Frontier Psychiatrist

French Women Eat A Lot of Dairy – Nonfiction by Micaela Blei

Posted on: January 27, 2011

After a sad, sugarless breakfast, during which she watched her boyfriend eat a large crepe with Nutella and bananas, she went to la pharmacie. The sky was gray and sad; it had been for days.

Inside the wide glass doors she saw two people behind the counter: an older gentleman, whose attention would be extremely embarrassing, and a sympathetic-looking lady who was wrapping up someone’s package. She timed her arrival so that she would get the lady. Unfortunately, there was a small traffic jam and a lot of “excusez-moi’s” in the entrance, and by the time she arrived at the counter she was met with the smiling face of the older man. She opened her mouth to say something and realized she hadn’t the slightest clue how to explain her problem. “J’ai une probleme,” was as far as she got, before she realized she couldn’t go further without motioning to her crotch, which she really did not want to do in the middle of the busy pharmacy.

So she looked helplessly at him and he smiled, expectantly, awaiting further explanation. “I’ll get a dictionary and come back,” she told him in her careful French, and headed across the street to a bookseller. Her boyfriend tagged along, bewildered, looking longingly at pastries in windows.

The first dictionary she found told her that “yeast” was “lavure” in French. She marched back across the street to the pharmacy. The doors swished open. She proudly announced to the pharmacist: “J’ai une infection lavure.” A man who was paying for his soap glanced over at her with sympathetic interest, as one might glance toward a dog with three legs, or a baby foaming at the mouth. The pharmacist smiled patiently and told her in French, “I’m sorry: I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Again, her only option was to motion, which she again refused to do. In desperation, she added, “C’est une probleme feminine,” and he said, “Ah!” and handed her some pills for menopause.

“No, no,” she said, “You eat yogurt for it.” This was not small, to say this, because the word for yogurt in French is almost unpronounceable. Now his smile slipped a little and said, “It’s your intestines?” The man buying soap looked more sympathetic, and a little superior.

She wished she’d looked up the word for “itch.” Her boyfriend was waiting outside because, even though he obviously knew her problem, she didn’t want the pharmacist to know that her boyfriend knew. She felt somehow that French women didn’t tell their boyfriends about their yeast infections, or maybe French women ate so much dairy that they didn’t get yeast infections, which might explain why she was now holding menopause pills and trying not to point at her crotch.

Then she saw them: a box of tampons, on which was printed the word “gynocologique.” “Gynocologique!” she exclaimed triumphantly, so loudly that two women holding packages hurried out of the store. “Ah!” said the pharmacist, just as triumphantly, and disappeared in back, returning holding a box of cranberry pills for a UTI. She shook her head and decided not to cry.

The pharmacist looked dejected. He thought and thought while she scanned the strange-looking boxes behind the counter. Finally he said a lot of French to her. Upon the second repetition, it became clear that he was suggesting she call the American Embassy on Monday—today was Sunday, it was closed—and explain her medical issue to them, upon which she could investigate what the required medication was called, and at this he would call the International Center for Drugs and find out what that was called in French, and then he could special order it. That would take 15 days.

She thanked him and left. As she exited, her boyfriend looked up guiltily from a coffee éclair.

The sun had come out. “We should go to the Eiffel Tower and then go get macaroons,” said her boyfriend helpfully, still eating his éclair. A half hour later, she walked into another pharmacy, about a block away from the Eiffel Tower. “J’ai une probleme gynocologique,” she began wearily, and the man—younger, less smiley, but far more efficient—answered in bored English: “UTI, or yeast infection?” He did not mention the American embassy. She paid and thanked him and stepped out into the wide gray street. Her boyfriend smiled at her, took her hand, and she let him. The Eiffel Tower was visible for the first time in 4 days: it had been so cloudy that only the base could be seen, and now the clouds were racing across the sky and through the lace of the tower.

Micaela Blei is a staff writer. When the weather is warm, she writes about bikes.

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1 Response to "French Women Eat A Lot of Dairy – Nonfiction by Micaela Blei"

I love this! Hilarious but also beautiful. Nice work!!!

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