I remember buying cold and flu remedies when I lived in the UK and also taking some tablets called ‘Day & Night Nurse’ when I lived in Jersey (Channel Islands) and how efficient they were.
As I have a cold with a sore throat at the moment, I urgently needed some tablets.
I have just been to the chemist’s in Dinan (Brittany, France) and found some. They are not called ‘Day & Night Nurse’ but ‘Actifed Jour & Nuit’. The box looks the same as the English ‘Day & Night Nurse’. Same shape, same colors, etc. It just has French writing on it. It was just under €4. You don’t need a prescription from your GP. Let’s hope I feel better tomorrow!
In France, medicine is only available from pharmacies, including cold and flu remedies. Unlike in the UK, it cannot be bought freely from supermarkets. The pharmacist will always ask a few questions before dispensing the medicine. For instance, do you have any allergies? They will also ask what other medicines you are taking.
A pharmacy is part of the basic amenities in France and is present in every town, and even in some relatively small villages. In fact, most towns, even of modest size, boast several pharmacies. There are around 22,000 pharmacies across the whole country.
In some areas, pharmacies are the only place where people can seek medical advice, especially if no doctor’s surgery is present locally. In fact, it is quite common for French people to talk to their pharmacist before consulting their GP (médecin généraliste).
Buying medication and medical equipment is highly regulated by French law: none other than a registered pharmacist can prepare and sell medicine. Pharmacists in France are also allowed to prepare medicines for other medical establishments such as hospitals and clinics. Only a qualified pharmacist can own a pharmacy in France, but only one, no more. This explains why there are no chains such as Boots in the UK. GPs issue prescriptions (ordonnances) in duplicate format: the original is for the patient to keep and the duplicate is for the pharmacist to send to social security for reimbursement, once the patient has provided his Carte Vitale.
Pharmacists in France are highly trained and at the end of their studies, students are given the title of ‘Docteur en Pharmacie’ before taking an oath called Le serment de Galien or Serment des Apothicaires, inspired by the Hippocratic Oath. They can then work in a registered establishment. One of their very useful and extremely known skills in France is their training in identifying certain fungi. Next time you go mushroom picking on a glorious autumnal Sunday afternoon, if unsure, you can take your harvest along to the pharmacy for them to check your collection for any poisonous varieties, all for free. In fact, it is highly advisable to do so.
French pharmacies also sell an extensive range of beauty and skincare products from brands such as Vichy, Klorane, Biotherm, Nuxe or La Roche Posay, at much cheaper prices than in the UK. There is a great emphasis on natural ingredients used in beauty products sold in pharmacies in France.
In France, there are also establishments called ‘Parapharmacies’, which are sometimes independent but are usually to be found within a pharmacy. They sell anything that isn’t traditional medicine needing a prescription, such as perfumes, beauty products, vitamins, supplements, etc… Homeopathy is very popular in France and pharmacies or parapharmacies abound with homeopathic products.
Here are a few medical terms you might need if you have a cold and live in France:
Nez bouché: blocked nose
Nez qui coule: runny nose
Maux de tête: headaches
Tissue: mouchoir en papier or Kleenex