A word on French pharmacies and their products. A French pharmacy is more than what Walgreen’s or Shopper’s is to North Americans. It is what the old soda shops used to be generations ago in small town America, but without the ice cream counter. (So I guess that’s not a great analogy after all.) The French, particularly French women, use the pharmacy for almost everything except food and toilet paper. Any ailment that is not quite severe enough to go to the doctor for – the common cold, back pain, foot itch, acne, head/stomach ache, oily hair, dry skin, itchy scalp, cuts, even Pink Eye – can all be treated with a trip to your local pharmacy. Like in the States and Canada, pharmacists are well-trained with years of studies in medicine and Pharmacology. They can diagnose and treat minor problems on the spot. They are also a fountain of beauty tips.
The importance of pharmacies in French culture is evident by the sheer number of flashing green crosses we find in one area (the French symbol for a pharmacy). On one single city block you can easily come across up to three or four pharmacies. Some specialize in Bio-products or Homeopathy. Some carry special orthopedic footwear and special wooden, blade shavers, while others are your run-of-the-mill store, all of which sell beauty products. The Para-Pharmacie is the largest of the drug stores and stocks a wider selection of products like soap, toothpaste, hygiene products and hairspray. Your average French pharmacy usually doesn’t carry these more mundane products. For those, you head to a grocery store like Monoprix or Franprix and look in the hygiene aisle. Medications, even ordinary pain killers and vitamins, are stored behind the counter in pharmacies, so you have to explain your problem to the pharmacist and s/he’ll decide what’s best for your symptoms.
At first I found this system a little awkward. I didn’t want to explain my menstrual pain to a stranger and most of the time I had to do so with an embarrassing combination of sign language and Frenglish mutterings. I learned what products were available at a pharmacy and which were not by trail and error. I also learned a number of impressively effective home remedies from the pharmacists. The French are much less medication prone than we Americans.
The women in my belle-famille have also taught me several recipes that have been passed down through the women in their family for generations. I will share these in other posts. But for now I want to highlight a few of products in French pharmacies that I simply this are genus!
The first are intimate washes or feminine hygiene soaps. Not a douche, like in the US/Canada (be careful, douching not good for you). But an intimate cleanser. I never knew these existed until I moved to France. My favorites brands here are: Saugella (the one for daily use) and Rogé Cavailles.
Here’s a site I found State-side, but look around, it might be available in more places: http://www.wynnpharm.com/saugella/index1.html
I mention these products in particular because they are miracles in a bottle. I wish every woman had them at her finger tips. Not to delve into too much personal detail, yet in an effort to give some background, I have suffered from UTI for years. Almost every six months (at least once a year) since I was 15. The doctors back home finally told me I should go on a daily low dosage of antibiotics. I knew there had to be a better way so I refused the drugs and moved to France (the one, though, was not the cause of the other). In Paris, the first thing the French doctor said to me was “Do you wash with an intimate soap?” Of course my reaction was, “A what?”
Once I started washing daily with my new product (it’s not actually soap) made of natural plant extracts like sage and thyme, I’ve since never had a problem. If you’ve ever suffered from an UTI, you know what a relief this is! A year after beginning the regime, I went home for the holidays and told my doctor how I’d improved. She was amazed and asked if I could bring her some samples.
It also helps that I drink much more water in France than I ever did back in North America. But I’ll get to all that when we talk about French ways of eating.
The second category of product is the anti-cellulite cream. The French are not gym goers like North Americans. Despite the gyms conveniently placed by several major office building centers, working out in an artificial setting on treadmills and exercise bikes is less a common practice for the French. For the most part they lead active lives. They walk more than we do, they bike to work, they take after dinner strolls through their neighborhood and walk the dog through the park.
And yet cellulite still plagues fit, slim French women; not all of them, but enough to trigger a multi-million dollar, French anti-cellulite industry. Some of these products might be available in North America. Here are three which really work if you happen to be taking a bikini vacation this winter:
Lierac Body Slim
ROC Anti-Cellulite Micro-Actif