A Visit to the Doctor – More Lessons in French Life

There is one problem with learning another language and living in another country that is never mentioned by the experts.  They all talk about making humorous and embarrassing mistakes in your new home with your new tongue (A Dozen Thursday's) but no one talks about the situation where you hear correctly but the concept is so, well, foreign, that your brain simply refuses to process it.

I went to the doctor this morning.  She's a lovely woman, and, surprise, very French.  My doctor in the U.S normally wore surgical scrubs.  This doctor is dressed to the 9's: perfectly manicured nails, eye-catching but tasteful jewelry, up-to-the minute, complete summer ensemble and matching, high-heeled sandals. 

In the U.S. I went down long, brightly lit but windowless corridors lined with doors, into a little room by myself, disrobed, put on a gown and covered myself with a sheet.  Then the doctor knocked, meekly asked permission to enter (sometimes with a nurse in attendance for safety!?!) and the exam began.  At no time were more than a few inches of skin exposed to view.

Here I sat across from the desk in her office and we chatted like old friends.  How's everything been?  Any problems?  Have you been watching football? She is speaking  French and I am mumbling answers as best I can. 

Then, the moment of incomprehension: she said "Okay, strip!" (or something to that effect).  I know I heard her and I know I understood her but nothing responded.  I had assumed that there would be an exam room off somewhere that I would go into.  I assumed wrongly.  She continued to look at me expectantly.  I continued to stare, my brain frantically scrabbling for the words I wanted. I finally croaked 'Ou?' Where?  So eloquent!  'La' was the answer with a nod.  I looked around and there was a small screen.  Relief flooded me.  This was where I would find my gown and my sheet!  It would be okay; things would be as usual. 

It turns out that the screen was actually a place to hang my not-so-up-to-the-minute sundress.  There was no gown.  There was no sheet.  She followed me over and chatted about the World Cup while I took my clothes off.  Then she told me to get on the scale (one good thing: here you get weighed naked) for the weight/height check (no advantages to naked height checks, though).  She waved me over to the exam table.  I hadn't noticed it before. (I'm still naked.)  One doesn't expect to see exam tables in offices. 

Up until now this had looked like your typical office: computer on a large antique, wooden desk, leather arm chairs, pictures of kids, book cases with books and art work, diplomas on the wall, and, now I see, an exam table in the corner with trays of medical instuments discreetly covered with white clothes (probably old family linen), etc.  It made me realize I ought to pause more often and check out my environment.  It might help prevent, or at least prepare me for, these little surprises.  (You see it in movies all of the time: people walk into a strange room and stare at the bizarre photo on the wall while you sit on the edge of your chair screaming for them to turn around and see the crazed person with the ax dripping blood in the corner.) 

We proceeded through a very thorough check-up and more football info than I wanted (France made it to the semi-finals).  As I was getting dressed, and Madame la Docteur was tidying up and chatting, a sleek, black house cat jumped up on the windowsill and gave us the 'eye'.  He'd jumped through the open window in the waiting room a half hour earlier and had not been pleased when Madame had summarily tossed him back on the street.  Life is different here.

1 thought on “A Visit to the Doctor – More Lessons in French Life”

  1. I’ve just found your blog and have been flooded with memories of France. I told my doctor here (who is also the husband of a colleague and friend) about French medical practices. Boy did he get red in the face. I think that I wasn’t so shocked by the French doctor because I was young when I first went. I recall it quite clearly, though. Especially the part where the 50 year old male decent looking doctor told me I had nice skin but needed to lose a little weight. What Americans will never get about “Why French women don’t get fat” is the social pressure in France.

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