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A Crabby Birthday

photo: birthday breakfast

After the breakfast, then the drugs.

Paris Life - No. 17

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Friday, 19. September:- "Joyeux Anniversaire!" were the first words I heard this morning, to which I replied "Mmmmmph."

I am not generally one of those people who dread birthdays. My family always made birthdays a big celebration, and I agree that just managing to have survived on this insane planet for one more year would give anyone reason to celebrate. However, with the perfect timing the Universe has, it chose to give me a cold the day before the event, so I woke up with a sore throat and stuffy nose. "Mmmmmph."

This has not been the greatest Birthday Week I've ever had. In fact, it seems like everything was conspiring to keep me from enjoying it. For instance, I discovered that large corporations in France are apparently just as mercenary as their counterparts in the U.S.

When I signed up for Internet service with France Télécom's Wanadoo, they advertised that unlimited access was only 30€ a month. What they neglected to inform me was that after three months of service the rate jumps up to over 45€ a month.

I discovered this only after having my French-speaking boyfriend place a call to France Télécom - for which I got the opportunity to pay 34 cents a minute - and, whosephoto: pharmacie representative explained that the 30€ price was only an introductory offer. Now, my French is not necessarily fluent, but I would have been able to understand this explanation had the France Télécom employee told me that at the time I signed up for the service.

Pharmacies in France do not have 'self-serve' drugs.

Now I understand why the MEDEF building around the corner from my apartment is always cordoned off, with heavy police presence. It is the headquarters of the French Business Confederation that is responsible for conducting research and actions in the interest of businesses in France.

They must get constant threats from people who are sick and tired of dealing with yet another call to France Télécom or the electric and gas service, EDF-GDF - all businesses that are authorized to automatically withdraw funds from your checking account for what they deem is your bill, even if you have a dispute with them about it. Of course, they are never wrong, and there's not much the little person can do about it.

There is no concept of 'customer service' in France either. After spending about 45 minutes at the appliance store, Darty, comparing the merits of various food processors, I commandeered a salesperson, only to be told that they were out of that model. She provided no information as to when they might get another in stock, and even though there are numerous Darty stores around Paris, she did not offer to call the other stores to see if there would be that model in stock at another of their other locations.

This complete lack of service could be due to the fact that in France it is very difficult to get fired from a job once you have one. I think nothing short of murdering a co-workers could get someone laid off. Not a lot of incentive to do a good job, even though the MEDEF is trying with all its might to get everybody canned.

So feeling lower than the dirt in an earthworm's navel I went off to the local 'pharmacie' for some drugs to make it possible at least to breathe. The first two I came across were pharmacies devoted to homeopathic remedies, which are very popular here.

Now, I can understand the use for these places and even believe they may have cold remedies better for one's long-term health, but since all I wanted was to get something to make me feel better and knock me out, I figured major pharmaceuticals were the way to go.

I found a regular pharmacy and described my symptoms to the pharmacist, and he proceeded to give me the exact same cold pills I got from a pharmacist the last time I was sick in France.

Quite a departure from what I'm used to in the U.S. where anyone can just pop into a drug store and choose among dozens of cold remedies in every shape and form. They've never heard of Nyquil here as far as I can tell.

Drugged up to the gills on Humex, I went out for a birthday dinner with a good friend, where I was treated to cold, raw shellfish. My favorite! Really.

And as I was able to breathe briefly, I was able to enjoy myself thoroughly and be vastlyphoto: poor lobsters and crabs entertained both by the company and by the antics of the doomed shellfish in the tank near our table.

There were about five or six lively lobsters piled up in the tank, apparently having one last big lobster orgy before being sacrificed for dinner, and a couple of crabs were attempting to go at it as well.

And crabs do not have thrilling love lives.

Nothing like the prospect of imminent death to make one feel amorous! But the guy crab was having some difficulty with his crabby girlfriend. He kept falling off. My friend called him 'the Woody Allen of crabs.'

I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever heard and practically fell on the floor laughing. Must have been the wonderful French drugs. The MEDEF people should send some to France Télécom, to get them to loosen up a bit.

Text and photos, Laurel Avery © 2003
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