France is famed for many things that we all know and love – cheese, wine, romance (a la cinq a sept – that time when a man goes to visit his mistress before going home to his wife). The villages are so charming, the language sounds both erotic and exotic, and you are never far from a good meal.
You are also never far from medical assistance. On this and several earlier visits to France, the reassuring green neon flashing cross of the pharmacy has been noted to never be far away (sometimes the cross is blue). They are a reassuring presence in even the tiniest of towns. A town without a bank or a post office will often have a pharmacy. Along with the boulangerie, they appear to be deemed essential services. Pharmacies are also unique in that, unlike most of the rest of France, they don’t tend to close at midday. As a service as essential to the French person as quality food and drink, the neon flashes resolutely on while bank workers and postal workers are sleeping off their lunch. Some stay open for 24 hours, with assistance via a grille in the less salubrious locations.
Pharmacies in France also offer a variety of assistance. It is posisble to de-flea your family pet courtesy of the local pharmacy, and sometimes food and drink is available, particularly if the pharmacy is in a town that is so small it doesn’t have any other services.
On this trip, the assistance of the local pharmacist has been sought on several occasions, first to try and cure a newly acquired allergy to chlorine or bleach, or something very strong that is used on cruise ships to clean towels and linen. The second visit was after a regrettable decision to go bike riding in the Midi-Pyrenees that resulted in minor personal damage as well as minor damage to the bike and the pride. On both occasions the pharmacists offered good advice and reasonably priced solutions. They are very knowledgeable and share this freely with a foreign traveller who would prefer to not pay the price of a visit to a doctor in a foreign country for relatively minor issues.
Perhaps surprisingly the per capita rate for pharmacies puts France at only second in the Europe tally, behind Turkey (figures from 2015). Having visited Turkey previously, the extent of their hypochondria was something that we commented on at that time too. And you can buy all sorts of real medication in a Turkish pharmacy. In France there is a pharmacy for approximately every 3,000 people. In New Zealand this rate is approximately one pharmacy for every 4,300 people. But the key difference is that most of ours are in cities or moderately sized towns, and not wee villages the size of say Kaiwaka or Mercer.
So travellers, rest easy. If you need some headache relief or insect repellent. Or if you think you are still 25 and decide that a long bike ride is a good idea and then find that it isn’t, I say god bless the French and their hypochondria. It’s nice to know that assistance is virtually around every corner should you need it.
And if you are wanting a bit more detail, France has about 22,500 pharmacies diligently serving its population of around 67 million people.