FRANCE: MEDICAL MATTERS OK, I'm over here to talk to the natives. But who are the best talkers? That's an easy one – the custodians of others' health. But a word of caution: such conversations need not necessarily be enjoyable.
Pharmacies, identified by a flashing green cross which, I'm told, is an analogue for putrefying flesh, sell perfume and make-up as well as medication. A quick glance at most pharmaciennes (ie, female chemist shop employees) will tell you which side of the business they prefer. Immaculate hair that would shatter if struck, mouths outlined with architectural yet passionless precision, blusher which passes through a dozen gradations. These women are like beautiful statues and are about as useful. Their function is to withhold information. Ask for a multi-toothed device used to regularise hair (“of which I have forgotten the French word”) and they will refuse to identify it as a comb. But persist. The answers may not be helpful but they are fruitful examples of saying no. Also these women are uninsultable. One comes away exhilarated without recourse to drugs – which these women would not, in any case, supply.
Doctors are best. I spent two minutes with a GP near Nimes describing a boil on my bum and how it was preventing me from embracing France's delights. After courteously complimenting me on my French (roughly the equivalent of saying “How do you do?” in English) he told me it was a cyst. Ten minutes ensued on cysts-I-have-known and I was in seventh heaven. He recommended attendance at a clinic at Narbonne and I eagerly accepted, willing to endure the scalpel in furtherance of more outré experience. Alas, the surgeon turned out to be German and we glumly discussed Rupert Brooke – in English - as he hacked me about..