My Cultural Mishaps So Far, Part One

There are so many things that language courses or even frequent visits to a foreign country that won’t prepare you for unexpected situations overseas. Life happens when one travels, right? I cannot even count with both hands how many times I have had awkward situations (including one in the Philippines where I grew up) that I’ll toss to mere cultural differences. Sure they were a little uncomfortable at the time but these situations often make for great stories and what make foreign travel enjoyable at times.

This summer, I’ve had three particular situations. I’ll tell you about the first one here, which happened at my in-laws’. I woke up one morning with bumpy patches on my left arm and thought that I got bitten by a spider or a mosquito. When the bumps did not improve in the next few days, I thought it would be best to see a doctor.

I was a little afraid to go since we do not have medical insurance in France. But when we went to the local clinic, a doctor saw me right away. He quickly diagnosed me with Zona. At first, I thought what a strange name for a disease. Zona sounds like it should be a museum’s name like MOMA, BACMA, Mass MoCA and others. Richard, who was with me at the clinic, did not know what Zona is, in English or French. The doctor told me in deeply-accented English that “Zona is like chicken pox but milder.”

Hmm, so I ask him, “Is it like small pox?” He laughed and sort of dismissed my question, “Madame, maybe. Peut-être en anglais. Chicken pox sounds like small pox, no? In any case, it’s not very serious at your age.” He then proceeded to talk to me and Richard about his upcoming vacation in Florida where he plans to play golf everyday. He then said dreamily, “Etats-Unis, c’est un pays magnifique.” The United States is a magnificent country. Not sure if he was thinking of the country as a whole or in terms of golf.

He then wrote a prescription and insisted that he fill out a form for our medical insurance in the US. Then, he asked us to pay him. I was ready to hear that we owe him over $300, which is what probably would have to pay in the US. Instead, he asked us to pay roughly the equivalent of $32. That’s without medical insurance in France.

We then went to the pharmacy to get my medication. Again, we were ready to pay something close to $40 or so. We were pleasantly surprised when the pharmacist asked only for $10 for three kinds of meds.

I quickly googled what Zona is in English. It turned out that I had a mild form of shingles. No wonder the doctor said the condition isn’t serious for my age. Apparently, shingles is more alarming when one’s over 60 years old. In any case, I am glad that I am much better now and fully recovered, and so much more knowledgeable about a disease called Zona and the French medical system.



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  1. You gave me good laughs. I lived in France for many years and had no idea how much health care costs because I had medical insurance and never paid for any of it. The US was a total shock , my first encounter with the medical profession was during my first pregnancy and it felt like no one could look at you without billing you in the 100’s.
    Years later during a stay in Paris we had to take T. to the ER and I was expecting to pay an arm and a leg. I went looking for the billing office (I could have left without paying no one would have noticed), asked how much I owed. The lady nicely asked me for my insurance card and when I said I didn’t have one she was very apologetic and tried to figure out a way so I wouldn’t have to pay. By that time I was hyperventilating then she told me I owed 35 euros!!! Can you imagine a trip to the ER without insurance for $40. I can’t even imagine what it would be here in the US without insurance

    • It’s crazy how different things are! For some reason, I don’t know if we’ll ever make health costs more affordable in the US.

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