “hole” by the natives. More like a bottomless pit actually. But that is another, long story and the subject of many a lively Anglo-French debate.

I am pleased to say that I have now fully recovered from my almost life-threatening cold. The prescription lies undispensed at the bottom of my handbag, another bottomless pit.

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